Question from a tired mom: My 11-month old will not sleep for more than 2 hours at a time. I feel like we have tried every trick in the book aside from cry it out. Co-sleeping was saving my life but now my daughter won’t even nurse to sleep! Realizing it has been over a year since I have had more than 4 hours of consecutive sleep just made me even more tired and I know my little one can’t be feeling the best either.
Linda: After 11 months, I can completely understand why you are so exhausted! Sleep is so important to our children. When we sleep our body produces and secretes growth hormones, builds its immune system system, and the brains retains, stores and organizes memories which are the foundation of learning—something all parents want for their children. Without sleep, all of these processes become very difficult.
Before making any decisions about changing your child’s sleep habits, it is always important to decide what your goals are. If your child is co-sleeping because this is a decision that your whole family is in agreement on, and it is something your child will cooperate with, then it is possible to continue this. If, however, co-sleeping is your last resort at 2am or 5am (or whatever time) in the morning for how to get your child to sleep, then that is an important factor to take into account. No matter what method you choose to change your child’s sleep, the most important component is your ability to remain consistent throughout the process. If you always put your baby to sleep at bedtime by nursing or bottle feeding her, when she goes through a partial awakening or arousal during the night (these can happen every 10, 20 or 30 minutes in some children), then she will need the same sort of intervention in order to put herself back to sleep.
Bedtime is the easiest time for your baby to learn how to fall asleep. Make no mistake, learning how to go to sleep and stay asleep is a learned process. As much as children learn how to sleep, they also learn how to not sleep. Many parents spend the whole night using every trick in the book to try to get their child to sleep. If at bedtime, you feed your baby to sleep, at 10pm, you put in the pacifier, at midnight, you feed her, at 2am dad goes and rocks her, at 4am you feed her again and then when nothing else is working at 5am,you finally throw up your hands and bring her into bed, she has never learned what to expect at each waking. Each night is going to be another act in the dance of trying all your tricks to get her to sleep. For a baby who has spent 11 months of her life doing this dance, it is going to take a very consistent response to teach her what to expect when she wakes. If you have taught your child a habit, and you go to change it, your child will have something to say about it and for a preverbal child at 11 months, she is going to express that frustration and confusion in crying.
At 11 months old, I typically recommend a method that is going to be comforting to your child in that you will be remaining with her as she is going to sleep. An 11 month old is often experiencing heightened separation anxiety and will become very upset when you put her in her bed and leave the room. I would encourage a family with an 11 month old to check out Kim West’s Sleep Lady Shuffle, also known as fading or camping out. This method enables you to be a reassuring secure base for your child while she is learning how to go to sleep without doing it for her. It communicates to her that you are there for her and you will be able to provide comfort and reassurance as she is learning how to put herself to sleep.
I would strongly suggest discussing your plans with your partner during the waking hours (2am is never a good time to be making important decisions), choosing a plan that both of you are in agreement about, deciding who is going to do what and make a commitment to stick with it. Know that the first few nights of any plan to change your child’s sleep behavior are going to be hard. Behaviors that have been inconsistently or intermittently reinforced are the hardest to change and produce the most frustration from your child. However, after only a few nights of being consistent, you should start to see significant changes in your child’s sleep.
For more sleep advice or to contact Linda directly for an individual sleep consultation for your family, please contact me!