This is a dilemma faced by many parents who share a family bed with their nursing toddler. I discuss this problem with parents in my office almost on a daily basis. There are several different answers to this question, depending on both the parents’ temperament and the baby’s personality. Here is how I approach this situation with the different types of parent and child dynamics.
Situation One – The High Need Baby. If you don’t know what a High Need Baby is, then you probably don’t have one. If you are not sure, click here to find out if your baby fits this personality type.
This is the most challenging situation for parents to handle, and there is no easy solution. The first step is to understand why your high need child’s sleep patterns are different. Basically, high need babies are not SUPPOSED to sleep through the night. Their whole system is wired differently than a non-high-need child. Yes, they will eventually sleep through the night, but often not at this age, and sometimes not until age 3 or 4. Click on Five Reasons Why High Need Babies Sleep Differently for more information.
Now that you know your high need baby isn’t supposed to sleep through the night, there are still some things you can do to encourage more sleep and less night-waking to nurse. Click on Six Ways to Help a High Need Baby Sleep Better. Keep in mind that as long as you are breastfeeding, your high need baby will still wake up sometimes to nurse at night. When you wean, this night waking often, but not always, stops. I do not suggest weaning your child early for this reason, however.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT – all babies eventually grow up, wean, and sleep through the night in their own bed. Ask any parent whose children are older and they will tell you “they grow up so fast”. “I wish I could snuggle with them in my arms again”. “It was so nice to snuggle in bed and nurse them and hold them close”. First time parents won’t believe this, but there actually will come a day when you will miss this time in your baby’s life. If you consider that you will be spending the next 50 or more years with your child in your life, then this next 6 to 12 months of night waking and nursing is really a short time. Hang in there. You will get through it.
A BRIEF WORD ON THE “JUST SAY NO” APPROACH that I discuss above in Six Ways to Help Sleep. This method works great for some babies, but not for everyone at every age. If you try this method, and it doesn’t work, then hang in there for a few more months and then try it again. As your baby matures, she may accept this approach. If dad is not patient enough to do some of the nighttime duty while baby is crying to nurse, then mom gets this duty. Hang in there. It may just be a few nights of fussing and whining, with some screaming, and then your baby may “get the picture”. Since you are there with your baby, instead of leaving him to cry on his own, then he won’t feel abandoned or rejected, just mad. These few nights of crying will not have any negative emotional effects on your child if you are there with him. If the screaming goes on for more than several nights, or at any time you feel that this approach is not right for you or your baby, then trust your instincts and don’t force the issue. Maybe it will work several months from now.
Situation Two – the non-high-need baby. For babies who do not fit the above high-need personality type, this sleep situation is somewhat easier to fix as baby won’t be quite as resistant to some of the above approaches. Please read the entire section above, since many of the principles and approaches will be useful to you.
Always be sure to consider that your child may be waking up more at night because of a medical problem. Click on Hidden Medical Causes of Nightwaking for further discussion.
TEETHING – be sure to keep in mind that this is almost always a contributing factor, if not the only factor, to night waking. Be sure you are adequately addressing this issue to minimize teething pain at night. Remember the 2-year molars can start pushing in and cause pain as early as 18 months of age.