“Help! My 8-month old is a terrible sleeper. He still wakes 3-4 times per night and it takes ages to resettle him – usually with a cuddle or a feed. We can’t bear the thought of leaving him to cry, but we are exhausted. What can we do to gently lengthen out his sleeps and help him sleep through the night?”
The first thing I would be looking at with an 8-month-old bubba is genuine hunger versus a habit. Wakes that are for genuine hunger are usually sporadic. With a habitual wake you can often set your watch by it: 11.05pm, 1.07am, 3,04am and so on. These habitual wakes generally happen in blocks of 2–4 hours. Whilst feeding 2–4 hourly is very much needed in a younger baby, in an 8-month old this is rarely the case if you have started solids and baby is eating well. So, I would check that daytime feeds are ‘full’ feeds and that solid intake is adequate and varied. Some babies at this age may still require a night feed depending on solid intake.
The next thing to check is daytime naps. Your bubba at 8 months generally needs 2.5–3 hours total day sleep. Some common causes for night waking are not enough day sleep or a too long awake time between end of last nap and bedtime. If bub is on two naps, do not exceed 3.5–4 hours between end of nap and bedtime. If on three naps check that naps 1 and 2 are not ‘cat naps’ (45 minutes or less) and rectify this as part of your strategy to lengthen the night sleep cycles. In most cases, you cannot have good nights without good days.
The third thing is ensuring bub is not too hot or cold. Many of the sleeping bag brand websites have temperature guides to help with this.
The fourth thing to use as part of a strategy is ensuring bub falls asleep where they are going to wake at the next partial arousal (2–4 hours into night sleep) so if bub falls asleep at the breast or bottle at 7pm, you can expect the first waking to be 11pm as this is the end of the first night sleep cycle, and he will be wondering why he is no longer at the breast/bottle/in arms. If he is then fed/cuddled back to sleep, the same will likely happen 2–3 hours later. Imagine how you would feel if you fell asleep in your bed and woke up on your sofa, multiple times a night? Rather confused I’m sure!
It is useless trying to resettle a baby at a time you have previously fed or cuddled through the night if they are still going to sleep with this level of intervention at bedtime. Settling bub at bedtime where they are going to wake up is vital if you want to stop the multiple night wakes. If you have determined that the first night feed is a genuine feed, it is important to have him settle back to sleep out of arms after the feed if you do not want the same thing to happen in a few hours’ time. This may involve teaching him new ways to fall asleep without this assistance. You can absolutely do this gently and without leaving him to cry alone! The fact that you say “it takes ages to resettle” suggests to me that perhaps you are trying too many things in one ‘resettle attempt’ to get bub back down. This often happens between 8–9 months when bub starts to resist our efforts to rock/cuddle or even feed back to sleep. You get into this repetitive cycle of feed, attempt to put down, pick up, rock, feed, attempt to put down cycle that tends to just wind bub up at this age (similar to when they want to self-feed and you are trying to put the food in their mouth). So, pull back your intervention and keep your level of intervention the same at each bedtime put down/night waking to avoid confusing him. An introduction of a comforter may be useful as part of this process.
If you need more help implementing any of the suggestions mentioned please do not hesitate to contact me. Given the correct method for addressing resettling and ensuring all foundation elements are in place (room environment, nap routine, solids etc) this process does not have to be drawn out and involve night upon night of tears. Good luck!