Baby Sleep & Nursing

Dr. Allan Greene answers the question, Why won't my 1-year-old go to sleep unless I nurse him?

Question

My just-turned-1-year-old still isn't sleeping through the night. I breastfeed and I'm trying to wean him, but he won't go back to sleep unless he nurses. I have a hard time letting him cry it out. Are there any others ideas? He does have a dairy allergy (we are working on figuring out what is going on). Could that be the cause? Thanks for your help.

Answer

What a wonderful gift you have given your son by nursing for the whole first year! Congratulations on his birthday.

One of the most important things to understand about sleep is that how a child falls asleep is very habit-forming, so changes take some time. There are several ways that you might go. Like you, I am not a fan of leaving kids alone to "cry it out." The fastest way to make a change is just not to feed him at night and instead firmly but gently pat him, talk to him, sing to him -- do anything except pick him up, feed him, or lie down with him. He will protest because he is used to eating throughout the night and will feel hungry as well, but he will not feel alone or abandoned or scared. You will be right there with him, loving him. Within several days, he will no longer feel hungry at night and will not expect to be fed. But, these would be several very long nights and would involve lots of crying.

Another way to go is very gradual. First begin to build up other associations for him to use to fall asleep, such as a cassette tape or CD with your voice on it or a white noise generator. Some kids like a lava lamp -- they stare at it just enough to zone out. Next, gradually decrease nursing during the night.

The one thing that does not work well is to try not to nurse, but then "give in" if he cries enough. That only teaches him to cry until he gets what he wants. Then neither of you will be happy and you won't make any progress.

 

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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