My 7-month-old wakes in the night to feed. In the past, she returned to sleep easily. However, for the past few weeks, she does not seem tired after her feed and has a difficult time returning to sleep, sometimes being awake for more than 30 minutes. How can I help my baby fall back to sleep easily?
Dr. Pam Mitelman & Dr. Nicky Cohen:
In general, a healthy, well fed 7-month-old child who is gaining weight as expected, should be able to sleep through the night without being fed. If she is waking to feed, I would first ensure she is gaining well, and that her daytime intake of both milk (nursing or bottle feeding) and solid food is appropriate for her age.
If there are no concerns with daytime feeding, it is likely she is waking for other reasons. Perhaps because she has not learned to fall asleep independently; or possibly she is waking to feed out of habit and, thus, an association between waking and feeding to return to sleep has been established.
Children who do not fall asleep independently are much more likely to wake during night. So, having the ‘sleep skill’ of falling asleep truly independently on a regular basis at bedtime is critical to sleeping through the night.
Gradually weaning nighttime feeds can be a gentle way of eliminating the habit of feeding in the night. This may be achieved, for example, by eliminating one feed at a time by reducing the amount of milk (if bottle fed) or number of minutes (if nursed). Keeping a sleep log for a few days can help identify patterns of feeding. To help break the association between waking and being fed, it can be helpful to do the weaning of feeds as “dream feeds” that parents initiate.
Lastly, ensure that the sleep environment is conducive to sleep. This includes having a dark and quiet room that is on the ‘cool side of comfortable’.
Dr. Pamela Mitelman is a Montreal based Licensed Clinical Psychologist working in private practice. She received her Psy.D. from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. Her interest in pediatric sleep disturbances was peeked while assessing children for learning difficulties and was further solidified after having children of her own. Dr. Mitelman is passionate about educating families on the importance of healthy sleep practices. More information about Dr. Mitelman can be found at www.drpamelamitelman.com.
Dr. Nicky Cohen is a Registered Psychologist in private practice in Toronto. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from York University and developed an interest in parenting issues related to children’s sleep disturbances after having her first child. She is active in the community disseminating information on healthy sleep practices and increasing awareness of the importance of making sufficient sleep a family priority. More information about Dr. Cohen’s work can be found at www.drnickycohen.com
The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Individuals are encouraged to speak with a physician or other health care provider if they have concerns regarding their child’s sleep and before starting any treatment plan. The information provided by Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mitelman is provided with the understanding that they are not rendering clinical, counselling, or other professional services or advice. Such information is intended solely as a general educational aid and not for any individual problem. It is also not intended as a substitute for professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique facts.