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Toddler Tips

Sleepless in Seattle...Fairfax...Boise...Toronto...Brussels...!

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 6, November-December 1994, pp. 186-8

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My twenty-one-month-old son is still rousing every two hours at night to nurse. We've ruled out health problems as a cause of his wakefulness. We've tried increased exercise and a snack before bed without much success. He starts out in his own bed and joins us in ours the first time he wakes so that I can nurse him and not have to get up. I've quit caffeine so that I go back to sleep easily, but it's still disturbing to have him wake so often. How long could this go on? Any tips on handling this situation?

Response

How I empathize with you! Our daughter was never much for sleep either. In addition to her wakeful nights, she gave up napping at one-and-a-half years. I did not feel very pretty or very nice. Like you, we tried many different routines and ideas—some gave good results, but only temporarily.

Then while reading one of Eda LeShan's wonderful books, I found an answer that brought us sleep. Eda LeShan had interviewed women who were raising their children in the early part of the century, and none of them had children with sleep problems. They blamed many of today's sleep problems on doing too much with the little ones.

Children really don't need all the "stimulation" of the mall, baby exercise class, playgroups, noisy toys and TV, driving here and there. It's often too much. Young children really only need a safe happy place to play and nurse.

We found that limiting or eliminating activities made our daughter calmer and ready to sleep come nighttime. I also find that the less stress I have in my own life, the better my daughter sleeps.

Victoria Wills
Topanga, California, USA

Response

We experienced a similar challenge with my then two-year-old daughter. She would sleep restlessly, waking at least every two hours, then quietly nurse back to sleep. I blamed the problem on nighttime nursing, our family bed, and even on my mothering skills, until my mother found an article in the Washington Post newspaper headlined, "Pediatrics: Insomnia from Cow's Milk?"

A study was done at the Brussels' Hospital Universitaire des Enfants with healthy children aged two months to twenty-nine months. Within a few weeks of going on a dairy-free diet, all but one child began to sleep normally, waking only once, and more than doubling the time they slept. When dairy products were secretly introduced to half the group, sleeplessness recurred. I knew we had to try it!

Within three weeks of eliminating dairy products from her diet, as well as from my own, my daughter slept more soundly than she ever had in her entire life. We averaged eight or more hours between night nursings—it was a miracle.

Because some molecules of the cow's milk proteins pass undigested through the wall of the small intestines into the bloodstream and then through breast milk, nursing mothers of sensitive children need to eliminate dairy products from their own diet as well as from their children's diet. Be sure to read labels carefully for hidden sources of dairy such as whey, dry milk solids, and casein. Other symptoms, such as digestive problems, eczema, colic, and recurrent infections, are also associated with cow's milk sensitivities.

As we all know, we don't need to drink milk in order to make milk. You may, however, wish to check with your doctor about other sources of calcium.

Try this for three to four weeks; you probably won't see results in just a day or two. This has worked for many mothers I know. It's definitely worth the effort, and your whole family will be rested and refreshed!

Kathy Nelson
Fairfax, Virginia, USA

Response

My first son, now six years old, was a frequent night waker. In the early months, I listened to all the advice against feeding him before putting him to bed ("it would upset his tummy") and picking him up when he cried (which left me crying instead).

My son was just one of those children who woke every two hours to see me and nurse. He would then settle straight back to sleep. After listening to similar experiences at LLL meetings, I decided to follow his lead and meet his needs. This way I felt relaxed and slept better, too. I couldn't even tell my husband how many times I had seen to the baby at night, as I forgot by morning. By age two, he was no longer nursing, but still woke every two hours or so; all he wanted was a pat on the head, and he would go back to sleep. By age three, he was only waking about twice per night, but still needed some kind of contact with me. By four, he called me only occasionally; mostly, he slept.

Now at six, he sleeps so well I can't wake him to get up for school!

So follow your baby's lead. As children mature, they need you in different ways. He'll sleep when he's ready; relax and stop watching the clock.

Pauline Roberts
Valley Springs, California, USA

Response

My son woke up every couple of hours almost every night until he was two-and-a-half-years-old. Once he got all of his teeth in, his night wakings decreased. Also, when he was around two-and-a-half years old, we completely stopped his naps which almost immediately stopped his night wakings.

My son is now three-and-a-half years old. He still nurses to sleep, sleeps in our bed, and sleeps through the night!

Tina Suleiman
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Response

My son also woke frequently at night. At twenty-five months, he now usually wakes only once or twice. However, like your son, he also has nights when he wakes up four or five times.

For the twenty or so months that Seth woke and nursed every two hours, I was often very tired and discouraged. It helped me to read Dr. Sears' book NIGHTTIME PARENTING. I came to understand that Seth did not choose to wake up, nor wake up so that he could nurse. Rather, my son had a very short sleep cycle. When he woke, he nursed to get back to sleep. Realizing that Seth was not waking up in order to nurse, but actually waking up and then nursing to get back to sleep, changed my perspective and helped me maintain our breastfeeding relationship. Still, I sometimes wondered if those who advised that Seth would not wake up if I wasn't nursing were right. To my surprise, Seth chose to stop nursing at night at eighteen months. However, he continued to wake frequently even after he no longer wanted to nurse back to sleep!

You are not alone in feeling tired. It is challenging to wake up and comfort a child through the night, even when the family bed and nursing are your choice. I find it helpful to nap whenever Seth does. This means that many of the things I need or want to do have to wait until my husband gets home from work.

Like most parenting decisions, there is no one right answer. Trust your heart and be proud; you give your son loving care even when your body says "sleep!"

Frann Ravid
Hamden, Connecticut, USA

Response

We had the identical problem with our son when he graduated to his own twin bed. He seemed to feel that our "big bed" was still the best place to spend most of the night. I noticed, though, that when he was in his own bed, his sleep was less restless, so I decided to do what I could to make his bed more desirable to him. First, I told him how special it was because the bed frame was mine when I was a little girl. We shopped for special sheets and a blanket that hung down far enough on the sides so it wouldn't slip off. Sometimes my husband and I would crawl into his "big boy bed" with him. I kept telling him how cozy and comfortable his bed was. But the thing that made it work is that I decided to get up in the middle of the night and go to his bed. It was hard at first; I resented the loss of sleep. But my patience paid off! He seemed to fall asleep quickly, and I either fell asleep with him or got up and returned to bed with my husband. Soon our son was able to turn over in his sleep without waking up and having to nurse. I also discovered that wearing long-sleeve light-weight pajamas (even in summer) kept him from waking up because of chilly arms. At thirty-two months, he now sleeps in his bed most nights until about 5:00 AM, then joins us in our room. Of course, we do go through times when he does need the extra comfort of our presence, but now we are more rested when that happens.

Cynthia Thacker
Lompoc, California, USA

Response

My two-year-old daughter, while she doesn't wake every two hours, also starts out sleeping in her own bed and then wakes up after a few hours to sleep with my husband and me. It seems she just doesn't like to sleep alone and feels anxious when she wakes up—even after a nap—and finds no one there.

I've found that if I pick her up (before she wakes) and take her from her bed to ours when I go to bed later in the evening, she sleeps through her usual waking time. This seems to give everyone a relatively good night's sleep and also lets my husband and me have our bed to ourselves if we want, earlier in the evening.

Jeanne Schrank
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Response

My daughter, Melissa, age five, never slept "through the night" until she was two-and-a-half-years-old. We kept her in our bed so she could nurse back to sleep whenever necessary. We tried several other ways of sleeping, such as fixing her a bed next to ours, but nothing was as good as our bed.

With my husband's constant reassurance that this wouldn't last forever, I allowed myself to meet her needs. Soon she slept longer before waking and nursing. Eventually, she moved into her own bed, but still needed to nurse to sleep. When she weaned, she still needed someone to lie down with her until she went to sleep.

At four-and-a-half-years-old, Melissa decided she was ready to sleep by herself—most of the time. About one night a week, she sleeps in our bed, and sometimes she falls asleep on the couch before her daddy carries her to her bed. Most mornings, as she always has, she comes to cuddle in the "big bed" for a while before she's ready to wake fully.

I learned two things that have helped me with my second daughter, Emily, almost two years old. First, nothing is forever. At first I was annoyed by the presence of children in "my" bed. Now I relish it and savor the cuddles that I hope will continue for many years to come.

Second, I have learned that needs which are met will soon disappear. Needs which are not met will stay unfulfilled forever. If my children have a need to wake, nurse, or be with me at night, I am happy to be there. I am there all day, why should nighttime be any different? Sleep "experts" would disagree with this approach, but I have happy, healthy, independent children. I wouldn't exchange that for anything.

Neysa C. M. Jensen
Boise, Idaho, USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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