What to do when your baby hates to sleep… besides drink copious amounts of coffee - Guest Post by Meg Nagle, The Milk Meg
My youngest boy hates to sleep. And no, this is not just a little phase he is going through, nor is it my fault (although we do like to blame ourselves for these things). He has hated sleep from the second he was born all the way up until now (at just over 2 ½ years old).
You see, I have parented my three boys exactly the same. I breastfed them all to sleep, co-slept and bed-shared with them. I also held them often in a baby carrier, breastfed them well into toddlerhood (and beyond) and have pretty much mothered them through breastfeeding and cuddles the entire time. Yet they have all had very different sleep patterns. My middle boy literally loves to get into bed and fall asleep. Always has and I imagine always will. I’m telling you all of this because #1. It’s important to stop blaming yourself for your child’s sleep “issues”. #2 You have not “created” your child’s patterns, they are an individual who has different needs to the next baby. #3 Your baby’s sleep “issue” is most likely not an issue at all but simply normal…so stop believing all of those baby sleep books you are reading! BUT! BUT! You are yelling….I know. It’s exhausting. It’s annoying. It’s downright torture dealing with little or no sleep. So what did I do (and do I continue to do) about my youngest child who literally HATES to sleep? (*And just a side note here. I am all about responding to your child’s needs through breastfeeds and/or cuddles. I also believe in following your own motherly instincts and your child’s lead. This is the basic philosophy that I come from.)
So this is it in a nutshell…my youngest hates to sleep. The irony of all of this though is that he is actually taking a nap right now as I write this!!! HOWEVER, would you like to see the steps to how this nap actually happened?
Carry a crying toddler down to the car. It’s was an incredibly hot day so I wanted to see if a nice cool car ride in some air-con would help. And believe me, I wanted an excuse to sit in the air-con as well! My oldest boy also had a friend over so there was no way he was going to sleep with 3 boys in the house playing Lego!
I then wrestle a kicking, screaming toddler REFUSING to get into his car seat while I bake and sweat in the sun trying to force him in there like a ninja warrior.
Ninja warrior defeated, I carry this crying toddler back upstairs to my room.
Hold him while he tantrums and cries and just patiently wait for him to stop tantruming in my arms.
He latches on and… silence. Eyes finally close and sleep finally happens.
Is it always this dramatic you might be asking? Well, no. Sometimes he happily falls asleep breastfeeding. Other times he will fall asleep in the car on the way home from somewhere or he will just skip napping all together now that he is older. So let’s get to some specifics on how I have actually gotten my youngest to sleep! Because honestly…even as a baby it was not easy!
Breastfeed your child to sleep
Breastfeed your child the second they cry during a short nap (after the 30-40 minute cycle) to get them to fall back to sleep again for a longer nap. I call this the “mid-nap” breastfeeding position.
Carry your child to sleep in the baby carrier
Give them to a friend, family member or partner to carry or cuddle to sleep if boobin’ does not work.
Sleep with them or near them following safe guidelines so he could breastfeed during his nap or at night
Let go of expectations of “normal” and stop comparing your baby to your other children and how they sleep. Just like us adults, they are all different
Sit quietly with your baby skin to skin without people around. As your toddler gets older you can still do this (although they will be a bit more active!)
Set some routines around nap time and bed time. You can still breastfeed on demand during your routines! It’s not about scheduling breastfeeding/play/sleep times but about putting some rituals into place which can be done before, during or after breastfeeds leading up to nap time or bed time. These can include reading books, going for a walk or lying down quietly in your bed with them listening to the same music. I always sing the same two songs to my youngest when I’m breastfeeding him, trying to get him to sleep. Sometimes it actually works!
Go with the flow and the changing routines! Your baby or toddler will have times of being an awesome sleeper! Then they will start waking more frequently again. This is totally normal. My little guy takes naps still (although he does skip days) and will usually sleep for two hours long. He did not do this regularly though until recently. I have no idea why he suddenly started taking longer naps…we just go with it!
One of the most important aspects of this is to recognize our expectations (or the expectations of those around us) and what they see as a sleep “problem” or what we or they see as something that must be changed or fixed. Breastfed babies and toddlers are not meant to sleep through the night and there are many reasons for this (which I have written about here)… If we can just change our outlook about this and get back to basics! Think of yourself as a marsupial, not a mammal. Carry your baby, breastfeed your baby frequently and just plain cuddle them and comfort them! For most babies and toddlers, this is what they need. It is not our babies and toddlers who need to be “fixed” or “trained”. It’s us and our lifestyles that need some fixin’.
**My baby hated sleep and did not settle easily, however he was not distressed. If you have a baby who cries a lot or is clearly not sleeping because they are uncomfortable, in pain or colicky, please contact me or another lactation consultant who can help you get to the bottom of it. Sometimes sleep issues can be caused by specific medical or gut related issues such as food intolerances or allergies.
Meg Nagle is the mother of three active boys. In between blogging, writing, giving talks, researching and occasionally sleeping, Meg works with women to help them reach their breastfeeding goals! Her background is in counselling and sexual health. She was also a La Leche League Leader (breastfeeding counsellor) for seven years before becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.