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We are working to try to help our 9 month old baby sleep better. I have read a lot of information online as well as baby sleep books such as Weissbluth, Ferber, Pantley. We are not interested in leaving our baby to cry at this stage but prefer to try more gentle methods and we understand this can take longer.

However, my question is, most of the sleep experts talk about sleep associations i.e. that the way the baby goes to sleep to start with is the way he will need to go back to sleep when he wakes at night. I am not convinced. A few examples why not:

  • although I am breastfeeding, we have had some success with separating the feeding from baby going to sleep (e.g. as proposed in "the no cry sleep solution"). However, this doesn't mean he doesn't look for milk when he wakes at night. I think most sources agree that a 9 month old shouldn't need to feed at night so why is he still looking for milk? He eats reasonably well in the day.
  • I know many people are not keen on the idea of co-sleeping but in the case that I am desperate for sleep and don't have the energy to try something else, if my baby can go to sleep with a cuddle and not be picked up, why does he not go back to sleep with a cuddle if I am sleeping next to him even when he has been recently fed?
  • often during daytime naps, my baby wakes up after the first sleep cycle, crying and seemingly not ready to finish his nap. However whether this happens or not doesn't seem to relate to how he went to sleep.
  • sometimes when our baby wakes at night, he can be settled easily with a little patting in his cot. Other times he cries a lot and needs to be picked up. This happens for different wakings in the same night or wakings at a similar stage of different nights and seems independent of how he went to sleep.

So are sleep associations as big a deal as everyone seems to say they are? Is there actual evidence for this or is it just something convenient that people have made up to try to explain the mysterious world of baby sleep? Does anyone know of any studies on baby sleep associations? How can we tell if sleep associations are causing our sleep difficulties or if it's something else?

  • We found this Nighttime Parenting advice useful. Re "I think most sources agree that a 9 month old shouldn't need to feed at night" - all babies are different. Even if it's true that the average 9-month-old doesn't need night feeds (which I'm not at all sure that it is), that doesn't mean your baby isn't hungry. – A E Oct 28 '14 at 18:47
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I never read any books on sleep and we mostly did our own thing. My personal, unscientific observation is that babies are very different when it comes to sleep, and what works for one child will not work for others. Some parents read a book and works perfect for their kids, and then if it doesn't work for their friend's kid are convinced they are 'doing it wrong'.

I think babies, parents are all different to make unique family dynamics.

Eating at night

Both my kids were/are night eaters. I was puzzles, since they are both good eaters (especially the oldest), but my friend told me to consider this:

When you yourself wake up at night, are you hungry sometimes? The reason you don't go an eat is that you know 2am is not eating time. A baby doesn't know.

I found this very reasonable, and waited until he himself stopped most nights and then around 2 years when I felt I could talk to him, even in the 'sleepy haze' told him that now was not the time for eating.

I personally chose to feed my babies at night when they were hungry, even when they did not need it (medically speaking). I made it a choice, and by 2, the oldest were done. It was not a problem.

as for everything else, I don't have any answers for you, other than babies are different. Different temperaments, different things work. Neither of mine are interested in the comfort of stuffies/blankets. Oldest was easy to get off bottle/nursing, youngest does not want to give up his bottle (even when I stopped nursing). I don't worry about it, it will not go on.

  • 2
    Thanks, this is reassuring. As a first time mum it's easy to worry that things will not get better without doing something. I like your point about not eating at night because we know it's not eating time. Funnily enough while I was trying to help my son back to sleep the night before last I was feeling hungry but I didn't even think of getting up to eat. – MiniMum Oct 28 '14 at 9:09
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First off, there isn't a definitive answer, because if there were someone would've made a mint off of selling it. Instead, a hundred different people sell different solutions, largely because each situation is different.

Some of what you list above is him expressing his opinion. Why does he not sleep as easily next to you, even recently fed? Because nursing gives him positive feelings/endorphins. So does spending time with you; if you're right there perhaps he's just interested in seeing if you'll get up and play with him. Many babies even at 9 months would happily do 4-6 hours sleep in two to three batches rather than 9-10 hours in one plus a shorter nap. Many adults would do the same, if they could; I had a friend who often slept in two 4 or so hour sections with a few hours awake in between - like sleep 8p-12a and 3a-7a. Who knows.

Some of it is also getting him used to what happens. It can be very hard to break him of the habit of nursing in middle of the night feedings - again, he likes it, even if he doesn't need it. You can wean him off by just trying not to do it more and more - for us it was a hard week or so for each of our sons, not getting a ton of sleep as we tried to get them back down. It helped for me to do more of those than my wife, as they weren't expecting me to feed them.

Really, all of what you post in the question is exactly what I considered normal for us. We also did no-cry, and largely off the seat of our pants; we tried some sleep association stuff, but not really in a consistent way. Neither of our kids really has a blanky or a teddy or anything (sporadically, but not consistently). The one thing we were careful to do was to break the nursing to sleep connection, and that specifically did help - with both boys, when we started to ensure they were put down at least half the time not fully asleep from nursing, it improved their sleep on nights with no nursing (like when I gave my wife a night off to go see a movie or something and put the kids to bed).

I don't see any research that's easily found, but Donald Cohen looks like he might have some (of the Yale Guide to Understanding your Child); hopefully one of our more research-oriented folks can find it. I would say that it's not going to be straightforward telling what's an issue due to sleep associations (or any other specific issue), because kids are just so different that some things will matter more and less than others with each kid. But none of what you posted above seems unusual to me, or particularly problematic.

  • Thanks. Your experience sounds similar to what many friends have told me - that sleep only improves once the baby has stopped breastfeeding. Since I'm not ready to stop yet or even completely night wean I guess I need to accept the broken sleep for a while longer. – MiniMum Oct 28 '14 at 9:17
  • @MiniMum I can't tell from the limited view I get from this question, but you might want to look at some of the literature on attachment parenting. There are ways to manage more sleep and to help the baby learn to sleep, even while cosleeping. The Attachment Parenting International site has some strategies, for example. – Joe Oct 28 '14 at 14:13
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However, this doesn't mean he doesn't look for milk when he wakes at night. I think most sources agree that a 9 month old shouldn't need to feed at night so why is he still looking for milk? He eats reasonably well in the day.

My wife still breast feeds our son of 1,5 years old. Its only since a few weeks he doesn't wake up anymore at night to have some breast feeded milk. My older son slept through the whole night when he was a couple of months old.

I know many people are not keen on the idea of co-sleeping

He slept beside our beds for as long as he could fit in the co-sleeper. Some say to put them in their own beds, on their own room, as soon as possible. We think this is against mother nature, as we think its more natural to keep them close. We didn't with our first son, which I regret now. As he is, and always have been, less affectionate then my younger son. I think its a result of us being less affectionate in the beginning. If I could do it over, I would choose to be more patient, and keep him closer. My wife said, if she could do it over, she would had tried longer to get breastfeeding to work as well.

often during daytime naps, my baby wakes up after the first sleep cycle, crying and seemingly not ready to finish his nap. However whether this happens or not doesn't seem to relate to how he went to sleep. sometimes when our baby wakes at night, he can be settled easily with a little patting in his cot. Other times he cries a lot and needs to be picked up. This happens for different wakings in the same night or wakings at a similar stage of different nights and seems independent of how he went to sleep.

I, myself, sleep very different every night. One night I'm way more restful to take a good night of sleep while others I am a bit more restless. Sometimes I am so relaxed before I go to sleep that I become conscious while I'm dreaming (lucid dreaming). Though I can say that I always sleep well, each night is still of different quality to me, depending on my state of mind (especially the state of mind right before going to bed). I believe my children experience that in a similar matter.

We are not interested in leaving our baby to cry at this stage but prefer to try more gentle methods and we understand this can take longer

In my experience this is the most important: intention. My sons are sensitive to the way I feel about something. Of course I am not amused when I need to get out of bed while having to get up early in the morning to get to work. If I have this feeling, while trying to 'comfort' them (read: getting them back to sleep, the faster the better), the success rate is low. When I really feel for them, and not self-pitying, and have the intention to stay as long as necessary, they are back to sleep way faster.

I don't have the (or any) answer. But maybe some of my experience is of use to you.

  • This is a nice positive take on the situation with the benefit of hindsight. We can't know how our child will turn out but by keeping them close the tendency is to worry they will become clingy and spoilt. To think it may make them more affectionate is much nicer to imagine. Thanks – MiniMum Oct 28 '14 at 9:24
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We had similar problems with our daughter, who is now almost 14 months old; she used to wake up during the night to eat, one or two times per night. We tried making routines but didn't notice any significant change. In our opinion she was indeed waking up because she was hungry.

We noticed improvements when we managed to give her less milk and more "solid" food, when she was around 10-11 months old. At the time she started asking for less nursing day by day, and she would not wake up every night; she still used to get nursed before sleeping and sometimes in the morning, if she woke up early.

Then one day my wife ran out of milk, and my daughter seemed to accept it without problems, and went to sleep without asking. This still amazes me!

We guessed that her stomach adjusted to the new timetable, and that the solid food kept her full a bit longer.

I hope what I wrote is readable, as I'm not a native English speaker, and more than that I hope any of this is useful to you :)

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