Monday, May 21, 2012

On Sleep (how the cow kept us awake for hours)

As we began implementing some gentle sleep techniques to help our son sleep longer between wake-ups, they actually started to work.  After a few months Safran went from about 8 wake ups a night to 1-2.  It might still seem like a lot to other parents, but for us, parents of a 'Duracell Bunny Baby' (love this article - does it sound like your baby?), it felt really good.


Saf started to have these periods of extended night waking:  Oh. my. goodness.  So many mornings I was blurry-eyed and googling this topic.  Do other kids do this??  Do other kids wake up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, not wanting to get up and play but unable to go back to sleep?  It started when Saf was probably 10 months old.  At first it was a random occurrence that left us wondering but not too concerned.  But by 13 months he was doing this at least every week, sometimes 3 nights in a row.  1-4 am, awake.  2-4 am, awake.  3-6 am, awake.  Not wanting to play, just wanting to be held, rocked, nursed, cuddled.

We were tired.

I did some research trying to figure out what was going on.  Here's a short list of things that can wake a child up in the night from
  • baby wants more time with mom
  • teething
  • developmental advances (for example: waking more often right before or after learning to turn over, crawl or talk)
  • illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema
  • hunger (including growth spurts)
  • reverse cycling: Some babies whose moms are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling. 
 Initially I thought that Saf's extended night waking could be developmental.  He is pretty intense, he's on on on all day and maybe he isn't fully 'off' when he is sleeping.  But then his nightwaking became so frequent and hardly bearable, especially the two weeks when Chris was on a work trip in SE Asia and I had no one to relieve me.  Some of those nights, probably accentuated by my pregnancy and missingness of my husband, I would have tears streaming down my face while I was rocking him, so tired and desperate for him to sleep.  Dramatic?  Maybe.  But in the moment it felt very hard to cope.  Sometimes we would let him cry in our arms, which maybe would wear him out in the short term and help him fall back asleep eventually, but was not causing the extended periods of night waking to stop.

Chris bore the brunt of the episodes and would spend hours rocking or bouncing Safran and I would sleep.  Saf would fall asleep eventually and when he woke for the morning (which was usually as early as normal) I would take over and Chris would sleep until he had to get up for work.  Tag-team sleeping.  This was our life.  (And now with two little ones we still do this.  A lot.)

I could find very little on the internet related to the extended nature of the night wakings.  A friend said that with her son they'd do quiet play or read stories until he was tired again.  She didn't know why it happened, but it did end when he was night weaned.  We tried that with Saf a few times, but he would just cry and cry.  He didn't want to be up, he wanted to be comforted.  He wanted to be rocked or nursed or walked or bounced.  But no matter how long you did it, he couldn't get back to sleep.  And (my husband adds) he was getting heavier and heavier.  (Again, a good reason to marry a man or woman with big muscles.)

When I was around 30 weeks pregnant with Jubilee I was starting to panic.  The nights in general were getting better - the gentle nightweaning techniques were working and Chris was doing most of the caring for Saf when he woke.  But one or two nights a week he would still be up for hours.

I think I was reading a forum on and stumbled upon someone saying that DAIRY SENSITIVITY CAN CAUSE EXTENDED TODDLER NIGHT WAKING.  (Sorry I can't link to it, I think it was just some people having a conversation).  Chris' parents happened to be staying with us at the time and his mom mentioned that Chris had a dairy sensitivity as a young child that he eventually outgrew.  As my milk supply decreased throughout the pregnancy I wanted to make sure Safran was feeling 'full' before bed so I would give him cheese or yoghurt everyday, especially in the evening.  So we decided to stop giving him dairy.  I read it can take up to 5 weeks to see a difference, but after about 2 he was sleeping better and generally was less frustrated in the day as well.  We stopped the dairy at the end of November and the last week of December he slept the whole night without waking for a week, from 7pm - 5am.

We were RELIEVED.  I felt like I was finally ready to have another baby.  Which was good, since I was about 39 weeks pregnant.

Since then Saf has still had a few nights where he has been up for a couple of hours, but the last two have been when his first molars broke through.  Saf is sensitive, he doesn't sleep through pain well and he becomes alert very quickly.  In March he had two "bad" nights, in April he had one and none in May so far.  He does still wake briefly multiple times a night as we've 'un-night weaned' but I'll share that story soon. 

If Safran wants to drink milk from the fridge we give him rice milk.  He talks about cheese a lot but it's in reference to the camera. :)



  1. This is so interesting because I was just talking to my mom tonight about whether Grace has any food allergies because she also still wakes every 2 hours or so at night. I wondered aloud if it could be dairy as Patrick has dairy sensitivities and apparently I did as well when I was a baby. So, I think we'll try omitting dairy as well and see what happens. Shoot, since I'm still nursing, does this mean I have to give it up too??!! :P Thanks becca, love reading your posts.

  2. you could give it a shot for some weeks and see if it helps. i've heard (although don't quote me) that if a parent is sensitive there's a 40% chance of it being passed on to a child. Hm. And I did cut out dairy when J was born and my milk came back. I think I generally feel better, although I do miss it sometimes. And J is a pretty content baby so I wonder if it helps her as well. xx

  3. We had some progress, and now we're back to nights as bad (maybe worse) than ever. I'm beyond tired. Judah's waking up several times a night and he's so miserable, so wanting to sleep but unable. Some nights he nurses and then finishes and still cries, often up for long, long periods crying, even in our arms as we pace around the house (or neighborhood) or beside us in bed when all else fails. We're tag teaming between two bedrooms - he's in with me or in bed with Ryan in our guest room. Totally exhausting. I've got an apt for tomorrow at the GP to see if it might be something medical. Maybe I should try cutting out dairy. I shudder just thinking about that - I love my milk and cheese - but if it could help him then I'd be willing! I feel so bad for him right now. And I feel so bad, period. Quality of life rapidly deteriorating = not good for the family. :(

    1. hope you get some answers (and some sleep!) soon adriel. x