Life Mothers & Babies

Sunday 21 September 2014

My little girl screams the house down when I put her to bed – I'm nearly at my wits' end

Published 02/06/2014 | 02:30

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I HAVE three children aged seven, six and 22 months. The one causing problems is the 22-month-old. She is breastfed (and the only one to be breastfed for this length). We put her into her own room at about 10 months and everything went fine. She always went into her cot, no bother.

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Then one day, when I tried to put her to bed, she was having none of it. She roared the place down. My husband tried the "cry it out" way (which I do not agree with) but he had to go away on the fourth or fifth night and it was left to me. I did try, but she went ballistic and I gave in after an hour. So now she goes to bed in our bed and I need to nurse her to sleep, which I never did before.

She goes for her nap, no problem, in her own bedroom, for the childminder and my husband, but I tried to put her for a nap in her own room last Friday and she roared. She had a look of sheer panic on her face, so I took her to sleep in our bed.

At the moment, I can't go anywhere. She wakes constantly. I'm nearly at my wits' end with no sleep.

I would love to hear from you with any ideas or suggestions.

DAVID SAYS: DISRUPTED sleep in children can be so hard to cope with because the exhaustion that comes with it, for children and parents, leaves everyone on edge and more prone to grumpiness.

It sounds like there have been several things going on. One of the most significant things, however, is that you and your husband seem to disagree, at a core level, about how to deal with the situation.

You haven't mentioned it, but I wonder is your husband fully supportive of you continuing to breastfeed your daughter?

It may be that the sleeping issue and his desire to take a more 'hard-line' approach is actually his way of showing you that he doesn't really approve of you still breastfeeding.

I think that this is a conversation worth having.

It is easy for mams and dads to end up with quite different views of the importance or need to continue the breastfeeding relationship with toddlers.

I think if you manage to clarify how you both feel about this, that it will help you to align your responses to your daughter waking up.

Because it is clear that she, naturally, has a different relationship with you and different expectations of you when it comes to sleeping.

Other people, such as her dad or childminder, can settle her to sleep, without feeding her to sleep, because she has no expectation that they can or will provide her with the nurturing feeling that nursing to sleep gives her.

On the other hand, she is telling you by her screaming that she knows you could offer such nurturing. She won't accept you not giving her that when you are settling her to sleep.

So, when it comes to the night times, you need to decide, as a couple, if you feel she needs to continue with the night feeding, or if the time has come to wean her off the breast at night.

In practice, most breastfed children drop their daytime feeds first and keep hold of the night-time feeds. However, you can continue to feed her in the day, but choose not to feed her in the night.

As I said, the most important thing is that you and your husband agree, both in principle and in practice, that this is what you want for your daughter.

If you want to go this route, then one of your first changes will probably have to be to put her back in her own bed in her room.

If you are physically present beside her, in your bed, it will be too tempting for her to want to be fed.

You'll find the process easier if it is her dad, in the early stages, who settles her to sleep at bedtime. You can give her a last feed on the couch before she goes up.

If it is her dad settling her to sleep then, rather than using a 'cry it out' technique, I think it would be much more helpful, and less stressful for your daughter, if he could offer her lots of emotional support and cuddles if she wakes.

He does need to be available to soothe her back to sleep, since she may be very distressed that she is not getting her usual soothing from nursing.

Patience and gentleness are key to helping children get back to sleep.

If your husband is able to consistently respond to her, when she wakes, she will soon learn and accept that this is the new way of things and so her reliance on, and desire for, nursing to sleep will fade.

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