Friday 15 December 2017

My 14-month-old son just won't stay in his cot at night

David Coleman

David Coleman

We have a serious problem with our 14-month-old son (first child). From the day he was born, not one morning have I woken up to go to work and he's not in our bed. My wife went back to work after six months and then had to hand in her notice as she was up with our son all night every night.

We have done everything by the book -- baths, an exact bedtime every night, leave him crying, no eye contact when he's screaming etc. At 8pm, he is put to bed. He will not stay in his cot ever, so we have to lie on a bed in his room beside him to keep him there. He will feed himself a bottle of seven ounces of milk, then wriggle and pull your hair, lips, and poke you in the eyes until he falls asleep. This usually takes at least 40 minutes and can take up to two hours.

He will then wake every two hours and need to be cradled back to sleep. He will wake around 4am and will never ever go back down and that is when we bring him to our bed. He will wake bang on 6am for his bottle of milk and go back to sleep until about 7.30am. He has a nap for about two hours at 11am and that's it for the day; he is very active and happy and laughing all day -- it's just at night that we have the problem.

Please, please tell us that a solution exists, before our marriage ends. My wife does not have the time of day for me any more because our son controls her life and we get no sleep at all.I hope your plea about the precariousness of your marriage is an exaggeration, although I do know the desperation that can occur after chronic sleep deprivation.

Young children and babies are notoriously fickle in their sleeping habits and the babies (you hear about) that sleep through the night are more of an exception than the norm.

With a bit of consistency your son's sleeping will settle; he is still young and sometimes it just takes time to find the best way for your child to help them to sleep more soundly.

I noted all the efforts you have made to try to settle your son and part of the difficulty he, and you, are having may be to do with the number and nature of the options you have tried. It sounds like things have not been very consistent or predictable for him.

The key to sleep in babies is that they feel secure, safe and comfortable at bedtime. If you think about your own sleep, when you are anxious, frustrated or upset you will find it harder to sleep. Babies are the same. What they need, therefore, is consistency, routine and comfort to eliminate any disruptive worries or distress.

Your son is used to company to help him feel comfortable and secure as he falls asleep. There is nothing wrong with this, and in due course you can wean him off the need for company to soothe him, to allow him to soothe himself.

For now, however, he needs you or his mum to be with him to settle. At the start of the night you offer yourselves as a companion. It makes sense, therefore, that every time he needs to fall asleep he needs you, including when he wakes in the middle of the night.

Imagine, from his perspective, the shock he gets when having fallen asleep touching you, he wakes up all alone in the dark. No wonder he screams out for you to come back.

His pattern of waking sounds like it follows his sleep rhythm, such that any time he dreams he comes to full wakefulness and then can't get himself back to sleep without calling for help.

By using crying-it-out techniques in the past, and by ignoring him when he was distressed, you may have unintentionally added to his anxiety about being left to sleep unaided, making him more demanding of your presence.

To resolve his sleeping issues, I think you need to maximise his comfort and security at bedtime and through the night. I would suggest, therefore, that you let him sleep in your bed through the night.

You know he likes the company and he probably sleeps most soundly when he has you or his mum beside him.

Having him beside you also means that there is no need to go stumbling around the house in the middle of the night if he does wake.

He is only 14 months and so there is plenty of time to reintroduce him to his own bed when he is older and better able to learn to soothe himself, without the stress and trauma of being left to cry and be ignored.

At the moment, you and your wife sound like you are struggling against him and his need of you to help fall asleep. He probably even senses that you are reluctant or resistant companions beside his cot.

Again this means that he has to work harder, and keeps himself awake longer, to ensure you don't leave him.

He needs to learn that you won't be leaving him and that he can trust and rely upon you.

In the early stages of settling into your bed he may well still be a bit disrupted, but that will be more from habit than anything else.

By being in the bed with you all night he will experience full security and that will, in time, allow him to relax more and more, such that he won't wake up.

I also think you might like to move his bedtime forward, even by half-an-hour, or move his nap time in the day to a bit later, as I wonder if he is overtired by the time bedtime comes at 8pm.

I imagine that if he experiences the real security of having you or his mum available through the night you will also see that, not only will he be content in the day, he will also probably be less demanding.

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