Friday, April 16, 2010

How Do I Help My 15-Month-Old Sleep In Her Crib?

We're posting a question today, and a Letter from Jane on Monday.  She just wanted a little more time to construct this letter about babies and's going to be good.  (no pressure though, mom:)  -Natalie

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I really felt like I had it all together before my daughter came. I thought I would be firm, and that she would sleep in her own bed, and that I would schedule her feedings. Then she came, and she just didn't want that stuff. And it just didn't feel like a good idea anymore. She had acid reflux (we didn't realize it for a couple months) and hated sleeping in her bassinet from day 1. So I let her sleep with me. I fed on demand. I tried to "attachment parent." And it's been amazing, really. She is so, so happy and secure, and just a delight. The only problem is bedtime.

I have read SO many sleep books, and almost all of them advocate some form of crying it out, saying I'm doing her a disservice by not making her soothe herself to sleep. And maybe I am. She is 15 months old, and I still nurse her to sleep. She really hates her crib. She cries and screams, and I'm convinced she feels abandoned. I've tried rocking her to sleep and laying her down after. She wakes up most of the time, or just doesn't sleep very long. I am tired. She wakes up a few times a night still to nurse. I feel like it's doable, though.

I'm just not sure what to do. I feel like I need to get my little girl's sleeping under control. At the same time, I don't want to damage my relationship with my sweet baby that I am totally in love with! Oh, I love her. I just want to make sure I'm not hurting her sleep long-term. Oh, I wish I could see how everything would turn out! In my head, it seems as if her feeling attached, nurtured, and secure is the most important thing. But will she be an insomniac? These are the questions that plague me.:)

Thank you,

The Answer:
Dear Anonymous,

It seems like bedtime/naptime struggles are some of the most common problems for young mothers. I know that trends have really changed over the years, but for me this whole process was fairly simple. I'll put it out there for your consideration.

I nursed each of my children for the first year. At that point, my doctor assured me that cow's milk was fine for them, so I gradually got them to take a bottle. (None of them took bottles while I was nursing them.) At around one year old, I would put my babies to bed every night and down for their naps, with a warm bottle. Once they were converted, they loved their bottles, so they always went to bed easily. I never gave them bottles except when they were going to bed--so a warm bottle and bed was a happy, positive thing. I also never gave juice bottles (too hard on teeth.)

Because I've received so many questions like yours, I decided to ask some of my other “old experienced mother” friends and they agreed—that’s what they did too. In the past few years, it seems that this method has fallen out of favor. I’m just not sure why. Most of my friends agree that their children had few cavities. One friend was more vigilant about brushing and none of her five children who took bottles have ever had a single cavity. Only one of my children had braces so I don't think it's an orthodontic issue. Maybe there is a study I'm not aware of that discourages the practice, but all I know is that it took a lot of the stress out of bedtime. And everybody seems to have turned out pretty well so far.

When they were three or so, I would take them off of the bottle so I could potty train--also very easy at that late age, and move them into a toddler bed so they could get up at night to go the bathroom. This transition was typically pretty painless. So, there you have it—the “old-fashioned, no fail, everybody’s happy” way to put children to sleep.

Let me also assure you that what you are doing now--nursing your baby to sleep and responding to her cries--will not turn her into an insomniac or damage her sleep patterns for life. You sound like a wonderful, nurturing mother but your baby has had an excellent start and it's time for you to get some sleep!

All my love,


  1. So would you adviser her to still give her a bottle during the middle of the night when she wakes up?

  2. It's been my understanding that the no bottles in bed rule is because of potential ear infections. I have no anecdotal evidence to back this up, however, where Jane does! (

    I feel your pain, Anonymous! I, too, couldn't do the cry-it-out thing. It's hard. My baby is now almost 13 months and finally used to sleeping in his crib after spending the first 10 months of his life sleeping in bed with me and nursing on demand. He is almost sleeping through the night (by that I mean he can go for about 8 hours, but it's usually 7 pm to 3 am then a bottle and rocking in my arms and back to bed until 7 am).

    Here's what worked for us:

    -He was biting me while nursing so I began giving him a bottle (pumped breastmilk and formula to supplement) for almost all his feedings. That got us out of the habit of nursing in bed. (And a little bit of formula really fills him up!)

    -I transitioned him to his crib slowly, starting with just naptime. I would nurse/bottle feed him in my arms until he was asleep then transfer him to the crib. Sometimes he woke up, but mostly he didn't. And when he woke up from his nap, I retrieved him promptly so he wouldn't get upset that he was in his crib. We also played with toys in his crib during non-nap times so he could get used to it.

    -And here's the key: I let him fuss/cry but just for a little while. I realized that I couldn't do cry-it-out if it meant 20 minutes or an hour of crying. What I realized is that I could take 5 or 10 minutes of crying, maybe even 15. And usually that's all it took. If I put Charlie in his crib very drowsy or lightly sleeping and he woke up and cried a little, usually he was tired enough to go back to sleep on his own. Don't listen to your baby crying! Set a timer, put your iPod in, go in another room, do the dishes, vacuum, whatever it takes- and decide what length of time you can handle before you check on her by listening. You may still not be able to handle it (I didn't think I could either) but now Charlie will wake up in the night fussing and go back to sleep on his own within 2 minutes almost every time.

    Good luck! You can do this! You WILL figure out what works for your family and your child won't be sleeping with you when she goes to college! ;)

  3. I have done this with my four. My youngest is 13 months and he is just making this transition as well. I have found that if I put him down a little earlier, before he is acting REALLY tired, he goes down more soundly. BUT I do give him a bottle. An 8oz. bottle of warm whole milk. None of my boys have ever had a single ear infection. I do give him another bottle if he wakes up in the night, but often now (since I've stopped nursing him) he will sleep until 5 or so, so I get a much better stretch of sleep. Sometimes if he wakes up before that, he'll just take his binky and go right back to sleep...if not, I do give him a small bottle.

    My 2 year old also still takes a bottle to bed, but I don't give him another one if he wakes up in the night...he is old enough to tell me what he needs and he is old enough to understand what I say, so it is much easier to get him back to sleep. He is just skinny, so I like him to get the extra calories and he still likes the comfort as he falls asleep.

    I have the advantage of having children ages 4, 3, 2, and 1, so I can see that giving my baby a bottle will not result in problems 2 he's limited to one and he's happy with that. At 3 he goes to sleep without one and sleeps soundly all night long. This has been the pattern and so it doesn't stress me out to start my 13 month old on a bottle. I know that all children are different, but this has been the case with all of mine so far.

    Like you, I would rather err on the side of being too compassionate with my children. And as I've done this, I have found that I'm not messing them up or forming damaging habits that are going to cause major problems later. They just grow up and sleep normally soon enough and I have the assurance that I've done my best to consider their feelings as I make choices about their care. now that I've written a post of my own, I'm going to stop=) Good luck! You sound like a very kind mom.

  4. What I did (and I started this when my daughter was 3 months, so I'm not sure how well it would work on an older child who knows how to manipulate) is I'd put her in her crib and leave her for 5 minutes. If she was still crying, I'd go snuggle her, comfort her, give her a little time to make sure she's completely calmed down, then put her back in bed and wait 7 minutes. Then 10 minutes. Etc. After a few nights (I think 3 or 4) she was sleeping just fine. I also don't remember exactly how old she was when she started sleeping through the night, but it was around 6 or 7 months (I think when she started solid foods). The books I read said to leave her in her crib and comfort her, but I could never do that. She wouldn't calm down if I didn't pick her up. Also, once I put her in the crib I'd usually sing to her for a bit while she was laying there.

    My mom always suggested that if they wake up in the night, you should give them a bottle of water instead of nursing, and after a week or so they'd realize, "If I'm not getting milk from this, what's the point in waking up?" And then they'd sleep through the night. She had 9 kids and it always worked for her.

    I would personally never put my kids to bed with a bottle of milk because my family has a history of VERY bad teeth, so I just wouldn't want to risk the cavities.

  5. Oh, and when she woke up in the night after she had shown she could sleep through on her own, I'd wait 5 minutes once she started crying before I'd go in. 90% of the time she'd go back to sleep (And for the first few days she'd wake back up every hour) and the other 10% I'd go in and she'd have a wet diaper or something.

    My husband actually made me turn off the baby monitor because it was making it too hard. We decided if she cried loud enough for me to hear her from another room, then there was a problem.

  6. I can't cry-it-out either... It makes me cry. And what's the point of BOTH being miserable?

    I don't have much experience. My girls (nearly 2 years old and 4 months old) have both been pretty good sleepers early on (both sleep from around 8:30 or 9pm to 7 or 8am and take good naps). I think I've mostly been lucky, but we did have some bumps with bed and naptime with the older one for a while, around the same age as yours, when she would get worked up and cry and resist her crib. I didn't know what to do because she had been so easy before and I didn't want to bring her to bed with me because she was all wiggly and I just couldn't sleep very well.

    Here's what worked for us:
    -After she weaned at around 13 months (it was surprisingly painless for both of us--I just dropped one feeding a week), we went straight to a cup, and I made sure that she was good and full before bed (bedtime snack and drink).
    -Then I gave her extra cuddle time before bed (at least fifteen min. of rocking, lullabies, etc.) before even trying to put her down. I got the feeling that because we weren't nursing anymore, she needed to be held more. Sometimes, this is all it took and then she went down.
    -Next, I would put her in her crib. Sometimes to lure her into her crib I would read her a story in her crib. If she was still resisting I would talk and sing to her in a soothing voice, reassuring her that I was staying there, hugging her over the side of the crib, etc.
    -Then when she was calm enough to lay down, I would pat her back or stroke her head while she settled down. I did this until she fell asleep.
    -Once we had done this for a week or so and I knew she felt comfortable in her bed, I would try and leave when she was calm but not yet asleep. Sometimes this would get her all riled up again. Sometimes she was fine with it.
    -If she got worked up, I would put on her Primary Songbook CD and pat her back again until she was calm again and try and leave again.
    -Last resort, I would do the five to ten minutes of fussing before I checked, like Barb above. (I can take the fussing a little better, when it's just a few scattered cries, but not really upset crying.) Usually, it didn't even come to this.

    This sounds like it takes a long time, but I tried crying-it-out a few times and it seemed just as long and much more painful. The above methods usually only took about a half-hour to forty minutes all together (though a few times it did take longer). But it was worth it. After a couple months it got way easy. Now we just brush teeth, sing a Primary song, read a scripture story and say prayer, rock five minutes, put on the Primary CD and blow kisses goodnight.

    For naptime, I would do a shorter version of the above. There were several times she really had trouble going down and wouldn't take a nap, but we just kept doing it. She LOVES her nap now. We don't even have to rock before nap. Just put on the songs and go. Those Primary CDs from Church Distribution were one of the best investments I ever made...and free shipping. I love hearing her sing them as she falls asleep too.

    If she woke up in the night, I would get in there as fast as I could and pat her back or sing her a song or hold her hand to soothe her. I kept the light off and usually didn't pick her up, just reaching in to her was enough. Then I could leave after a few minutes. And if she was still having guessed it...Primary CD.

    Tip: I recommend putting a chair next to the crib if you want to reassure them by their bed. It really helped me get through those couple months when she needed me to sit by her and reassure her. I was six months pregnant and standing was getting old quick.

    These things really worked for us and eased my peace of mind. I even found myself looking forward to bedtime/cuddle time.

    Hope one of these things helps and sorry it's so long.

    Thanks Jane for sharing all your experience and ideas with us!

  7. Wow. I have to say that I disagree with almost all of the comments. I am surprised that there isn't more support for "teaching" babies to go to sleep. I don't say, "let them cry themselves to sleep" because I believe that it doesn't have to be like that. My oldest is 12, with an 8, 6, and 2 year old. Our oldest slept with us most of the time, when she would sleep. This made it so no one got a restful sleep, ever. She actually didn't sleep through the night a single time until we brought #2 home from the hospital. What I have since learned is that teaching your child to sleep, sleep in their own bed, and go to sleep on their own is one of the best gifts you can give to a child. It isn't a sign that you don't love them or want to be with them. You aren't neglecting them in the slightest. They will sleep deeper and more restfully when they put themselves to sleep.
    There are simple things that you can do to help with the waking at night. When they do wake up, go to them, (leave them in their bed), rub their tummy and assure that they are okay (without turning on lights.) keep interaction to a minimum. This helps them learn the difference between night and day. We did a bit of the "letting them cry" but it wasn't just dropping them in their bed and walking out. We started by sitting by their crib and patting their back and assuring them that we are still there. The next night we sit by the crib but no touching, etc. We gradually got to the point where we could tuck them in and leave without any fussing.
    Oh, and now I have a two year old that puts herself down for naps and to bed everynight. No fighting. It is amazing.
    Every family and each baby is individual. I in no way suggest that other methods are wrong. For me and for our children, I am confident that we are so much happier and healthier with everyone sleeping in their own beds and going to sleep on their own.

  8. I raised mine on the warm bottle routine too. They loved their crib because they knew that is where would got the bottle. But I admit, in the middle of the night when they wanted us, we gladly took them to bed with us. I think we missed them as much as they missed us. One of my sons, who has one year old twins, said to me recently, "Dependent children make independent adults." I agree!

  9. There are so many methods, because there are so many personalities. What worked for my first did not work for my second. But I do believe, whatever you do, you and your baby should be getting at least decent sleep. If you are exhausted from waking up every couple hours, your baby probably is, too. I start to feel depressed (quite depressed) when my baby wakes up more than twice a night. I then become not as good of a mother as I should be. So don't think you have to be a martyr to be a good mom. Okay, all moms are martyrs, but when it comes to sleep, you're a better mom if you're not a full blown martyr.

  10. The best thing I ever did was start my daughter on a bedtime routine. She liked to fall asleep in my bed and usually didn't go to sleep till 9-9:30. This left me no time to get stuff done before I fell in bed. Once she started climbing out of her crib we got her a toddler bed and started a routine of jammies, brushing teeth, saying prayers, reading some stories and singing a couple of songs. For about the first month she would cry and get out of her bed (we let her cry it out for a bit) and then one night the crying stopped. She now loves bedtime and usually will say bye to us when she is ready to sleep. The routine made it so I don't have to have her cry it out. Just be patient and realize it will come and you can aid it in coming by setting up a routine. The most wonderful thing about routines is that it gives your child the best gift you can give them: Structure. Kids need it and they will thrive if it is given to them.

  11. By the way Jane, I love your blog! I found it through my sister exactly when I needed it. I'm trying a little harder each day to be a little better and a bit more patient.

  12. I am so glad that there is someone else out that used milk to put their children to sleep for bedtime. My first son didn't want milk, but my second-- Milk is Heaven in a cup.

  13. I haven't read through all of these posts yet, so I don't know if this has been said, or if I am going against the grain... but let me just put it out there that if you are still happy nursing your little one, don't be pressured to quit for sleeping's sake. The WHO (World Health Organization) actually advocates breastfeeding until the age of two. I bf'd my first until he was 2 1/2, and at your daughter's age he was still waking at night to nurse and it was draining. I also got pregnant... so I gently night weaned him (highly recommend the book... The No Cry Sleep Solution - it is not an overnight solution but it works). And my oldest son is 3 1/2 now... he woke to nurse until he was about two, but he now sleeps through the night and LIKE A ROCK - really he could sleep through a bomb. So no, responding to your baby's (yes, she is still a baby) in the night is not teaching her to be an insomniac, it is instilling trust and confidence and peace.

    Now with my son, I still sit with him or cuddle him to sleep (along with my youngest who is 17 months and still nursing) because it works well and we all enjoy it. I transitioned him from nursing to sleep to nursing before laying down, then telling him nursies were going night night and I would stay and cuddle him and tell him a story. He was sad about it and cried the first two nights... until I started the story and he got into it... I was amazed at how quickly he accepted stories instead of nursing to sleep (it was another few months before I completely weaned him from the daytime as well).

    Also, is she still sleeping in your bed? Because with both of my kids, the night waking to nurse drastically reduced when I moved them out of my bed (18 months for my oldest and 16 for my second). I put them on a regular sized mattress on the floor (so they can't fall off) so it is easy for me to lay with them to sleep and sneak away - mine always woke up bawling if I tried to lay them down after having them fall asleep in my arms.

    Anyway, sorry this is so long! I know the pull of wanting to do what feels right in your heart, vs doing something out of guilt, vs really being tired! I hope some of this helps!

  14. I love the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," both for the solid, research-based information about what healthy sleep looks like and why it's so important and for the tips it gives on helping to achieve that. My children all learned to sleep in their cribs from the time they were about 4 months old. Except for the first one, when I really didn't know what I was doing, I've never really had much "crying it out" going on. I simply learned to see the cues my baby is ready to sleep and then lie her down before she is overtired.

  15. Jane's advice, as always, is so loving and seems to POSSIBLE to emulate! I love it.

    My two young sons have already been where your daughter is, and to help them I turned to a book by Ferber. It is famous and easy to find. It takes a loving approach (and works very quickly, I might add -- less than three nights, I promise) and while it does usually solicit some tears and crying, going in to soothe the baby is built into the system. So... if the bottle method doesn't work for you, and you all are in need of better sleep now, then I highly recommend the Ferber method.

    Best of luck and thank you Jane for another wonderful post!


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