This post was underwritten by Real Traditions: natural products, traditionally made and contains affiliate links. All experiences and opinions are my own.
If you’ve greeted my husband or I with a polite, “How are you?” anytime within the last two and a half years, I can almost guarantee the one word answer we gave. It wasn’t a generic “fine,” or “good,” but something much more specific: “TIRED.” From the time we had our son in 2011, we’ve been absolutely exhausted.
It wasn’t just hard on us. Our poor boy was chronically overtired. He wanted to sleep. He tried to sleep. He’d happily stay in bed, but falling asleep frequently took two hours. Then he’d be up several times a night, sometimes for an hour or more, unable to sleep or keep still. Finally, he’d be up for the day at 4:30 or 5 am!
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about the ongoing saga of sleep issues we’ve had with our oldest. Quite frankly, it’s because I had pretty much given up. I started telling myself, surely he’ll sleep through the night by the time he’s 5. (Depressing I know.) But every once in a while I would hear of some natural remedy or gentle sleep strategy that would give me a hope.
I am happy to say that BabyE finally started sleeping through the night on a fairly consistent basis starting at about 30 months, sooner than I ever thought possible. This has been a long journey, and this post is going to get quite long. If you’re struggling with total exhaustion, desperate to help your toddler sleep, I don’t want to leave any details out that might help you on your own journey.
So without further ado, here’s what finally worked (along with some things that didn’t) to help my toddler sleep through the night…
The Baby Days
At first, it was the expected newborn stage. Babies need to be fed a couple times in the middle of the night. It’s totally normal up to a year or more. Sometimes, they have gas or are teething. But this went way beyond that.
At about four months, I finally had the light bulb go on: he exhibited all the characteristics of a high need baby: nursing constantly, almost never napping, up every two hours or more at night, needing to be held all. the.time. I love my high need baby of course. I was thankful to be his mommy and to be willing and able to provide him the comfort he clearly needed.
Still, a person can only go without sleep for so long. By the time he was seven months old, (I thought) I was at my breaking point. I could do little more than sit and stare into space while holding the baby during the day after being up all night. You can see from my thin blogging archives that any personal time or hobbies was just about zero in those months.
No Cry Sleep Solution
My baby’s doctor loaned me a copy of the No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley at his 9 month check up. It sounded like the promised land. It’s a book by a mom of four that helps teach baby to sleep using gentle methods. You can still co-sleep, and you don’t have to let them cry!
Thus, we embarked on Operation Mama Needs Sleep. I thoroughly documented everything about my baby’s sleep as Pantely suggests, even jotting down notes in the dark at 2 am. I created a detailed bedtime plan. I tried the famous Pantely-pull-off. I made him a lovely and wore it around in my blouse to get my smell on it.
And we did have some success. At about 9-months of age, he went from waking up more than six times a night to about five. The biggest improvement was in naps. Instead of taking several 20-40 minute naps a day on me, I was able to get him to sleep in bed for up to an hour at a time without having to hold him the whole time.
Dr. Sears Ways In
I also read Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book and The Baby Sleep Book around that time and tried out his suggestions. I made BabyE an organic cotton sleep sack and avoided synthetic fabrics that might cause allergies or irritation. I put a thermometer in the bedroom to make sure it was the ideal 70 degrees.
I attempted to do a breastfeeding elimination diet to rule out food allergies and sensetivities, specifically dairy. However, I was so exhausted at that time that I kept forgetting and eating dairy! I suspect that this is a strategy that would have worked for us if I would have had the capacity at that time.
If you have a fussy baby who has frequent and severe spit up and explosive diapers or who is sick frequently, you might consider trying an elimination diet if you’re feeling up to it. This is a diet in which you as the breastfeeding mom eliminate foods from your diet that may be causing your baby digestive issues through your milk. Dr. Sears has a thorough list of foods that could cause irritation in The Baby Book with instructions on how to do the diet. The New Childhood Epidemics book also has a great list.
A new doctor, a boatload of supplements
If you’ve spent much time searching for sleep solutions for your little ones, it’s likely you’ve come across the advice that their constant waking is because they just want to nurse all night, and if you would only night wean them (or wean them completely), they would sleep through.
It seems to me that breastfeeding is blamed all too often for any number of childhood issues. Night weaning worked splendidly for potty training. However, it did not improve BabyE’s sleep. It did however improve my sleep, as his daddy got up with him in the middle of the night, and I got to stay in bed. It was perfect timing, as I was so exhausted at the beginning of my pregnancy.
When E was about 28 months old, I finally cut dairy completely out of his diet. Some of his chronic tummy issues subsided immediately. He began sleeping through about three times a week and went back to sleep more easily when he did wake up. He went from getting sick every two weeks (pretty much constantly) to once every couple of months.
Sleeping through the Night
For so many months we had prayed (along with our friends and family) for the wisdom to help our boy sleep through the night. I am so thankful that this prayer has been answered! I don’t believe it was just a matter of age, him growing up, that made this drastic improvement. This change happened over night as soon as we implemented the last of these gentle sleep strategies.
As you can tell by the length of this post, baby and toddler sleep problems are a really complex issue. If you and your toddler are struggling with sleep issues, I want to encourage you to hang in there. Every kid is different, and what works for one will certainly be different than what works for another. If these ideas don’t work for you, keep searching. I pray you too will find a restful night’s sleep soon!
So, assuming you’re an exhausted sleep deprived mama like I was, here’s a recap of the gentle sleep techniques I mentioned in the ridiculously long post above:
- No Cry Sleep Solution
- The Baby Book and The Baby Sleep Book
- Organic cotton sleepwear
- Breastfeeding Elimination Diet
- Support a healthy immune system: multivitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D
- Take care of food allergies and sensetivities
- Protein and coconut oil
- Epsom salt baths
- Magnesium oil lotion
- White Noise (box fan)
- Predictable bedtime routine