Q&A: What can I do about my toddler who will only sleep with me and constantly wakes to breastfeed?
My 10-month-old daughter refuses to sleep anywhere except in my bed and wakes to breastfeed several times each night. She will also awaken during naps. What can I do about her frequent breastfeeding and my lack of sleep?
Let me first say that it’s great that you are still breastfeeding your 10-month-old! While this in keeping with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ current recommendation to breastfeed infants throughout the first full year of life, the CDC reports that less than half (43 percent) of 6-month-olds are breastfed.
While breast milk is clearly an ideal source of nutrition for infants, you raise an important question regarding how much, how often, and when to breastfeed. What we know about healthy 10-month-olds is that they do not need to eat during the night for the sake of adequate nutrition. Having written an entire book addressing this and other similar nutritional challenges of parenthood, I firmly believe it’s important to make sure that children learn to eat out of hunger rather than for comfort well before their first birthdays.
With that in mind, your situation reminds me of the all-too-common scenario where infants who are well past the newborn period are still routinely soothed to sleep at night by breast (or bottle), only to subsequently become dependant on sucking in order to be soothed back to sleep throughout the night. For the sake of children’s nutritional well-being, I therefore recommend separating feeding from sleeping at bedtime and then resisting the urge to nurse older infants and toddlers back to sleep during the night. The good news is that this is not always as hard and doesn’t often take as long as you might think. I find it’s easiest to separate the last feeding of the day from bedtime by simply substituting bath time, tooth brushing, and reading books as the last things you do with your child each night.
Moving on to your sleep question: In instances where parents sleep in the same bed as their toddlers, I find it is often more difficult for moms to refuse their toddlers’ “requests” for nighttime feedings. As you are probably aware, there’s more than one opinion regarding having babies sleep in their parents’ bed, so rather than applying my own opinion on the matter, I will focus on the fact that you seem to have identified your current sleeping arrangement as a problem (i.e. the cause of your sleep deprivation). I have found that it’s very hard to be the best parent you can be when you’re chronically sleep deprived, and there’s no reason to think your daughter is any better off. In contrast, you’re likely to find that discontinuing your nighttime nursing will be much easier and you’ll both be much more rested if you commit not only to helping your daughter fall asleep independently (i.e. without nursing) but also help her learn to fall asleep in her own crib.