Remedies for common toddler sleep concerns

Sr Ann Richardson answers the most common questions from mothers of toddlers and how to remedy their toddler sleep issues:

  1. My 17 month old daughter still sleeps in my bed

This needn’t be a problem if you enjoy it, but if it is impacting on the quality of sleep that the family is getting, then I would suggest that you adopt some strategies to get her to sleep in her own bed.

  1. I am still breast feeding and I feel like I am losing the battle some days

Perhaps this is a good time to wean her off the breast?

  1. My daughter doesn’t sleep through the night and wakes up about 3 or 4 times a night to pacify herself with me, by feeding. When she was born she slept 8 hrs….so I know it is my doing.

She is definitely waking expecting a feed to go back to sleep – the night feeds must stop as they are clearly simply a bad habit at this age.  She definitely does not need any nutritional support at night provided she is healthy.  See strategies below to deal with stopping night time feeds.

  1. My husband wants to help me at night but has to leave a 6:30am to go to work.

While you are sleep training, perhaps he could take a day or two off work to help you with solving her sleep problems?

  1. I have been told by some people that I should leave her with someone for a night or two until I stop producing milk.

I would not suggest this, as it may traumatize her to be separated from you.  You need to be there in a calm and loving way to help her get through this new shift.  Remember as long as you offer milk, she will expect it, so it is simply a matter of not offering it to her anymore, and she will no longer wake up looking for it (see below).

  1. I don’t want to traumatize my child, but I think I am to soft, and find it hard to know how long to let her scream and cry.

It is important to set some boundaries and to stick to them – if you don’t, you will confuse your daughter and she will not be sure what it is you want her to do.  Try the following:

  • Encourage a sleep during the day (she may even need 2 naps during the course of the day)
  • Keep to a strict bedtime routine, and keep stimulation around bedtime to an absolute minimum
  • Early to bed (between 6pm and 7 pm)
  • Put her into her bed, drowsy and calm, but not asleep in her own sleep zone (her bedroom)
  • When she wakes in the night expecting a feed, stay with her in her sleep zone, hold her and rock her back to sleep (no matter how much she protests).  Do this each time she wakes.  Offer her sips of water in case she is thirsty.
  • This may take a few nights, so don’t give up.
  • When she is happy to be comforted without a feed, but still needs you to be there, you can move into more sleep training if you want.
  • This would entail limiting the amount of time you spend rocking, holding or singing to her before sleep, then leaving her on her own  for a short while to give her a chance to settle independently without any intervention from you.
  • When she wakes in the night expecting to be rocked back to sleep, pick her up till she stops crying.  As soon as she is calm and drowsy put her back into her cot and walk away.  Wait for one minute before going back to reassure her (you can pick her up), next time stay away for two minutes before going back to comfort her.  Each time, add two minutes of crying time before going back to reassure her.
  • Keep going each time she wakes in the night, starting from one minute of separation at the start of each session.
  • Within a few days, she will have learnt the art of putting herself to sleep as well as putting herself back to sleep unaided should she wake in the night.
  • Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about medication to dry up your milk.  You may need to express small amounts of milk to feel comfortable (not till your breast is empty – this will make more milk!).  Allow a good week to 10 days for your breasts to stop producing milk.
  • I would also recommend that you put her on a good iron supplement to exclude anaemia – ask your pharmacist to recommend one for you.

Remember, your daughter cannot do this herself, she needs you to do this for her.

By Ann Richardson