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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: 7-month-old won't sleep / Mom exhausted

Question:

My 7-month-old daughter doesn't really take naps - well, she'll cat-nap if I hold her, but the minute I put her down, she wakes up and cries. I can't do the cry-it-out thing, so I pick her up.

The thing is, I can tell that by her bedtime (8 P.M.), she's just as exhausted as me! Sometimes she just screams, she's so tired. You'd think she'd sleep straight through the night after being up all day, but she still wakes up 2-3 times to nurse. I'm exhausted and besides that, I can't get anything done because of the no-nap situation. What can I do?


Jan's reply:

I remember having the very same feelings when my son was a baby. There was so much I wanted to accomplish, and I would feel frustrated when he wouldn't go along with my plans for the day! Over the years, I've come to see things differently.

First, many babies cry when put down. This is natural, and can in fact be a sign that mother-child bonding is proceeding well (congratulate yourself!). For millions of years, babies were held day and night, in front or back slings. Babies quite naturally thrive on this type of care. It is not the babies, but our modern schedules and parenting approaches that have changed.

Have you tried a sling? Many mothers have found that a simple cloth sling can make a world of difference. It allows you to have both hands free and still keep your baby close. A well-designed sling can make it possible to carry even a heavy baby or toddler. Here are three good sites on the subject:

Another solution is to take naps with your daughter whenever possible. Parenting a baby is fatiguing, and naps can be even more rejuvenating for the mother than for the baby. I often spent time doing things that really made little difference in our life. I wish now that I had gotten more rest.

Before trying to get her to sleep so you can get something done, it can be helpful to reassess things. Is the task so important? If it's housework, is there someone else who can do some of that work? Is it possible to hire household help (perhaps a teenager in the neighborhood), even if only occasionally?

Babies grow and change more quickly than at any other time of their lives. A baby may need a certain amount of rest for a while, and then suddenly need much less. Don't expect your daughter to have a fixed schedule that you can count on for weeks, or even days. At 7 months, she is entering a period of time when she simply won't need as much sleep as she has in previous months. It's up to us as parents to continuously readjust things to match the baby's schedule. Instead, we often expect the baby to match ours. This is an understandable feeling, but it is just not realistic, helpful, or fair. A baby is simply not equipped to readjust her schedule very much.

It may help to remind yourself that babies grow up amazingly fast! When my son was an infant, it felt like it would go on forever. But looking back, I can see clearly that each and every situation that I found frustrating, soon vanished on its own. I have all the time in the world now that Jason is a young adult - and have had this for a long time. And yet, I often fantasize about having a time machine to go back and cuddle my baby again! It may help to remind yourself during difficult times to take the larger view, to stop, and just enjoy what you have. I know from my own experience how hard it can be to do that, but those times when I was able to accomplish this, it really made all the difference.

Further reading:

When Will My Baby Soothe Himself to Sleep?

More Natural Child Project articles on sleep

The Benefits of Babywearing

The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin

Nighttime Parenting by Dr. William Sears


Mary adds: 

I had a similar problem with my son, although it occurred when he was a newborn. I was at a loss to explain his behavior and temperament until I found an exact description in The Nursing Mother's Companion; the culprit was food allergies. I severely limited my diet as outlined in the book; he was a different baby within one day. And he finally slept!

Mary

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