Help A Mom: My baby’s waking up hourly at night!

As someone who writes about attachment parenting and general parenting from the Dad’s point of view, I get email. A fair bit of email, actually, and it’s great stuff, but sometimes I really don’t have much of an answer.
One of those messages arrived this morning from an exhausted mom:

I need to find someone to connect with. I practice attachment parenting and my 6 month old sleeps with me…but he wakes every hour…I need help!

My first reaction was to suggest that she check with her pediatrician, but then I wondered if her baby wasn’t nursing properly and was just perpetually hungry, or perhaps the sleeping arrangements were such that the little squirt was cold/hot or otherwise uncomfortable.

A bit of Google research reveals another possibility too: perhaps the baby is teething?
This is also where people will pop in and share various approaches to progressive desensitization, also called “Ferberization” after the parenting expert who suggested it. In this approach you ignore your baby’s crying for a progressively longer period of time night after night until they presumably just give up and pass out again when waking.
My take is that I never wanted to teach my baby that I wouldn’t be there if they cried, so when we had issues with one or the other of our babies not sleeping well, we tried to make waking up really, really unexciting (no walking around, no lights, nothing much at all) and got through it fairly quickly.
But that’s our approach and, frankly, my youngest is now 6yo so it’s been a while since I was trying to get a 6mo to go to sleep… so, dear readers, what are your suggestions for this weary mom?

5 comments on “Help A Mom: My baby’s waking up hourly at night!

  1. Is the baby up and wanting to play, or up and just cranky and wanting to nurse? If he wants to interact, I agree with keeping the room dark and interaction uninteresting. If he’s fussy, try changing his diaper and then nursing. It may be gas, so a good, firm massage along the belly and out to his sides may help loosen the gas bubbles. If you think it’s teething, we use Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets and gel.
    I don’t have a lot of advice — just an, “I’ve been there!” Mine is 10 months old and is up every two hours or so. It’s hard and it’s frustrating, but waking up to his smiling fae next to mine is priceless.

  2. When our daughter did this, it was always related to lactose issues. It took me a while to realize that she was lactose intolerant- horribly acidic diapers (with appropriately awful diaper rash), hourly wakings (and always screaming.) Life is a lot better in our house now that we’ve limited her dairy. Good luck to her!

  3. My two and a half year old was EXACTLY like this, and sometimes worse. I thought I would lose my mind, so I feel her pain.
    Truthfully, I think it was a combo of things for us.
    She woke up VERY easily (just like mom) while cosleeping, so she did a little better when we took the side off of the crib and pushed it against the bed (please do this safely).
    I never did a strict dairy elimination (so hard to change diet on no sleep), but I really think that played a big role, made her refluxy, and made her develop some bad sleep patterns… just cutting back helped.
    And, speaking of sleep patterns, we were terrible about a consistent wake time… since we’ve started she’s done better.
    For us, fish oil seemed to be the thing that stopped the hourly waking… although we didn’t start until a year! She’d still wake every two hours, though.
    Finally, though, we just realized she required significantly less sleep than other kids. Only in the last few months, we’ve finally given up battling for an earlier bedtime. She goes to bed at 9:30 or 10, gets up at six, but has, for the first time, started sleeping the whole time. SHe takes a one hour nap during the day!
    I know this is a mixed bag, but it’s so hard to know what really works! Most importantly, I think, is to find some support. We didn’t have child care help, but I did find someone to sympathize and it made a big difference!

  4. My son (currently four months) went through a phase of waking every hour, after previously sleeping much longer. He was wanting to feed every time but for only a few minutes (so it wasn’t a growth spurt.) I realised I’d been feeding him to sleep and he’d developed an association between needing to feed to fall asleep. As he was stirring in his sleep instead of falling back asleep he was waking up wondering where my boob was.
    After reading the No Cry Sleep Solution (a great resource, very sympathetic to co-sleeping, breastfeeding and attachment parenting) my approach was to help him get used to falling asleep in other ways (car, rocking, buggy etc) and to wake him gently if he fell asleep whilst feeding and then use other techniques to help him back to sleep if he needed it. If he woke at night I’d always feed him but would gently wake him after if he fell asleep (a nappy change worked a treat.) it was tough going for a few days but pretty soon he was sleeping longer at night without any tears or not feeding him if he wanted it. Might not always be the case for every frequent waking but it seemed to work for us.

  5. Jenny: Thank you for your comment. My 10 month old slept for 6 hours straight when he was 2 & 3 months. Since then he wakes up every 1-2 hours looking for my breast. I long for a good nights rest.
    I don’t have the heart to furberize him. I’m definitely going to take your advice.
    Many thanks.

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