Sleeping FAQ: 4-6 months – Settling/Sleep Associations

Illness has given all the wrong sleep associations to 5-month-old Daniel

Daniel is five months old and has slept through the core night from about the age of 8 weeks, although he had never really slept much longer than about 1 hour at a time during the day. When I started weaning at 18 weeks, he dropped his 10pm feed and started sleeping right through until about 6.30-7am. By 21 weeks he was having two good solid feeds a day and four bottles (about 28oz total). Around two weeks ago, he had gastroenteritus and lost his appetite completely. He woke up frequently with a dirty nappy in the middle of the night. When this happened I would change him and then offer a bottle, as I knew he hadn’t had much during the day (only about 10oz total and no solids) – sometimes he would take about 2oz and would only go back to sleep with his dummy. When his appetite returned after about five days, he continued to wake in the night looking for a feed and would guzzle 7-8oz easily before going back to sleep. After a few nights of this, I realised he was now waking more from habit as he would not take much in the morning so I began to give him his dummy when he woke. I had always ensured he was well fed during the day. My problem now is that he wakes up at least three times a night screaming and is also difficult to settle at 7pm without his dummy. He used to go straight to sleep after chatting or moaning – now he screams until we go in!

Getting Daniel back to settling alone will need some sleep training. He now associates going to sleep with his dummy, so when he comes into a light sleep at night he looks for it to help him settle.
If you are prepared to “cold turkey” him now, then take his dummy away for all naptimes and at night. Only do this is if you are sure that Daniel is feeding well again by day so there is no possibility that hunger is waking him at night. There is a case study on dummy dependence in The Complete Sleep Guide on page 82 which describes the controlled crying method. As Daniel does not seem to have problems in daytime settling, getting him to settle at night should be possible if you are consistent in handling this method. Make sure that you and your partner are in complete agreement over the amount of crying you may encounter for a few days.
If you feel that Daniel needs a dummy to calm him before sleep, use one whilst he is still awake, but remove it before he falls asleep. He is old enough to find his thumb, should he need to comfort himself.
As Daniel is still under six months, be aware that his Moro reflex could still be waking him at night. Make sure he is securely tucked in with a cotton sheet or cotton cellular blanket over a light-weight sleeping bag, using two rolled towels to wedge down the cot spars to prevent the bedding coming loose.