Sleeping FAQ: 9-12 months – Early Morning Waking

My 9-month-old son is still waking early in the morning and needing a feed to settle him

I have looked at the forum and case studies for a solution but although my problem looks fairly common on the surface (my baby is in the habit of eating at night) there are a few issues which make it unique, hence my request for help.

My son is 9 months and still wakes in the night. He shares a room with my three-year-old. She cries out in her sleep or has nightmares or gets up for the loo several times a week which wakes him (and not really her). If she does not wake him he will usually wake anyway between 4.30 and 5.30am. He does not cry, but squawks louder and louder until I go in (sometimes I leave him squawking for up to 30 minutes before I relent). He usually needs to be fed to settle. He drinks 7/8 oz in 5 to 6 minutes (compared with his day time feeds which are smaller and he is far less enthusiastic about them). He does not fall asleep on the bottle (and never has done). When he has eaten and has been winded he goes down fully awake, chats for a few minutes then settles himself no problem at all. He will then sleep until 7.30 to 8am.

My son has never been particularly keen on milk. It is a struggle to get his daily 18-20oz into him. If he does not want to eat there is nothing you can do to persuade him. He hits the bottle away, gags and screams if you try to insist (so we don’t!). Sometimes he refuses to drink his evening bottle and his intake at 6.45pm varies between 1oz and 8oz. Even if he drinks 8oz he usually needs to feed again at 5am.

My son’s daily food intake is as follows: if he feeds at 5am, then I give him breakfast at 8am (cereal with 2oz milk and 2 cubes fruit). He then takes a nap around 9am (sometimes later if he has slept until 8am). This nap can be anything between 30 minutes and 1 hour 15 (but is usually around 45 minutes). He has a 6oz bottle at 11am. Often he only drinks half of that. The rest of that bottle goes into an organic cereal pudding made by Heinz or Hipp which we give to him after his lunch, so that we know he has had his full 6oz milk. Lunch is at 12-12.30pm. He has around 5 cubes of protein and vegetables (such as fish and sweet potato), 3 cubes of fruit and the cereal and milk pudding. His lunchtime nap varies as his sister needs to be in school at 1.15pm making nap time tricky. We live in an upstairs apartment so we cannot leave Harry in the buggy to nap. This means that if Harry has an early morning nap he usually has another hour before the school run (from which he is woken) in which case he will have a third nap of 45 minutes at around 4pm) or if his morning nap was later he will fall asleep on the school run and will sleep approx 1.5 hours. His overall daytime sleep, whether 2 naps or 3, rarely exceeds 3 hours. We do not do a 2pm bottle (this is why we kept the 11.30 one) as Harry is often asleep due to the school run issue. Dinner is at about 5pm and consists of 5 cubes of vegetables and potato/pasta, followed by a yoghurt or some more organic cereal with 2-3oz milk, depending on how much milk he has taken during the day. Bath is at 6pm and his evening bottle is usually at 6.45pm. He is often exhausted by then and falls asleep immediately by 7pm. As mentioned before he often does not take much of that bottle (especially if he is very tired having not had a third short sleep at 4pm), making it hard to avoid feeding him in the night as I think he is genuinely hungry. He weighs 10 kilos (22lbs).

A few questions: how do I encourage him to eat enough food in the day to make sure he is not hungry at night? In particular, how can I make sure he will drink that important evening bottle?

Am I giving him the right amounts of solids and the correct balance of proteins and carbohydrates at the right time?

Given the school run issue, if his daytime sleep is causing a problem how can I change that? Is it affecting his night sleep to have a nap as late as 4pm (he really still seems to need that given the earlier sleeps are sometimes cut short)?

Will my baby eventually become a deeper sleeper? When he wakes he does not wake my 3 year old who can sleep through anything.

Is it normal for my 3 year old to have nightmares? We leave the door ajar and the hall light on for her. What can I do to alleviate this problem so that she does not wake my baby? Do I need to separate them for a while and try to get them to share a room later on?

Please help – I work full time and have a demanding job which is tough to do when you are up 2 or 3 times a night with one or other child.

Getting the sleep and feeding needs right during the day could really help your son be less hungry early in the morning. It is not easy to try to structure the daytime sleep of your second child when the first has to be at school.

There are two ways you could try to structure his sleep in the day to fit in with your daughter. Decide which one to try and give it at least a week to see if it works.

Wake your son at 7am even if he has been awake earlier in the morning. He should then be ready for a nap at 9am. Allow him no longer than 30 minutes, even if you have to wake him. Once his night time sleep has improved this nap will move on to 9.30am but still should only be 30 minutes in length. Towards the end of his first year he may be ready to drop it all together or only need 10-15mins. He will need to have an earlier lunchtime sleep, around 11.30/45am so he can have at least an hour’s sleep before 1pm. Then give him a further nap at 4pm making sure he is awake by 5pm. As he appears exhausted at 7pm this nap should not be affecting his night time sleep and he will need it if only sleeping for an hour at lunchtime.

If you prefer to leave your son sleeping until 7.30/8am you may not need a morning nap at all but a very early lunch, no later than 11.15am followed by an earlier nap before he wakes to go on the school run. If he sleeps for longer at this time he will still need a nap in the afternoon but it could be shorter, around 30-40 minutes at 4pm.

Which ever way you decide to go or seems to work best, your son is very tired at bedtime. Falling straight to sleep at 7pm is another reason for his early morning waking as well as hunger.

Getting him into the bed by 6.30/40pm should help him to have a time of chattering before sleep, and he also should be better able to drink his milk when not so tired. Aim to have a short bath with him at 6pm and give him his milk by 6.15pm. If you are able to get him into the bath before 6pm it would be even better.

Moving onto the food issues it would seem that at 22lbs your son is not eating a great deal of solids. At breakfast, which seems enough, offer him a drink of milk in a beaker with his cereal and encourage him to have some toast as finger food. Although your reason for giving your son milk at 11am is reasonable as you are concerned about his overall intake it would be better to cut this out so he will eat more at lunch time. At his age he needs 2ozs of animal protein a day. Some recipes do not always contain this amount so you may have to make some adjustments to ensure he is receiving enough. Five cubes is not a large amount for a baby of this size. By cutting out the milk earlier he should increase this. To help his overall milk intake you could offer your son natural yoghurt mixed with fruit puree as a dessert after his main course. Once he is eating a larger protein meal this should be adequate for his needs. Another way to help his milk intake would be to offer him a small feed before he goes down for his nap. Offering him milk at this time rather than before his solids will help him begin to take in enough protein for his needs.

Whatever time your son naps, either before or during the school run he can be offered a beaker of milk at 2.30pm. Often at this age a baby will not want much, especially if they are eating well at lunchtime.

The amount of solids at teatime could be increased. Making sure the meal is carbohydrate-based is a good idea. Offer him some finger food as well. If he is having a thick vegetable soup then offer it with a rice cake or mini sandwiches. If pasta is on the menu give him a few cooled, cooked pieces to try to eat. Tea can be a more relaxed meal if lunch has been eaten well. Again, giving him cereal at this time, in order to boost his milk intake could well be filling him up too much to want his bedtime bottle. Use natural yoghurt, unsweetened fromage frais with fruit or a homemade milky pudding if you feel he is still not drinking enough or still seems hungry after his main course.

As stated earlier make sure your son is having his milk by 6.15pm as he will drink it better if not ready to fall asleep.

When you have begun to make these changes don’t be disheartened if you see no immediate difference to the early waking. It can take up to two weeks for a baby to manage to reset their cycles of sleep even if their nutritional needs are being met in the day. As your son is disturbed by your daughter at night why not separate them for a short period of time whilst you sort out his sleeping and feeding issues? As he is sleeping in a room with a door open and a hall light on when he enters his light sleep in the morning, coupled with his exhaustion at 7pm, he is more likely to wake himself up fully. Having him in a totally dark room could also help these early mornings. Continue to feed him when he wakes in the morning, and get him back to sleep as soon as possible until you begin to see reluctance in wanting to feed at the early hour. If he still continues to wake early through habit once all the changes have been put into place then offer him cool boiled water to settle until he manages to sleep nearer to 7am. It will take time for you to really sort out your son, and help him to take in enough milk and food by day to see him through the night. Keep a record for yourself as to how much he is eating and drinking in the day so you will see the increases and how this effects his sleeping.

Once you have separated your children you can begin to help your daughter. Talk to her in the day about her dreams. Some children are willing to be more open in the daytime about what bothers them at night. A lot of bad dreams and restless sleep at this age can be caused by over-tiredness so take a look at her routine and see if she needs an earlier bedtime or more rest periods in the day. These could be when she enjoys a story, doing a puzzle or spends time quietly drawing to help prevent her from being too tired. Also be aware of the stories she hears at bedtime or any videos she may watch which trigger these dreams. Talk to her about school and see if there are any issues there which may be bothering her. Try not to pry too much but see if you can get her to open up a little about what worries her.

Watch her fluid intake towards bedtime and encourage her to go to the loo just before she gets into bed after her last drink. Would it be easier for her to have a potty in her room, placed on a towel or disposable mat so she could learn how to cope with herself? A plug-in night light could be left on which may also help her.

Given a few weeks you should begin to see an improvement at night with both children. Once they are both more settled at night time you may consider putting them back together again as they probably are good at amusing each other in the mornings, especially at weekends when you can enjoy a short lie-in.