In this post our question comes from Clare, and she writes, “My one-year-old is waking up at 4:00am, and won’t go back to sleep even after I nurse him. He then struggles to make it to his first nap of the day. He goes to bed at 7:30pm, and has two solid naps during the day. How can I fix this?”
First of all, Clare, please remember that you are not alone in this. This is the number 1 question that I get from parents every day, who are trying to prevent their babies from waking up too early. So in order to help I’ve got three tips for you, Clare, and for any other parent out there facing the same struggles.
The first would be to have a look at the darkness in the room. That’s always the first place I look, especially as the summer months are upon us, we really need to keep light out.
People often think that the room is dark enough, but believe me, it can always be darker. Even the slightest change in light variation can stimulate a wake up in anybody. As an adult, you can look at the clock and notice that it’s not time to get up yet. A baby can’t do that. You want to get it dark in there. As dark as it would be if you walked in, in the very middle of the night.
Tip number 2 I would like to turn into concern number 2, Clare, and that’s the fact that you’re nursing him at 4:00am. Given his age, there should be absolutely no reason why your child would need a night feed. My worry with this is that 4:00am might actually start to get earlier and earlier, and instead of buying you more time, you may just lose out, as to a baby there’s no difference between a 2:00am feed and a 4:00am feed. I want you to consider stopping that breastfeed.
There’s absolutely no reason why he would need it. You might actually be stimulating him and waking him up. After his feeding, he goes back to the cot and thinks, “What are we doing here? I feel ready to go. Let’s start the day.” That’s why you’re having the struggles that you are. I hope that makes sense?
Tip number 3 is the morning nap. You’ve mentioned in your question that he’s having a really hard time making it to his first nap of the day. I find that what can happen is, if a baby wakes up too early in the morning, gets up and starts his day, he’s going to be fatigued fairly quickly. It’s tempting to start putting him down earlier and earlier and earlier for that morning nap, especially as a tired mum. You don’t want to do that. If you start doing this, you will get stuck in this vicious cycle of your baby waking up too early, going down for a nap at 7AM, and throwing off your whole day. That will just absolutely mess up his body clock. You’ll have to introduce a third nap, which will be completely foreign to him, and it’ll just cause a whole bunch of additional (and avoidable) problems.
Even though it’s really tough, you’ve really got to hang on to his normal nap time. If it’s 9:30am even if he’s been up since 4:30am, you’ve got to hang in there until 9:30am. My advice would be to give him a bit of fresh air around 8:00am and make sure that you give him enough snacks and food to keep his energy levels up, to really encourage him to hang in there.
It’s similar to if you got up at 4:00am, wandered around, maybe had a snack, and then eventually went back to bed and finished your night. That’s what’s happening here, most likely. Hang in there until the first nap of the day. I always suggest that people do not change bedtime. It’s super tempting when you’ve got an early riser. You think, “Oh, if we just keep him up late, he’ll sleep later in the morning.” That hardly ever works. In fact, all you end up doing is creating a huge amount of over-tiredness in your child, which leads to more fragmented sleep and even earlier morning wake ups. Whatever you do, don’t do that.
I hope I’ve been able to help you Clare, and I hope you and your baby boy get that full night’s sleep really soon! If you are in a similar situation, if you’ve tried some things and it’s not improving I’m available for one on one support to help you all get the sleep you need and deserve. Please send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to schedule a free of charge phone call with you.