Control crying or uncontrolled feeding?

By Stefan Korn

In our little breastfeeding community we recently realized that somehow we ended up with the short straw when it comes to our babies sleeping through the night. Our bottle feeding friends seem to have very few sleepless nights or even any disruptions at night. How unfair to follow nature’s way and then get nocturnal stress as a pay back.

Perhaps it’s a developmental stage thing – most of our babies in the group are now between 7 and 10 months old. Even the ones who used to sleep through the night have started waking up frequently. It’s the age of pain and gain for babies. On the one hand they have to put up with a lot of pains (teething, digestion, bruises) and on the other hand there are exciting new ways to explore their environment now (crawling, walking, rolling). Maybe that’s why they just can’t sleep at night – or not as long as they used to. On top of that there is the attachment to the breast and closeness to mum for comfort and nourishment. So what to do to get a peaceful night?

Breast feeding mums looking for a relief at night inevitably come across the various techniques for settling babies. There are sleep programs and step-by-step guides. Unfortunately many of them are based on breaking babies’ apparent association between feeding and falling asleep – which almost always involves a lot of crying. This is often referred to as controlled crying. However when we tried it my wife did as much uncontrolled crying as our poor little man. That’s when I realized how hard it is for a mum to listen to her baby cry his lungs out. I found it tough as well – although I managed to hold back the tears (yeah right)! So after a few days we stopped with controlled crying as it just got to a point where our baby would cry for 45 minutes or more and he showed no signs of letting up (as predicted by many methods).

The alternative isn’t great either. One of our friends went the other way and is now doing uncontrolled feeding (her baby only falls asleep while latched on) and it got to a point where she was feeding every hour – sometimes even more frequently.

One thing that has definitely helped though is to work on a routine during the day. About 2 weeks ago we decided to devise a rigid routine for the baby and plan our days around it. It is now beginning to show some results in that he mostly sticks to his 2 naps per day (he almost falls asleep automatically) and he tends to settle more easily in the evenings for the first 2-3 hour sleep. After that things are still a bit random and we pretty much feed on demand. Sometimes he wakes up once and sometimes twice (between midnight and 6 am). But it is a huge improvement to several weeks of restlessness at night when it was almost impossible to settle him.

So we will continue to focus our efforts on improving our day routine and perhaps trying to stretch times between feeds every now and then. Controlled crying and uncontrolled feeding are certainly not an option for us and at least we had a little bit of success with our daily routine now. Anyway my conclusion on babies (after having one for nearly 9 months) is that any change in their behavior could be the result of parental intervention or just the beginning of a new phase.

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Stefan is one of the DIYFathers –