Toddler Sleep Problems – Notes From a Sleep-Deprived Mother

November 15th, 2011

I am starting to think this site is cursed. I write a post about healthy toddler lunches and my daughter decides she basically wants to stop eating lunch. Completely. She’ll have maybe a couple of handfuls of rice, won’t touch whatever else I’ve made for her (except peas – she still loves her peas!) and will then be climbing out of her high chair. I have a feeling that the high chair will soon be decommissioned as it’s starting to become quite dangerous now that she’s an expert climber. I think I’ll try to experiment with a toddler-sized table and chairs. Under normal circumstances, I think one of those tripp trap chairs would work great but living in a traditional family compound in Bali, we don’t have a dining table (usually everyone sits on the floor to eat and rarely together).

We just had our lunch together, Maya of course refused to sit in her high chair so she ended up sitting in my lap, eating my lunch (spicy) with a spoon. *shrug* – at least she was eating!

I had been planning to write a post about sleep problems and of course no sooner than the idea plants itself in my brain, Maya starts having sleep problems of her own. Being a co-sleeper and breastfed baby, Maya has never really slept through the night but this wasn’t much of a problem as I could just feed her and roll over and we’d both go straight back to sleep. Since I stopped breastfeeding, she’s been waking in the night. I’ve been giving her a bottle of water instead which was working fairly well up until recently.

For the last week or two every morning she has woken up some time between 3.30am and 4.30am. When this first started she would be up for an hour or so, I’d get her a snack and put a dvd on and she’d go back to sleep. Not so the last few nights. She’s been waking up at 3 or 4 and staying up, having her breakfast and bath, then having her morning milk and going back to sleep at 8. At 7 months pregnant, to say I’m tired would be an understatement.

I think part of the problem is that she’s been going to bed too early but this is a consequence of her dropping her afternoon nap so she’s ultra grumpy and ready for bed before 7. She’s also been sick with a throat infection the last few days and been more tired than usual. Last night she was asleep before 6pm which I’m sure doesn’t help.

I still think that the root of the problem is that she’s stopped having milk in the night and she’s hungry.  I have noticed that she seems to sleep much better if we give her something like a banana right before she goes to bed. I’ve been giving her a snack when she wakes up but of course by then she’s properly awake and thinks it’s time to get up. It doesn’t help that the rest of the household starts getting up at around 5am here so of course when she sees people out and about, she wants to be in on the action.

Googling “toddler waking up at 4am” seems to suggest there are a lot of people having this problem so at least I’m not alone! No quick solutions but I’m not ready to throw in the towel and accept this as her normal waking time just yet. I’m hoping this is just a side effect of the nap transition and being sick (and probably her eating a lot less during the day too) and will resolve itself after a bit of nap and bedtime tweaking and making sure she gets a bedtime snack.

Apart from the early waking, Maya’s sleep habits have been changing in the way that she goes to sleep. It was a difficult transition when I stopped breastfeeding as she was used to feeding to sleep but didn’t take too long to get used to drinking a bottle and watching a dvd while I lay next to her until she was sleepy enough to fall asleep on her own. She’s always been pretty independent and hated being rocked to sleep. However the last few weeks she will climb in my lap and scream blue murder if I try to put her on the bed again. Seems my little independent girl is suddenly wanting to be cuddled to sleep.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned in my first year of being a parent is to expect the unexpected. What worked last week may not work this week, babies and toddlers change day to day and your strategies need to change with them. I had to laugh when the smug parents on the message board I frequent who boasted about their babies sleeping through the night at 3 months all had a collective breakdown when they hit the 4 month sleep regression. Be flexible, don’t expect too much, don’t expect things to be the same and you won’t be surprised when they change.

I guess when it comes down to it, Maya’s sleep ‘problem’ is my problem, not hers. In Maya’s world, 4am is a perfectly acceptable time to get up – she’s had a decent amount of sleep, she wakes up, gets food, gets a drink and gets to play. What’s not to like? The day starts much earlier here so the time she gets up is just a couple of hours earlier than my normal wake time (I have to laugh when I see my facebook friends in the uk complaining when their babies wake up at 6am). I could try going to bed earlier too  but as it is, I’m usually in bed shortly after 9pm and I do want at least some time to myself in the evenings. I’ve been having a nap with Maya in the morning, which is fine but I really want to be working while she’s sleeping.

In just a few months I’m going to have two children’s sleep patterns to juggle – one being a newborn who will no doubt wake every couple of hours through the night for the first six weeks. Let battle commence!


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