Why toddlers don’t sleep through

When I heard from our notorious poor sleeper in October 2012 (then 16 months) reported (see "Why babies don’t sleep through"), I was hopeful that a second part with the title "Juhu, she finally sleeps through!" will follow soon. But only recently has she managed to sleep seven to ten hours at a time. Not every night, just occasionally.

Until three weeks ago, our girl (now 35 months) woke up regularly every night. Usually only two or three times a night, and she quickly fell asleep again when I breast-fed her. However, some nights were a nightmare: she rolled back and forth for hours, found absolutely no rest and only calmed down on my chest. Those were the phases that fueled my doubts anew.

Our clock radio that shows me the time relentlessly.

Because although I know for certain that some children only sleep through when they are four to five years old, on the one hand I had hoped that our girl would make it faster. On the other hand, I kept asking myself whether the family bed and the "long" breastfeeding did not prevent sleeping through.

It is not as though I have confidently and confidently accepted her waking up at night in the past few months. No, the worse the nights were and the more tired I felt, the more my thoughts circled. Am I doing something wrong? Should I breastfeed her so that she sleeps better? Does she mind my presence? Does she need her own bed? Is it good for her to develop if I let her sleep by my side for so long? How long can I breastfeed her and let us sleep??

What has gotten better?

First of all, it is important to me to show our "sleep progress", because although our girl still wakes up regularly, her sleeping behavior has improved significantly overall. There is a clear "sleep-through trend".

Fall asleep faster

I still accompany and breastfeed our girl to sleep every night, but it only takes a few minutes (two to five) before she falls asleep.

Longer deep sleep phases

In the past, I not only had to accompany our girl to sleep much longer, I also had to wait a long time until she really slept soundly. According to Sears, infants start with a restless (about 20-minute) light sleep phase (REM phase), which explains why they cannot be taken off or undocked from the breast immediately after falling asleep. In this phase, which is prone to malfunction, the smallest stimuli are enough to wake you up again.

“With increasing age, children learn to immediately go from the waking state to the state of quiet sleep without going through a long phase of active sleep. […] The age at which this is possible is different. ”[2] There are three-month-old babies who immediately go into the deep sleep phase. With our daughter, I only noticed a significant change around her second birthday.

That was roughly the time when she managed to sleep three to five hours at a time (for example, from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.). Since she usually called me beforehand at very short intervals (half an hour to an hour and a half), this was a huge step forward for us.

Sears explains that when children get older, they reach a certain level of sleep. "The amount of active (light) sleep decreases, the calm sleep increases and the sleep cycles become longer." [3] "At the age of about two to three years, the high proportion of light sleep phases gradually drops to the level of an adult . "[4]

Our girl confirmed this in two stages. Around her second birthday, she extended the sleeping units in the first half of the night – she slept through until about midnight (provided that she did not have any illnesses or the like). Now, shortly before her third birthday, her sleeping behavior also improved in the second half of the night – she now sleeps seven to ten hours at a time every second or third night, and without changing the sleeping situation (family bed / breastfeeding). Proof that children are able to sleep through when they are ready?

Stop wearing – calm down in bed

In bad times, when our girl could not be calmed in bed / on the chest, I had to put her in a sling and walk through the apartment with her. For example, at her first feverish infection at the age of six months, I walked up and down with her stomach three nights in a row because she was just sleeping and I didn’t want her to scream. Such situations were a nightmare for me.

There were still many phases in which she could not sleep (because of pain, restlessness or for whatever reason) and demanded being carried. However, the older and heavier she became, the more I lacked the strength and willingness to fulfill her wish. Thomas offered to wear them in these situations, but she hardly let himself be comforted by him when she was bad. I told her clearly: "Dad can carry you or you can stay with me in bed." At night, she preferred the latter and learned about the time to be calm in bed when she couldn’t sleep. I then stroked or sang it (unless I fell asleep myself) but no longer wore it. Another huge step forward as she accepted it without protest and tears.

What was still bad?

Good times Bad Times

Whenever our girl slept better and I got used to the evening rest and the extra hours to work, there was an extremely sleepless phase in which I was not allowed to leave her position for a second. Mostly in connection with illnesses and some of them have plagued us in the past few months (see "Medical Watch").

That means that whenever I had hope that things would get better, we started again from scratch. It was only with a lot of patience and time that I managed to put her into deep sleep and when I finally left her alone, she called me after 20-30 minutes at the latest. These "setbacks" were extremely frustrating.

I missed the evening hours to work and sleep, because during those nights she was awake for hours and only came to rest on my chest. If these phases lasted for several days, my mood sank to a low point. I unfairly let my bad mood out to Thomas. This in turn had a negative impact on his mood. A really stupid cycle.

But as in the first months of life, it was important to me to be there for our girl when she needed me – even at night. I regularly saw that she could sleep if she was well. And if she felt bad, I didn’t want to cause her additional suffering by letting her cry alone or at night. After all, these restless nights were equally tiring, if not more tiring, because, unlike me, she felt physically unwell.

Unfortunately, Thomas and I lacked the proverbial village that supports exhausted parents in such phases of child rearing. So we had to go through it on our own, which was fine, as I never felt at the end of my strength and I was able to recharge my batteries in the "good times" that fortunately existed. I gave up work in the intense times and lay down with our girl early in the evening – I didn’t get very far anyway if she tore me out of my thoughts every 30 minutes. So she was calmer and I got at least some sleep. I also slept occasionally at lunchtime – a luxury that I could afford because I work at home and can organize my time freely.

Second half of the night restless

If she slept well, only the first half of the night. In The second (from around 00:00 a.m. / 01:00 a.m.) she became more restless until two weeks ago and wanted to breastfeed more. This worried me again because it corresponded to the time when Thomas and I usually went to bed. I wondered if we would wake her up and if my proximity would disturb her sleeping peacefully and that would lead me directly to the doubts I raised at the beginning.

Family bed and breastfeeding at night – my doubts

Doubt No. 1: Better sleep separately?

Sleeping with children is a common practice in many cultures, but it’s still a big taboo in our society. [5] Although I dealt intensively with this topic for a long time and knew about the advantages of a family bed (see "Family bed – there is more than one solution"), I was unable to hide my concerns. Especially not when other mothers proudly report how well their child sleeps in their own bed.

My insecurity and the idea of ​​sleeping together was wrong was also reinforced by the opinion of "experts". For example, a few weeks ago our naturopath emphasized that our girl definitely needs her own bed.

The reasoning? At that time, she woke up between 3-4 a.m. and according to the organ clock, this waking up has something to do with the lungs. The lungs are assigned to the element metal and this "describes the further development in life" (see "The five elements of Chinese medicine"). Our alternative practitioner concluded that she needed her own bedroom in order to be able to detach (develop). My presence blocked her from becoming self-employed.

I found this interpretation very vague. Of course, children between two and three years of age want to become more independent, but does that mean they absolutely need / want their own bed? In addition, the time was changed a few days earlier and, according to old times, she woke up between 2:00 a.m. The latter only occurred to me after the session, however, and “she needs her own bed now!” Had burned deep into my head.

Testing is above studying

Our cozy corner in the living room is occasionally used for sleeping.

So I moved into the living room (unfortunately, our apartment does not offer space for your own children’s room) to see what effects this has on your sleeping behavior. I slept like a stone in our cozy corner for two nights and only realized that our girl was calling for me when Thomas shook me up. I was terrified and walking to her really woke me up. Our girl was also very happy because she not only had to call softly, but also to raise the alarm.

My absence did not prevent her from waking up. I found sleeping separately uncomfortable because I couldn’t react immediately and the two of us were wide awake. But our girl didn’t seem happy with the new sleeping situation either. When I asked her on the third evening whether she would rather sleep alone or with me, she replied with a sad look, "I sleep with mom!"

We did that too. Nevertheless, I think it is a good idea to check from time to time whether the child’s habits or needs have changed. I keep hearing and reading from children (and also parents) who seem to sleep more peacefully in their own bed. I can only find out whether my child is one of them by testing it.

Doubt No. 2: Breastfeeding is to blame for waking up at night?

It is said that breastfeeding children often wake up at night because they have become accustomed to the "milk service" at night and now have to refuel out of habit. If a child often wants to breastfeed at night (there are also nursing children who sleep for many hours at a time), it is not a bad habit, but a natural need that is important for their development, as the next sections show.

Apart from that, all babies and toddlers have a much easier sleep than adolescents or adults – regardless of sleeping place, food form and amount of food. "All toddlers usually wake up several times during the night’s sleep – even those who sleep through it." [6] Only these rare specimens – unlike the majority of waking children – fall asleep again on their own.

Natural need for suction

All babies and toddlers have a natural need to suck – even at night. This need to suck is primarily used to give the child the food it needs to grow and thrive. Nature provides for a child to satisfy its need for sucking on the breast – it receives food and reassurance at the same time (by sucking on the breast and being close to the mother).

Nocturnal meals for brain development

From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that children also consume food at night because they need it in the first three years of life to build up their enormously complex brains. "A child must constantly supply his extremely fast-growing brain with energy and there should be no opportunity to be missed." [7]

Although our children (unlike our ancestors) do not experience any bottlenecks due to the constant supply of food, breastfeeding meals at night are good and important for a child even after the first half of the year. After all, nobody knows better than the child himself when he needs how much food. For us parents, it is important to know that "children do not grow because they have eaten, but that they eat because they grow." [8] They often meet this occasionally increased energy requirement at night, also to boost milk production.

No nighttime breastfeeding from six months?

I also keep reading that babies six months and older no longer need a breastfeeding meal. We cannot ignore two things:

1. Such an assertion merely says "that nocturnal breaks no longer cause health problems." [9] However, this does not mean that breastfeeding a one-year-old, two-year-old or older child is prohibited and it does not mean that it is is harmful to its development. Because there is no evidence of this.

2. Every child develops individually: some manage to get by without a nightly meal at ten months (or even earlier), others just need (much) longer. A rule for everyone – that cannot work.

Breastfeeding – food for the soul

We should also not forget that breastfeeding is not only food for the body, but also food for the soul. Sucking on the chest brings relaxation to the child and helps him through difficult times such as illness, growth spurts and teething. Breastfeeding satisfies the little ones’ need for security, closeness and warmth (which is usually more pronounced at night in these phases). It provides important immune substances, it saturates, provides comfort, calms and floods the body with happiness hormones (oxytocin) – there is no better panacea (see also "Breastfeeding is a matter of the head").

Material breast replacement does not help you sleep through the night

Babies and toddlers who no longer drink on the breast need a “breast replacement” to satisfy their need for suction. Talking to friends showed me that many children the age of our daughter demand a pacifier, a pacifier pad, and sometimes even their bottle. These are facts with which no mother of a three-year-old child peddles (after all, the use of pacifiers and nighttime bottles is at least as bad at that age as in three-year-old children). However, these honest concessions show me that there is actually a need for sucking in all children up to toddlers (in different forms).

"A child needs sufficient suction until the age of three," confirms Lothrop. Material sedatives are acceptable aids for this, which can make the mother’s life easier. However, they do not guarantee that a child will never call his parents again at night and sleep through from sunset to sunrise.

Weaning is a solution?

My experience as a breastfeeding consultant shows that restless sleep behavior does not change miraculously, neither through weaning nor through the use of "breast replacement agents". Many women end their breastfeeding relationship in the hope that it will make everything better – the sleepless nights are finally over. But whoever expects this will usually experience a bitter disappointment.

Children wake up at night and are close to their parents, regardless of whether they receive breast milk or artificial baby food. Regardless of whether you sleep in a family bed or in your own bed. "Behind it is not a defect or defect, but a basically normal, expected reaction of a person who is constantly dependent on the protection of adults." [11]

Light sleep

As already mentioned, all babies and toddlers inherently have a more restless sleep than adults and more trouble-prone phases in which they can easily wake up (see also "Why babies do not sleep through the night"). "The superficial sleep, interrupted by waking phases in children, can be observed in all cultures and at three to four years becomes" firmer by itself "- in other words, at the age when the children were originally weaned from the breast." [12]

I can already see the comments of the parents, whose children "slept through" with x weeks or x months. But that’s only half true. The sleep pattern (high proportion of REM sleep) is identical in all children, i.e. all children wake up briefly at night. Nevertheless, I am aware that there are children who manage this development step (to find themselves back to sleep) quite quickly. This is great and really enviable, but not the rule.
Incidentally, it is not uncommon for a child who has been sleeping through for a few weeks to suddenly wake up again every night. This applies to bottled children as well as to breastfed children.

The fact is that "over a third of the children report regularly at night when they are two and a half years old." [13] Our girl is definitely one of them. It’s not that nice (I would prefer to sleep through it, of course), but it’s only really bad because I have always felt that it was my fault over the past three years.

Doubt No. 3: Is our child’s sleeping behavior normal??

In our circles, children are considered normal who sleep through the night alone and do not eat anything at night. If you wake up several times at night and ask for your parents, you are suffering from a sleep disorder. This is allegedly caused and encouraged by the presence of the parents at night (by carrying them to sleep, breastfeeding, cuddling …) because the child learns "bad habits".

Renz-Polster says: "If children wake up frequently at night, this may be a problem, but it is not a" sleep disorder "or even an illness that is all too quickly diagnosed today." [14] Gonzalez states in this Context also an interesting question: "Why are there so few children who do the" normal "(sleeping alone) and so many who do the" abnormal "(calling for the mother)?" Isn’t it strange that it is a great challenge for so many children to get by at night without the help of their parents and without milk meals? Is the majority of children really abnormal? Probably not.

"N u r with difficulty and consistent approach, you can persuade a child to sleep alone, because this contradicts his innate tendency. But at the slightest opportunity, it will call for its parents again, because that’s normal. " [15]

Doubt No. 4: Not self-employed due to family bed?

The problem with self-employment is that children often need a lot more time to mature than we allow them in our society. This is a shame, especially if mothers are willing to give their children this time, but work with more pressure out of fear and uncertainty.

Again and again there is a demand to accelerate the natural development processes of our children (eating, eating off the mother, weaning, sleeping independently, etc.). And who (like me) does not want to / do this because the child suffers from it / resists it / does not take part in it, doubts this way until the child has finally completed this development step. Until virtually the proof was provided that it can be done without external pressure …

There were some stages of development in which our girl required a lot of patience and time from us. For example, she only ate noteworthy portions of solid food when she was ten months old (see "Introductory food introduction: finger food instead of porridge") and she also went through a pronounced mom phase (until almost her second birthday), in which she hardly wanted to be without me and did not like to be stayed alone with others (not even with relatives).

Although I clearly heard the opinions in my environment (to finally "expect something" from her), something deep inside of me said that she would become independent when she was ready. I did not force her to do anything, but I also did not limit her curiosity or her desire to discover / move. Nevertheless (or maybe because of it) she became a good eater and now she approaches openly and confidently to other (also completely foreign) people. For many months she has been playing for hours without me and very much like it.

So far, when I slept together in a family bed, I lacked “proof” that this does not block their independence. Even though it is fundamentally not a recommended method, I compared our girl with the children of mothers friends. It made it so much easier for me that many others over the age of two did not sleep through the night. Children who are not breastfed and who fall asleep in their own bed – but who sought protection in their parents’ bed at the latest in the second night help. Children who, despite having their own sleeping place, were not yet self-employed.

That showed me that we are not the only Le >

Ultimately, in the past three weeks, our girl has provided me with proof that children can also sleep through the night in their family bed. Even if we cannot yet speak of a safe, daily sleep through, there is a strong tendency in the right direction.

"It would be ideal to respect the individual development of the child and not to force anything [neither wean nor sleep alone]. If we give him the opportunity to develop at his own pace and fulfill his desire for love and closeness, it does not make him dependent (as some fear), but it can develop into a healthy, independent and open person. " [16]

When does my child leave the family bed?

This is a question that every parent who gives their child a place in the middle of the family bed poses. But as with questions about other stages of development (when will it go? When to speak?) There is no answer that applies to all children.

Gonzalez emphasizes what many “family bed mothers” testify on the Internet:
"There will come an age when her child wants to sleep with you at no cost. An age will come when she won’t even want to share the room with her siblings (and if there is no other room available, the conflict is bound to happen). ”

If I know that our girl is fine next to me, she can sleep in our bed as long as she wants. Thomas and I agree that she is always welcome in our family bedroom, no matter how old she is.

Because Sears gets to the point:

“The relationship with your child is so important that the clock and calendar have lost nothing here. Do not set any time limits for this wonderful phase. The main question is not, when Your child leaves the family bed, but how . If you do not set an appointment for this, you will not experience any disappointment. "[18]

Breastfeeding at night: From constant sucking to sleeping through the night

I like to breastfeed our girl and the nightly breastfeeding hardly disturbs me – I only find it uncomfortable in the phases when she wants to suck on my breast non-stop.

The older our girl got, the more consistently I asked for breastfeeding breaks during these stressful times. For example, at the beginning of pregnancy, when she suddenly stopped breastfeeding again. I told her that my breasts hurt and she shouldn’t drink. She accepted that, but spent these nursing breaks (in which I sang for her and stroked her) in an awake state. She found sleep like this only a few times. Most of the time she waited patiently for two to three hours, then her request became more intense after breastfeeding and she finally fell asleep again on her breast.

Her willingness to cooperate amazed me and showed me that she was trying to cope without breastfeeding – but she couldn’t. A few weeks ago (when my nipples were so sensitive due to pregnancy), I seriously thought about weaning, but didn’t have the heart to take this "soul food" from her. I decided to extend the breastfeeding breaks bit by bit (a gentle weaning variant [19]) when she suddenly slept more quietly on her own. Even better – suddenly she slept through – next to me in the family bed despite the "milk scent" in my nose

I rejected the idea of ​​weaning because it seems to be gradually maturing on this point too. I wanted to end our breastfeeding relationship around their third birthday (end of June), but if it takes a few more weeks, that’s fine. Similar to sharing the bed, is important to me heart, that we find a solution that suits both of us. And since our girl not only demands but also accepts my needs, I like to continue to compromise.


It’s pretty hard to wake up every night for years because my child needs me. In bad phases, I wished nothing more than just being able to continue sleeping. For hours. Deep and firm.

But I found the constant search for good arguments for our child-friendly path even more exhausting when "experts" and those around me pushed me into a position of justification. In bad phases, I wanted nothing more than an understanding counterpart. Someone who recognizes what I am doing here and does not meticulously look for educational mistakes.

In the past three years, one thing has become clearer to me than ever: A child’s sleeping behavior is part of his personality and not dependent on parenting methods. When your child finally sleeps through is unpredictable. It is worth accepting that children are small human beings and not programmable machines.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to emphasize here again what children really need. They need emotional security and they get it by lovingly and patiently responding to their needs. You need time to master each development step and your confidence that you will achieve it when you are ready. If you then manage to create a space in which your children can fulfill their natural urge for independence, then nothing stands in the way of healthy development.

Our girl is still a few steps away from the "right" sleep through, but the past few weeks make me confident that we will also master the last stage. Until she moves out (many children leave the family bed when there is a sibling), I enjoy the small, warm bundle by my side. But even if we had to share our sleeping oasis with two children from November, it shouldn’t be a problem at 2.80 meters wide

“Sleeping together adds another dimension to the time you spend sleeping – at least about a third of 24 hours. It is time that is not lost in the upbringing, but is well invested. Countless times give your child how little you love him without words. [20]


Like this post? Please share to your friends:
Christina Cherry
Leave a Reply

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: