Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Night Wakings
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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

Buy now

Report 5Night Wakings


Night waking may be associated with breastfeeding at night, a bedtime that is too late, or the failure of a child to learn self-soothing. Night waking is also a feature of babies with extreme fussiness/colic.

Maren was born July 18, 1984, after an uneventful pregnancy and an easy Lamaze delivery, three days past term.  We were committed to breastfeeding, with no preconceived expectations of its duration. Maren behaved as a normal infant for about two weeks, at which point persistent crying jags began to occur daily. Though we were assured real colic was worse, we came to refer to these spells as “Maren’s colic.” We endured the inconsolable crying without much complaint. Although her crying mostly lasted one to two hours, the worst individual days would include unabated crying spells lasting for eight to ten hours. Various experiments were tried to ease the colic suffering, including having Maren sleep with us, having her sleep on a hot-water bottle, et cetera. Predictably, none worked. At 2 months, the colic ended relatively abruptly.

From 2 months on, a very happy, trusting relationship developed between Maren and me. For about 7 months, Maren was fed virtually exclusively on breast milk. From 7 to 10 months, increasing amounts of solid food were introduced at breakfast and lunch. Maren has always been a happy, bubbly, joyful child. The breastfeeding seemed to contribute to this sunny disposition.  Maren’s nap patterns were completely normal. Generally, I would sleep with her in the morning. Part of the feeding ritual for these 10 months included twice-nightly breastfeedings for Maren, interrupting my sleep.

Massive campaigns were mounted by both sets of grandparents to convince me that breastfeeding needed to end. These began at 2 months and reached fever pitch around 7 months. We listened politely. Except for a brief experimental period at around 8 months, I didn’t attempt to pump my breasts to permit me extra sleep. This was a conscious decision; direct feeding was easier and more satisfying for both of us. But after nearly a year without a full night’s sleep, I began to reach a whole new level of fatigue, and I realized it was time to wean Maren to a bottle.

Maren didn’t like the plan much. She obviously disliked formula as much as I disliked feeding it to her. For nearly a week she rejected cow’s milk. I ended the midmorning nap breastfeeding ritual first. Juices (orange, apple, pear) in the morning or during car rides helped to improve Maren’s familiarity with bottles. They also allowed my husband, Larry, to feed her while I rested later in the mornings. Putting cow’s milk in a special bottle (formed and painted to look like a dog) allowed this unpleasant white stuff to become gradually more acceptable. After a few days, Maren started to respond more favorably to her “pooch juice” and the games I created and associated with it.

Maren was fully weaned at 11 months. The last feeding to change over was at bedtime. But even if she was given milk at bedtime, Maren continued to wake up once or twice per evening, crying to be fed. The next step was to get her to sleep through the night. We were repeatedly advised to let her cry herself to sleep. The phrase “even for five or six hours” was used, a reminder of colic days. We considered this proposition but continued to feed Maren warm milk, sing lullabies, and rock her to sleep, once or twice per night. The big question: What was waking her up?

We decided it was mostly habit, and that she just wanted the comfort of our company. A new go-to-sleep ritual was introduced: After much playing and affection, Maren was put to bed with her favorite doll, not rocked to sleep. If she woke, warm milk was provided, but Maren was purposely not picked up. Maren cried ten minutes when left alone the first night, then rested her head on top of her favorite doll and drifted off to sleep. After expecting possibly an hour or more of crying, this was an unbelievable, almost anticlimactic relief to us. After two or three nights of feeding without picking her up, Maren began sleeping through the night.

At the end of month eleven, the go-to-sleep is routine. Maren rarely cries at all. Key elements: a big dinner, a bath, gentle play, eight ounces of warm milk, hugs, and her favorite doll. Even a babysitter can do it. At 1 year, Maren had finally learned to sleep eight hours straight. In retrospect, maybe I should have made the switch to a bottle sooner, and not waited so long before we tried to put her to sleep alone. Our parents continuously warned us we were being too indulgent. They may have been right. But then, first-time parents are like that.


  1. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,

    My husband and I have an almost 8 month old baby, Richard. We read your book and thanks to you, Richard falls asleep easily at night and takes great naps (2 or 3 a day). Generally, bedtime is about 6pm and he wakes up around 7 am. He is breastfed but gets breastmilk bottles during the day, as I work in an office. Our sleep concern is Richie consistently wakes up around 10-11 pm and 1-2 am to eat. I believe I have created a night feeding habit as I exclusively breastfeed him at night. At first, I believed he was actually hungry as I have always been concerned about my milk supply. Now, Richard is eating solid foods at breakfast, lunch and dinner along with his morning breastfeeding and bottles during the day and breastfeedings around 3-5pm and before bed. I am becoming severely exhausted. I also have a history of depression so I am hesitant to jump into extinction with no limits. We did practice extinction when we were working on naps and it did work and we have let him cry at his first wake up around 10 pm when he didn’t sound fully awake and he goes back to sleep. Any help you can offer is appreciated.

    1. The breast feeding before bed might be insufficient (low milk supply then because of your exhaustion) causing him to wake up twice in the middle of the night instead of once. Please breast feed at bedtime as usual but for 1-2 nights, after breast feeding 5-15 minutes, offer a bottle of expressed-breast milk. The well-fed breast-milk baby with not take much or any from the bottle. If he does and wakes up less often at night, then either work to increase your breast-milk supply (drink more fluid, try to better cope with work demands) or continue this practice. At his age, you expect 0-1 feeding in the middle of the night and soon, none. Consider also doing the same procedure of feeding at the first feeding at night to clarify whether your breast-milk supply is sufficient. If the conclusion is that hunger and breast-milk supply is not an issue at all, let me know.
      Does this help?

  2. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,

    I saw your note after we put him to bed night one, around 7 pm as he had a late nap till about 4:40. He woke up at 1:17 and nursed and did not want the bottle. He went right back to sleep. He did wake up at 5am but I gave him a pacifier and he went back to sleep after maybe a minute of crying. He woke up at 6:40am. Last night I nursed him before bed and he again did not want the bottle. Bed time was about 7 because he had a late last nap again. He woke up at 12:30 and nursed back to sleep. We woke up again around 4:30 and I did the same with the pacifier and he went back to sleep with about a minute of crying again. He woke up at 6:15 and I got him up at 6:30. Please let me know your thoughts. Thank you!

  3. Hello,
    I have read sections of you book and website. Currently sleep deprived and trying to find answers.

    I have an 11 week old. His sleep was great at night getting 6-7 hour stretches. At 8-9 weeks he started with frequent night wakenings. He wakes about every 1-1.5 hours from midnight on. He napes about every 90 minutes and I wake him at two hours. He takes 3 longer naps and one short catnap.

    Currently, we are working on earlier bedtime. Also, we have dropped the swaddle at night , but use during naps.

    My question is: 1.) do we continue to swaddle? No signs of rolling and 2.) do we cap the length of his naps?

    Current schedule going of cues and not clock time

    1.) wake up 7 am
    2.) nap 830-1030
    3.) nap 12-2
    4.) nap 3:30-5:30
    5.) nap 7-:745
    6.) bedtime 9:15-9:30

    Sleeps until midnight and the first wake up. He feeds once overnight between 3-5am. Falls sleep for night sleep and naps easily. Happy temperament. Working to move bedtime to 7pm

    Thanks for help!

    1. Around 6 weeks of age (counting from the due date, not the birth date), all babies want an earlier bedtime. The failure to do this eventually causes cumulative sleepiness, presleep arousal, and difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep at night, or both. Around 7ish, your baby’s brain is signaling the bedtime, not a nap, as you suspected. My suggestion is to not wake him a nap and expect the bedtime to be around 5:30-6:30pm. Good luck!

  4. Hi again Dr. Weissbluth,

    I think Richard was generally tired, not content to just play with toys etc. We have since moved to an earlier bedtime and now he is wanting to get rid of his third nap (he is now 8 months). The past week or so we have done 5:30 bedtime and he falls right asleep. He was only waking up around 2 to eat but the past 3 nights he has woken up around midnight. The first night he cried hard for about a minute and went back to sleep and did wake up again around 2. The next next he cried for about 45 mins before I fed him and then he slept until 7ish. Last night he cried for about 45 mins again before I fed him and he woke up at 5:50 crying again. Should we just continue with early bedtime routine and hopefully the full night sleep will come? Should I still expect to feed him once a night? Thank you as always!

    1. Please describe a typical nap schedule?
      It is uncommon for an infant to be fed at night at and after 9 months of age so my question to you is how confident are you that he is hungry at night?

  5. He normally naps at 9 am and around noon. I would say I’m not very confident he’s hungry, especially with how much he’s eating during the day.

  6. I think he prefers to breastfeed and that is historically at night since I work away from home during the day and selfishly I also want that time with him. Last night he did sleep from 5:30-4am. I fed him at 4 and he slept till about 7:20.

    1. Children develop more ‘self-agency’ around 9 months of age and this might lead to a middle of the night feeding habit that would cause sleep fragmentation. On the other hand, feeding around 4-5am (+/_ a diaper change) might be good for a later wake-up time.

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