When your child starts to wake up at the same time night after night after night or the same time during naps (usually after ~40 minutes) you may have a habitual waker on your hands. They are in a habit of waking at a certain time, but should ideally be
sleeping longer. What to do?!
The Baby Whisperer states that "nine times out of ten a child who wakes habitually doesn't need more food (unless he's going through a growth spurt)" (p 191). If your child is going through a growth spurt he will most likely eat a lot when you feed him, and will probably be waking up at random times.
A child may wake up habitually to play too. For example, if you play with your child when he wakes at 5 am, he may continue to wake up at this time for your company.
Before considering that habitual wakings are the problem makes sure to rule out other causes first (see night awakenings and short naps).
You can help baby break the habitual waking habit by:
- Trying wake to sleep (click link to see how to do this)
- Leaving him in his bed until the expected wake up time (remember to have realistic expectations)
- Waiting progressively longer periods of time (maybe in 15 minute increments) every few days before going in to your baby
- Soothing him back to sleep when he wakes up (e.g. shush-pat if under 6 months, hold your baby quietly, rock your baby, do part of your wind down routine, place a hand on your baby's back and offer comforting words, use the swing)
- Trying P.U./P.D.
- If he is used to eating at each waking (eating at night is a habit but he is capable of getting all his nutrition during the day), you can either do the options above and wean him from waking and eating at the same time, or you can wean him from eating and then wean him waking. Some babies will stop waking with no other intervention once they get out of the habit of eating when theY wake.
It is not unusual for there to be a period of regression with sleep training--especially if it is related to habitual wakings. If this occurs, you can continue using the methods you used previously to fix the issue.
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