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A Little Secret About Frequent Nighttime Waking in Babies and Toddlers

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How do you sleep?

How do you sleep?

Just a few minutes ago, I was doing the dishes and I heard little babe squawk for about the third time since I put her to bed a couple hours ago.  My husband is in there with her, so the first two times, she easily settled back down and fell back asleep cuddled against him.  But, when I heard her wake up for the third time, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s gotta pee‘.  So, I took my dishwashing gloves off, went into the bedroom, where she was tossing and turning on the bed next to Art.  She’s almost 11 months old.  I pulled off her pants and cloth diaper, then held her over a little potty I have by the side of the bed.  She complained a little, semi-cry, like, ‘man, this really stinks, I’m so tired and I want to be sleeping, but damn it, I have to pee!’.  (come on, you know the feeling, haven’t you ever been so comfy in bed that you wish someone could get up and pee for you?).  I wiped her off, plopped her back on the bed, put her dry diaper back on, laid down, gave her a few  minutes of boobies, then pulled away.  She complained a little (really wanted that boob still in her mouth), but then flopped over and squashed herself up against Art.  I got up and went back to doing the dishes.

This is our routine, more of less, almost every night.  I usually take her at least once, twice or occasionally even three times a night.  A very little known secret in first world countries, where nearly all babies wear diapers (even mine), is that BABIES WAKE TO PEE!  Yes, it’s true!  The ‘sleep experts‘ don’t even talk about this one much.  Babies will not eliminate in a deep sleep.  First, they stir.  (Of course, there could be many reasons for a baby waking at night and it’s completely normal for a baby to wake up multiple times throughout of the night).  Then, mom or dad have some routine of getting baby back to sleep.  So, if you have your baby in your bed, like us, often your first reaction (and I wouldn’t even call it a reaction because you can do it sometimes completely asleep) is to stick the boob into the mouth.  Plug up the noise hole and pray that they go back to sleep.  Sometimes they go back to sleep and you can ‘milk it’ (haha, get it) for another hour or two, but then the stirring happens again… then the pee… then they’re wet.

If you’ve got them in cloth diapers, then they’re REALLY wet and you’re supposed to change them straight away.  So, I find that even if I’m too lazy to take her to the potty, I still end up having to get up and change the diaper anyway!  So, may as well do the potty. Even in a disposable, I’ve used them sometimes and I felt as though they got really cold (even in summer) if they were wearing a wet diaper.  Since Margo was born, I knew that she was waking to pee, but I thought that if I just let her go in the disposable that it would somehow make it so that she couldn’t feel it and we would get more sleep.. but no… that was so not the case.  Until I changed her, the night waking would happen at least every hour, sometimes more.  I mean, it really made sense to me, after all, no animal lets its baby poop and pee where it sleeps without cleaning it up, so why would a human baby be able to sleep in the same?  So, quickly, by the time she was a few weeks old, I was doing EC (elimination communication) with her consistently at night, knowing that even though it was a bit of a pain to get up and take her, that it would mean that we could have a more restful sleep if I did.  Short term effort, long term benefit (ehm, longer stretches of sleep).

I’m all about on demand feeding and letting babies have boobies at night, but I feel that once they hit a certain age (maybe 6 months-ish), they’re were not waking ALL night long because they are hungry.  Thirsty maybe, and maybe going through milestone development, but in my opinion, not starving hungry.  So, it was at this time that I started just making the feeds shorter.  I would let them have a nibble, not a huge meal, and then pull away.  I’m certainly not an expert in nutrition, and every baby has different needs, but at this age, my girls were both above the 97th and 90th percentile, respectively, for weight, so I was not concerned that they needed to top up on nutrients at night.  Constantly night feeding, to me, just meant that I would have to wake up and take them to the potty more (yawn.. who wants to do that five times a night?).

I don’t have any solutions to this night waking, as I don’t really see it as an issue.  I’m not offering advice on how to stop night wakings, only ways to deal with it or at least to offer an understanding why SOME (not all) of the night wakes might be happening.  To help, you can certainly take your baby to the potty, or you can let them pee in the diaper and then change them so they feel comfortable.  You can also make feeds a bit shorter and possibly not offer the boob at every time they wake.  For example, if I know that there was just a feed an hour ago (assuming it’s an older baby), I probably would just give a cuddle before offering boob.  It’s really no secret if she’s after boobs anyway, she usually goes lunging for the chest if she wants it.  If she’s not really interested, she’ll complain and then fall asleep.  (miraculously not waking her 3 year old sister, who is sleeping on the other side of me).

My older daughter was completely out of diapers from the age of 14 months, and I could seriously count the number of nighttime accidents on one hand, and she’s almost 3 1/2.  I really believe that she has excellent control over her bladder because of the EC that I did with her from birth.  I once heard that going to the toilet is a huge impression in the mind.  In other words, often you think you have to constantly go, or are afraid that you won’t make it to the next pit stop, but you really are fine and don’t have to go.  It wasn’t until I went to India that I realised that all the people there can hold their bladders for ages and they have a very good awareness of ‘liquid in, liquid out‘, like, they drink just enough so that they’re peeing all day long.  Well, funny enough, most people in India were raised doing EC (although not as much with the younger generation now).  I’ve noticed that Margo is very conscientious of ‘what goes in, comes out’, and she too will only drink just enough liquid to have very infrequent pees, without her being dehydrated.

Anyway, I better get to bed now, because the little one will be waking up in another couple hours to pee… bless her, the cute little thing.. it’s ok when she wakes, because guaranteed, I’ll be busting to go too!  Anyway, I don’t really mind taking her at night, she’s super cute when she sits on the potty or I hold her over the sink, because she does the whole thing with her eyes shut!  Both my girls did the EC thing at night in their sleep, nodding their heads on the potty.  Total cuteness!

23 Responses »

  1. I am so intrigued by this! Your first paragraph pretty much describes our evenings too. But I have never really looked into EC or the pee thing… it could be worth a try!

    Reply
  2. Great article. We EC during the week after naps from the beginning but have never been able to identify her cues. I tried to start taking her to the bathroom before bed, it worked the first time, but not the next 4 times so I have up. We’ve always changed her immediately otherwise and constantly check her diapers (cloth) at night. We bed share and she eats when she wants but at 6 months only pees once if at all during the night.
    My fear as a working mom is waking her up too much at night to take her to go pee that she won’t go back to sleep. Any suggestions on how to figure out the pee startling?

    Reply
    • Hey! Well, I think as you’ve probably found out already is that their nighttime patterns change rapidly when they are very young. So what isn’t working now, you may want to try again later. I’ve done the same with my girls, and just taken them when I think they have to go, and both of them have basically slept right through it. I think if they get used to them being taken, then it doesn’t bother them do much? I’m not working now, but I did work part time when my older one was a toddler and I had to get up and take her at least once during the night until she was about 18 months old, after which she started holding it all night. I guess it just depends on you and your sleeping situation and how easy or hard it is for you and babe to fall back asleep. I do it gladly because, like you said, otherwise I just have to change her anyways, so it saves the washing (mountain). Also, my older one was out of diapers all together by the time she was 14 months, day and night, so I’m glad that I kept a consistent routine at night. If you do want to take them, just keep a potty or bucket in the bedroom, lights off or dim nightlight, and then straight back to bed always worked for us 🙂

      Reply
      • Oh, sorry, meant to add, if she’s only waking once a night to pee so far, that’s pretty good for 6 months! See if you can keep track of about what time each night she goes, then you can start taking her just before you know she’s at the threshold, if that makes sense? My little one almost always lees about 5 hours after she goes to bed 🙂

      • Thanks! I think we’ll try that.

    • By 14 month and still wets her cloth diapers, must start wearing cloth training underpants!

      Reply
  3. Really good to read this. I’ve had the same experience with our 8 month daughter, who we’ve done EC with since 10 days old. She thrashes around in bed (with us) until I get her up to potty and if I do try to just feed her and go back to sleep, she feeds, pees and then thrashes around even more till she has a dry nappy on, so like you I’ve found its way easier to get up immediately and she just sleeps through it too. But lately she has been waking more often – possibly developmental milestones, and I had been wondering if I was doing the right thing as I don’t know anyone else who does this with their baby, so Thanks, I feel my faith restored that is the right thing to be doing 🙂

    Reply
    • I still take my little one to pee at night sometimes and she’s 2! I wish someone would lift me up in the middle of the night and take me! Yes, it could be a milestone or something. I think if you keep at it, she’ll sleep through it again. Also, this silly full moon has been making nights a little restless!

      Reply
    • If she still wets her cloth diapers by 14 month, must start wearing cloth training underpants!

      Reply
  4. Hi my name is Mya and I’ve been using the EC method too, but he can only tell me when he needs to poop. At night I’m waking up 5 times a night and he wants the boob after his wakings. I am so tired and don’t know what to do. He won’t per in his tolite, he just wants to nurse and per in his diaper, or I have to hold him in the bath to pee, but he is screaming. Help
    Mya- jakes mommy

    Reply
    • Aw, yeah.. sounds like you’ve got a little boob addict… how old is he? Can you do one thing and make sure that he gets a good cry out before bed? He’ll probably sleep much better because of it.

      Reply
    • He must wear cloth diapers and by 14 month cloth training underpants!

      Reply
  5. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US
    Lotus(5mo) wears cloth diapers, cosleeps, practicing elimination communication since birth, and I nurse her to sleep. She wakes up like 6 times at night, and its exactly this cycle of: wakes up to pee, pees on potty (or wets diaper), change diaper, nurse to sleep, and then … 1 hr later, needs to pee again! I am so happy just to see that this happens to other people.
    I literally never even thought of just nursing her for less time during the night. that seriously sounds like a solution. Thank you! I was also thinking of maybe using a pacifier at night, but… we have never used a pacifer and it just doesn’t seem.. natural, but maybe it’s okay?

    Reply
    • I would avoid the pacifier if she’s not using one already. Yes, it’s funny isn’t it, just a simple thing like reducing feeds will reduce the number of feeds! It also took me some time to think about it!

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  6. This is so true for my son! Until he was 11 months he woke up every hours sometimes more, and at 11 months I read this and thought, “it’s worth a try.” I did it and within three nights he went from waking 20 times a night to 3-6 times! It was amazing, not perfect but WAY better. But at 15 months he stopped letting me toilet him at night, and started just peeing in the bed and went back to the 20 nighttime wake ups 🙁 He is now 19 months and I don;t know what to do. Any suggestions on nighttime resistance?

    Reply
    • Oh hi! I’m glad it worked while it did! Has anything changed? Like, did he start watching movies, start skipping a nap, or change daycares, move houses, or anything like that? Another suggestion would be to read ‘Tears and Tantrums’ by Aletha Solter. Most often, night wakings like that are associated with emotional stuff, and allowing a child to have a supported cry (not alone, like cry it out) can help them to sleep better.

      Reply
    • He must start wearing cloth training underpants !

      Reply

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