Hungry or Habit

My take is that for Nat, at this current age, any MOTN awakening is due to habit. This is also considering how he was able to sleep through before. For 4 nights last week, Nat woke up randomly ard 2 or 3 or 4am, and HJ offered him some milk. Worried that it might form a new habit, I subjected Nat & myself to another round of sleep training i.e. trying to soothe him back to sleep w/o feeding. So far, we’ve had 5 days of relatively peace, thank God.

I hope this regression phase is over. His 8th month did not come with easy nights.

  • Week 1: Nat had 2 more teeth sprouting out so that made napping and sleeping uncomfortable
  • Week 2: Randomly standing up in pitch darkness when it’s time to sleep
  • Week 3: Waking up in the wee hours of the morning (which is fine) but we chose the quickest fix of offering some milk when we don’t really know if Nat is drinking out of habit or hunger?

To answer the question whether it’s out of habit or hunger is a hard one…

Previously when Nat was a younger baby (under 6 months), if he woke up in the motn, we would assess based on his cries whether he’s hungry.

How to tell if it’s hunger? A hunger cry won’t be placated despite any method of soothing. You can pat him, rock him or carry him and the fussing continues – that’s how we determine if it’s real hunger. If it is, we would feed a small amount (usually 30-40ml) to help him last until 630am.

However, since Nat is considered an ‘old baby’ (above 6 months), I know for a fact that he has tanked up sufficient calories in the day so being hungry in the motn should technically not be the case. He eats 4 solid meals a day with milk feeds in-between so his daily milk intake averages around 500ml.

That was when I started to consider other reasons for his random awakenings and fussing. This article was very helpful in corroborating what I already suspected.

Our friend falls into the 1st category of being dependent on a sleep prop.

The official name is “sleep association” but these are more widely known as “sleep props” or “crutches.” This is something your baby “needs” (using that term loosely) in order to sleep.

For Nat, his sleep props are:

  1. The bottle – he gets drowsy after drinking some milk (40-60ml) so it always gets him in the mood to sleep
  2. Hand patting – he sleeps the fastest after getting consistent pats on his butt from us

As a result, I highly suspect that when he wakes up randomly in the motn, he fusses or cries because he is trying to get back to sleep but is finding it hard to on his own.

I think the confirmation for this is that when I resisted giving him any milk until it was the last resort, he was able to go back to sleep after some patting. If Nat was genuinely hungry, the above would not have been possible. Waking up randomly is not the issue, since babies have a different sleep cycle from adults so I guess what is more crucial is actually knowing how to get back to sleep independently after one wakes up in the motn.

This is also not to say that one must not give any top-up milk at all, but instead, to make the assessment based on baby cues and what you know to be true for your baby.

If hungry, feed. It’s only when you suspect it’s not hunger, then one can proceed to eliminate other plausible reasons.

It’s really not easy. That’s why for a few nights, HJ just gave some milk top-up because it would instantly calm him down and he would fall back asleep. However, a new habit may form out of that. So faced with not much choice, I had to try and sleep by 11pm, in order to standby at 4 or 5am to soothe Nat should he wake up. Any sleep training was of course easier during maternity leave when there was no need to wake up for work but it just has to be done, for the sake of the long term and for continuous sleep! This may also push back my initial plans to shift Nat out into his own room because getting up to soothe him back to bed if and when he wakes up is much easier if the crib is just next to my bed.

I guess now we’ll hopefully get a short break before the next milestone?

– CK

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