The Key to Helping Our Baby Get Better Sleep

When we meet new people, whether it be on public transportation or just randomly when we are out and about, there are three questions they ask about Elvie. First, they want to know how old she is. Once they know, they ask if she is walking. When that is answered in the negative, the next question is nearly always regarding if she is sleeping through the night.

When I say no to that one, there are often heads shaken in dismay. Frankly, sometimes I shake my own head in dismay when Elvie wakes yet again in the middle of the night, but I’ve finally figured out what needs to happen before she will sleep through the night, and I am accepting it and looking forward to the day when it becomes reality. It’s silly, really, that it took me this long to figure out what she needs to do, but at least now I know.


When we first took custody of Elvie in Ethiopia, she was waking every one to two hours to eat. Once she was home with us and through her first hospital stay, she started waking every 45 minutes. I think that once she wasn’t in pain and could eat comfortably, her little body really wanted to catch up.

As time went by, she started sleeping for longer stretches, but it was very rare for her to go longer than two hours without needing to eat. Because of her birth defect, she needed to eat more frequently than most babies, so I accepted that my nights would be interrupted until her big surgery. But then she had the big surgery and still kept waking up regularly. Our pediatrician suggested sleep training. I tried a few tips, but nothing gentle worked, and I was unwilling to try anything that would remind her of the time she spent in group care, waiting for her needs to be met, so most sleep training methods simply wouldn’t work for us.

The one thing I kept coming back to was that she seemed genuinely hungry when she woke in the middle of the night. I couldn’t just soothe her back to sleep without offering the bottle; sometimes she even needed to eat nearly six ounces before she could go back to sleep. My gut feeling was that once she started taking in more calories via solid food during the day, she would sleep better at night. Because she won’t let anyone put things in her mouth, I simply had to wait until she got good enough at feeding herself to get significant quantities of food into her tummy at meal times. Lately, she has been eating normal toddler-sized meals at dinner… and guess what? She’s sleeping better now, too.

It’s not that she’s not waking at all, but her wakings are less frequent, and she doesn’t need to eat as much when she does wake. I think that her wakings now may simply be force of habit, and if my gut feeling is correct this time around as well, she will work through this last obstacle in her own time, just as she has with so many other developmental challenges. When she is ready, she will stop eating in the middle of the night and start just slumbering all the way through.

I’m not sure when this will happen, but I’m okay with waiting. Her one middle-of-the-night and one early-morning waking feel positively easy when I remember what it was like to wake every 45 minutes. And the part where she only eats for 30 seconds and then goes right back to sleep? That’s simply magical. We may not be all the way there yet, but where we are feels really, really good.

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