Why I’m Night Weaning My Toddler

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I’ve already posted about all the initial struggles with breastfeeding. How I just set in my mind I was going to breastfeed and pushed through all the it all. As of this post, we have made it 14 months of nursing on demand. Whenever and wherever, I tried my hardest to give my baby milk whenever he asked. This meant learning to walk while nursing a carrier, waking up several times a night and  pumping when I was away. It was not easy, it was a seriously commit it. But I wouldn’t change it for the word. It’s created a strong and secure bond between my son and me.  He looks at me with such love and joy when he nurses—even when he was newborn. One day he will grow up and leave me, but I will always have those memories.

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Wouldn’t go back and change this for the world!

No regrets about my sleepless nights (and if you read my sleep regression posts, there were A LOT of them). I understood that having a baby meant his need come before mine most of the time. I knew it was only temporary. One day he would no longer want to suckle all night in my arms. One day he will have his own bed and I could sleep a solid 8 hours again. I just needed to get through it with love and understanding. There were nights were I cried out of frustration. There were nights my husband had to take over because I was reaching a breaking point. There were many days I just had to power through and smile despite exhaustion.  But I did it, I survived. I did everything I could to help my son sleep the best and get the best nutrition for the first 14 months of his life.

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This is a tired, unhappy mama.

However, the reason I am writing this post is because I came to a realization. In La Leche League, breastfeeding is described as a mutual relationship between a mother and baby. Mutual as in your are both agree to the terms and are happy with the process. I am no longer happy with the sleepless nights. I am ready to night wean him. This was not an easy decision. I have been talking about the idea for several months now and asking for advice. I was trying to push it off because I didn’t think Jack was ready. I follow gentle parenting, and I didn’t want to force Jack to do something he truly wasn’t ready for (physically or mentally). I talked to my husband about it, who pointed out that Jack can sleep through the most of the night—he does so about once a week on a good week. Then I realized the days after he does, I am so much happier. I take him places to have fun. I have more patience for his almost daily toddler meltdowns over nothing. I even take time to do things for myself like work on my blog or take relaxing bath.

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This is mom I like to be. The mom Jack deserves.

Then I began to think about the phrase “Ain’t no body’s happy if mama ain’t happy.” And realized I needed to think about my self this time.  So I talked to myself about what I needed to be happy. It was simple, sleep. I was exhausted from not getting consistent sleep first of all. But I also confessed something else to myself, I was in pain. Night nursing was becoming very painful (I will address why in a later post). I had just been ignoring it, but it was starting to make me resentful of son at night. My nipples would be on fire after he nursed, so much that I was automatically not offering him my breast when he first stirred from sleep. I will think, “Please don’t want milk, please don’t want milk, anything but milk!” But then he nurses, it hurts, and I lay there for at least a half an hour waiting for the pain to go away. Then I fall back asleep for a a few hours at the most, and it starts all over again. I wake up in the morning very resentful. The last part is a fairly recent development, I never used to be resentful over it. I have no idea why the past month or so this has come up, but it has. And ignoring it is not helping anyone. I deserve to be happy. Jack deserves a happy mom who doesn’t resent him. And Michael deserves a happy wife.  It’s time for mama and everyone to be happy.

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He loves his milkies, he is not giving them up easily (and I don’t want him fully to either!)

So I Googled and looked up on Pinterest “Night Weaning”. I found stuff like “How to night wean in 3 nights!” and “Night Weaning Made Easy!”. They all seemed too good to be true. And most were. One mom seriously advocated for shutting the bedroom door and letting them cry-it-out no matter what (including if they vomit out of stress). Not this family’s style. One said she just told her toddler no more milk at night and that was that! Yeah, Jack would never go for that (I even asked him if he could be a big boy and not have milk at night, he gave me a dirty look). One said just drop a feeding each night for a week and that’s it!  Others did things like don’t readily offer your breast, drop feedings one-by-one every two weeks, and have dad do all the comforting until the baby no longer wakes up. All those sound good, but I know my son, he won’t take to that much change so quickly.

I also talked to my previous La Leche League group from the Bay Area online and attending my local group’s meetings They offered various anecdotal advice like trying a pacifier or a bottle of water instead. The leaders suggested I try to figure out why he is waking up—like he is hungry, thirsty, having bad dreams, teething, or too cold/hot. If I solved that issue, then maybe he would sleep through the night. They also said I should ask myself if I truly think it’s the best decision for my family and to make sure I am not giving into societal pressure. I thought long a hard about that—like a whole month long. After one night where Jack woke up 10 times (yes, 10!) and he was a major grouch the next day, I knew we all needed better quality sleep.

"This was taken at 3 AM, the 7th wake-up of the night"
“This was taken at 3 AM, the 7th wake-up of the night”

Once I established that we needed more quality sleep, I came up with a reasonable and gentle way to get it. I do not want to fully wean him, like I said I have no problems with nursing during the day. Jack needs to learn how to put himself back to sleep without nursing. I decided to put all the advice I received into a plan according to what made sense to me. I knew he would not tolerate being cut off cold turkey. But I could start by nursing him to sleepy, then unlatching him and rubbing his back until he falls asleep. Once he okay with that, I could try dropping one feeding. So the first time he wakes up at night, rubbing his back to sleep again. Next dropping another feeding in the same way. Then another feeding. And so on. Eventually we get to no milk until the sun rises the next morning. He understands what I said for the most part now, so I will say phrases like “Night night time” and “the sleepies soon”. I will give him clear instructions so he knows what will happen, “You can have some milk, then it we will lay down together and relax. I will rub your back until you go to sleep.” Most importantly, I will explain everything to him. This is a big change, he deserves to know what is going on and why we are doing it. I will also try to ask him what he needs if he can’t go back to sleep easily. Like are you hungry or thirsty? Maybe he needs milk for another reason like the Le Leche League leaders suggested.

Michael giving Jack kisses to  and snuggles before bed.
Michael giving Jack kisses to and snuggles before bed.

We are on night five of this plan. It’s too early to give a fair assessment, I will update more later. However, I will offer some resources we are using to help the whole family adjust through this process.

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  • Nursies When the Sun Shines— A children’s book that explains how they get to nurse when the sun is shining, but get snuggles and love at night. That way they learn with visuals in a calm, happy setting. I read it to Jack before we go to bed.
  • Sweet Sleep— An awesome book from La Leche League that explains the science behind baby sleep, as well as how to work with your family’s natural tendencies to help everyone sleep well.
  • Nighttime Parenting: How To Get Your Baby and Child To Sleep— Dr. Sear’s in-depth explanation of how attachment parenting helps create a secure, loving environment that encourages good sleep.
  • No-Cry Sleep Solution— I talked about this book more in my 9 Month Sleep Regression post, and it’s still helping now. I got the idea of making a concrete plan from this book. It also has many suggestions on how to end the suck-to-sleep association. And when it is reasonable to night wean.
  • Essential Oils—I have been using some calming oils to help Jack relax when he gets overtired and to help me calm when I get frustrated. Do some research, they work!

 

Dealing With Sleep Regression (AGAIN!)

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I knew it was probably coming. I knew it would be worse. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. But I just refused to believe it was happening—-again! We were hit with the 9 month sleep regression and hit hard.

The 4-month sleep regression felt like nothing but a distant painful memory. Jack went back to starting the night sleeping on his own and joining us to co-sleep later on. He would sleep 4 hours or so, then a bit of milk and go back down easily for 3 hours. Then more milk and 3 to 4 more hours. He would wake up in my arms all happy and ready to start the day! Not sleeping through the night, but there were no battles. He napped just fine during the day, even alone in his crib sometimes (but mostly on the couch with me. Totally doable. Two glorious months of reasonable sleep. Six to eight months seemed so easy.

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He fought his nap SO hard, you’d thought I was torturing him!

Then around 9 months it began to unravel, again. Just like with the first regression naps went first.  He began to fight them and only sleep for 45 minutes at a time. I knew this was the first sign of a regression, but tried to ignore it. He cut his first tooth about this time so I just blamed it on teething.

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I instagramed this one night, so frustrated. This was the only way he would stay sleep!

Then it began to cascade out of control. He would wake up after 30 minutes of being set down in the crib. Then take hours to get back down. Then wake up every 2-hours on the dot screaming for milk.  Then he wanted nothing to do with the crib. He would popped right up—even from a dead sleep— and scream the minute we set him down. I accepted it was another regression and did what we did last time—just push through and change nothing. We put up with this for 2 weeks. That’s 14 days of no one in the house sleeping well. Everyone was cranky and tired all the time. I felt like a bad mom because I was too exhausted to do much. Some days all we did was lay around in our PJs. I realized ignoring it was not working and looked for another method.

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I read it while he slept on me napping for the next two days.

I researched and asked around. I found the standard answers of cry-it-out and he needs to be night weaned. I knew both were not for us at all. Also several books to read, but none of them were anything new to me. Then during a La Leche League meeting, someone suggested The No-Cry Sleep Solution. I had never heard of it, but everyone who tried it said to helped them a lot. I borrowed the book from the lending library and started reading right away. I finished the book in two days and it instantly clicked.

This method takes time, understanding, and a lot of patience. First you need to understand why this is happening. Jack went through a big physical growth spurt and mental leap during this time. He got teeth (which hurts on its own) so he can eat all this new yummy foods. He learned to crawl, cruise and stand back to back. He said his first words and understands basic commands now. He’s more observant and is learning new things every day. That’s a lot for a tiny, no wonder he’s having a hard time shutting of his brain to sleep!

Jack's sleep log.
Jack’s sleep log.

So, The No-Cry Sleep Solution consists of logging your baby’s sleep patterns for 10 days, analyze them, and making some suggested changes to the sleep routine. Then you start over for another 10 days. And repeat until you get a routine that works for your baby. When I first saw that you need to log for 10 day I want to cry. It would take forever to get some sleep! But I figured what do I have to lose? So I started it.

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The minute I sat down on the couch to relax….

The first 10-day log confirmed everything I knew already. Jack was waking up shortly after being set down, his longest stretch was two hours and he was taking a long time to fall asleep. I did some suggestions from the book and did another 10-day log. We moved bedtime up to 8 PM, which means we started our routine between 7:00 to 7:30. We kept everything calm and stress-free. If he was too cranky, we skipped steps and got him to bed quickly. I added a lotion massage before pajamas. And we tried storytime and nursing to sleep in his room, so he didn’t get distract by the TV.

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But moma, your arms are so much more comfy. I don’t care that it’ 11 and you’re tired!

After another 10-days, things got a little better. It was taking less time for him to fall asleep and he was sleeping for longer stretches. But he was still waking up as soon as we set him down. Then it would takes over an hour to get him to stay down in the crib. And usually we gave up and brought him to the bed (because it took so long it was our bedtime). It was frustrating because we had no time to just relax at night.  We changed a few more things and tried again. We added lullaby music to act as white noise and turned the space heater on in his room to keep it warm enough.

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So peaceful.

Five days later and I noticed a clear pattern that was making his naps better. He stayed asleep and slept better when if he napped in our bed (like I when I was exhausted and took a nap too). And he napped better when the white noise I had on was a TV or Netflix. It became clear to me what Jack needed to fall asleep. He didn’t want to be alone! He wanted to feel, hear, and smell that mommy and daddy were nearby. Its a survival instinct, safety in numbers. Not a bad habit or something I need to let him cry to get over. Just normal human behavior.

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Finally can snuggle with my husband on the couch at night!

I talked to Michael about letting him co-sleep all the time. Michael agreed if it meant we all got more sleep. So, for the rest of the 5 days in the log we put him down in our bed and skipped the crib. Big improvement right away. I also started leaving the tablet playing Netflix on in the background when I wasn’t in the room so it didn’t sound like he was alone. Now I can actually spend a little time with my husband at night and baby gets sleep.

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“I’m ready for bed mom!”

While we finally found a new routine that works for  Jack’s new active brain, it’s not still not perfect. And I don’t expect it to be at this age. He still wakes about 2 times a night to nurse. But he goes back down easily and is sleeping longer. And yes, we still have bad nights. Like growth spurts and teething. He will wake up every hour crying and demanding milk. But it’s not every night anymore and I can handle it better now. The past three nights he’s been cutting a tooth (I swear he is the slowest teether ever) and it’s been rough. I’m very tired, but I know it will pass. Last week he actually slept through the night a few times. I wish I had read this book when he was born, I would have done this gentle and helpful method from the start. I really suggest this book if you are struggling with your baby sleeping too.

The End of Sleep Regression

A month ago I posted about how we were dealing with the evil four-month sleep regression. At the time we were right at the peak of it. The night after I posted that was Jack’s worst by far. It took over an hour to get him to close his eyes. He just kept screaming and making himself more overtired. Then once I finally thought he was asleep and set him down, he woke right back up. Another 45 minutes of frantic nursing and crying, he finally passed out and stayed asleep when I set him down. Then he woke-up every hour for the rest of the night. At 4 AM I went out the living room and cried out of exhaustion. And of course, once I got myself together and went back to the bedroom,  Jack woke right back up! At that point I put him in bed with us, but it didn’t help. He still woke up every hour until 8 AM when he decided to be up for good. I wanted to die. And naps weren’t any better that day. He screamed and nursed frantically. And when he did finally go to sleep, I couldn’t set him down and he only slept for 15 minutes in my arms. And he did this every 2 hours. I called out sick from work that day because I couldn’t function properly.

“It’s 10 PM? You want to go to sleep? That’s nice. I’m WIDE awake!”

After that night, it slowly got better. And I mean slowly. Like another month slowly. That’s right, it took a whole 56 days for Jack to sleep through the night again. What’s weird is everything went back to normal in reverse order, like he magically hit the rewind button. First, he started to go down easily for naps. Then his naps went back to the normal 30-90 minutes. Next, he started waking only every 2 hours at night. Then 3 hours. Suddenly he went to sleep easily at night. Lastly, he went back to his normal 5-6 hour stretch, followed by two more 3 hours stretches. It’s just like all the books said, he did go back to normal once he learned how to handle the adult sleep cycles. Last night I officially declared the regression over. I got 8 hours of sleep total and it felt amazing!

So what is my advice to any parent struggling through this hell? Do nothing. Seriously. Just keep your baby’s normal routine (being flexible as needed) and understand that neither you nor your baby can control this. If it worked before, it will work again once your child brain develops enough. I know you were probably wanting to hear that I did some magic sleep training program to get him back on track quickly. But I don’t believe in sleep training, I honestly think it’s mean. Why would you force your baby into something that they are not designed to do yet?  I think the time and energy you waste on forcing strict training on your child should be used to comfort and encourage them during such big mental leaps instead.

That being said, there are a few things you can do to help your child master the skill of sleeping better (note I said better, not prefect).

  • Have a bedtime routine. That way they begin to recognize a pattern of events that lead up to sleep. We do bath, lotion massage, pajamas while calmly talking/singing, nurse on the couch with all the lights out until he’s asleep. He’s learned this pattern now too, he starts giving me the milk face while I put his pajamas on.
  • Put them to sleep in a dark, calm room. Turn off the lights (we leave a night light on so I can see him when he fusses). Make sure there is no loud noises that could startle them (loud neighbors outside,  noisy dishwasher, & etc.). Keep the room at a decent cool temperature. Use a white noise machine if you like too (we use a box fan). Pretty much remove all outside stimulation that could keep your baby awake if they do happen to open there eyes for second.
  • Lay them down drowsy. This encourages them to put themselves to back to sleep when they wake-up at night. I know I said I nurse him to sleep, but the walk to the bedroom usually wakes him a little. He wiggles and opens his eyes a bit as I set him down. I usually step out out of his view and watch to make sure he goes to sleep. Ninety-nine percent of the time he does instantly.
  • Learn the difference between real and fake cries. When Jack was in the middle of his sleep regression, I notice sometimes when I picked him up when he cried, he would forcefully open his eyes and start screaming. Then he would throw a tantrum and it would take an hour to put him back to sleep. After a week of this, I research it and realized he was not actually awake when he cried. Babies—especially when in a sleep regression–cry in their sleep if they are dreaming or in between sleep cycles. I picked him up too soon. I would scream too if someone woke me up from a sound sleep! So one night when he cried I sat-up and watch him for a second. He kept his eyes closed and his hands stayed soft. He cried for maybe 2 minutes tops, but it wasn’t loud, more like a fuss. Then he went right back to sleep and slept 3 more hours. Later he cried again, but this time his eyes were open and he reached out for me. Then I picked him up, nursed him, and he went back to sleep in 5 minutes. If they are really crying, always comfort them. I do not believe in letting them cry-it-out. A baby under 6 months does not have the mental capacity to manipulate you, they only cry when they need something. And yes, attention and reassurance at this age are basic needs.
  • Don’t change your comforting methods. If you start something new during this time, they will get used to it and want you to keep doing it after the regression is over. For example, if you never sat on yoga ball and bounced them back to sleep before, don’t start doing it “just for now” to get them to sleep quicker. It will become a new crutch that you will always have to do at 3 AM.. Do you really want to bounce on a yoga ball at that ungodly hour for the next year? Didn’t think so. I kept on picking Jack up and nursing him back to sleep. If he was really fussy, I patted him bottom and shushed. If he really wasn’t having it, Michael would turn on his calming music and I would gently rock him. But these were the things I had done since birth. The only difference was I had to do them for longer. Now that he is back to normal, I went back to doing them normally too. No crazy sleep crutches at 3 AM.
  • Walk away if you reach the breaking point. It’s okay if you get too stressed out from lack of sleep, you don’t have to be prefect. One night I went to bed right when Jack did because I was exhausted, and of course he woke up as soon as my head hit the pillow. I tried for an hour to put him back to sleep but he was WIDE awake. I carried him to the living room crying and told Michael he had to take him. I went to sleep for three hours while Michael tried in vain to get him back down. I woke up at midnight and nursed him back to sleep. He still woke up every hour after that, but with a little sleep I gained some composure and prescriptive. Remember they are not torturing you, they are just learning a new skill and need your help mastering it.
Woke-up with his cute face after 9 hours of sleep.
It does get better, just be patience.

Just be patience. Seriously, this will not last forever. One day your baby will be leaving for college and all you will have are the memories of rocking them back to sleep at 3 AM.  Don’t over stress and make those long nights more painful than they need to be. Keep loving your baby and help them through this phase.