In June, I wrote about how I needed to night wean Jack for my own health. In September I posted how we made some good progress, only nursing to sleep and a little cluster feeding towards the morning. I am happy to report now that he is night weaned and sleeps in his own bed. Has been for a month now. It took nearly 9 months, but we did it.
I kept up with my plan. Nursing to sleepy, not offering my breast first when he wakes up, and only giving him milk when he is about to be really upset. I figured out quickly he still really needed morning milk for awhile. I could hear his tummy growling and his lips were dry with thirst. We were still getting his food allergies under control so he wasn’t meeting all his caloric needs during the day. I let the morning cluster feeds go on for months, until December when I suspected I was pregnant. I knew morning sickness would set-in soon and I was going to be in rough shape. It was going to be hard enough to eat or drink anything, let alone with a toddler sucking it out of me. I needed to fully night wean him in order to be a good mom to both babies.
Every other night or so, he would sleep through the night. His food allergies were doing great. And he wasn’t nursing as long as before in the morning but still waking often during them. I concluded it was probably more habit than need at this point. One morning he cluster fed from 5-8 AM….so I drew my line in the sand. We had a chat the next day. I explained that the milkies need to sleep all night long or else they would be too tired to make any milk. So that night when he awoke at 4 AM, I refused him my breast. And yeah…it did not go well. He screamed and screamed, I started to cry. Michael snuggled him and I went to the couch. An hour later, I heard silence and went back into the room. He was snuggled up on Michael, so I got back in the bed and felt horrible. I kept telling myself I did not let him cry it out. Michael rocked him and soothed him the whole time, we did not abandon him. He was just working through his feeling in this difficult time.
The next night wasn’t much better. He nursed on the couch with me after his bath, but then Michael took him into the bedroom without me. Jack was very upset again. Michael brought him out three times to show him mommy was still here, just in the other room. Nearly two hours later he went down, Michael stayed patience and just loved him through it. I went to sleep feeling horrible, and it only got worse. He awoke at 5 AM demanding milk. I had on a high collar sweater with no boob access at all, which made Jack furious. I just kept snuggling him and telling him it would be okay. I hardly got any sleep that night and still felt horrible. I started reading “Mothering Your Nursing Toddler,” and was assured I wasn’t doing anything horribly wrong. I was doing very reasonable techniques, and I just needed to listen to my heart for what was best for my family.
But things changed the next day. He ate a lot more food during the day. He asked for more water, too. When my mom put him down for a nap without me, he did so happily. When he woke up, he asked for milk. I said yes, and he nursed eagerly for only a few minutes. He didn’t ask again until bedtime. And then didn’t protest when I said milkies needed to go to sleep. He just flipped over and went to sleep! He didn’t wake up until 7 AM, had some milk and went back to sleep until 9 AM! We both woke up happy and had a lovely day.
This went on for a month or so. Maybe milk to sleep, maybe not, depending on how bad my hyperemesis was that day. Some small protest, but usually would go sleep with a few books and some snuggles. When he did wake up at night, I would ask him what he needed. Most of the time it was a pat on the back to go back to sleep. Sometimes it was a glass of water (I started keeping one by the bed each night). A few times it was some cereal because he was hungry. Usually he would be back to sleep within 15 minutes and not wake again until morning. He could have milk if it was 7 AM or later. It was a huge lifesaver, more sleep helped me cope with hyperemesis.
Then one day in February, all signs pointed to move him into his own bed. My mom complained that his crib mattress was taking up too much room in the closet and I need to come get it. I read passage in “Mothering Your Nursing Toddler” on putting a big kid bed next to your bed is a great way to transition toddler out of your bed. And Michael complained Jack kicks him all night long. I asked Jack if he wanted to try sleeping in his own bed (explaining that he is ALWAYS welcome in our bed, no questions asked). He said sure.
So, we got the mattress from my parents’ house, took Jack to the store to pick out some big boy sheets, and set-up the bed at the foot of our bed. That night we talked about how he should stay in his bed as long as possible, but he can always come to the big bed if he needs to. He nursed a little, we read some books, turned the light out and turned on his glow worm. He was out within minutes and stay asleep till 7 AM. He crawled up to us, had a little milk and slept another hour!
This pattern has continued for a month now. A few nights we have a fight to go to sleep or he wakes up several times.On occasion, he still needs a pat on the back or some water. But 99% of the time, he goes down easily and sleeps 7 or 8 hours straight and sleeps another 2-3 hours in the bed with us without any milk. And most mornings he doesn’t even ask for milk when we get up. And at least once weeks, he sleeps totally through the night.
Maybe in a few months if he’s sleeping longer, we will move the bed farther away from ours or encourage him to stay in his bed if he wakes. After the new baby comes, I am expecting a little relapse due to stress of all the change, so I am in no rush.
So my advice to encourage night weaning? Love. Like what I said about Sleep Regressions, just love them and help them through it. Also I suggest:
- Keep reading “Nursies when the Sunshines”. I suggested this in my last night weaning update, too. It takes awhile for kids to comprehend, so just keep reading it. One night when I said the milkies need to sleep, Jack answered “No sunshine, milkies sleep”.
- Make a new (flexible) bedtime routine that doesn’t revolve around nursing. If it’s bath night, we play up the bath. Otherwise we make bedtime stories a big deal. “Hurry baby! Daddy is waiting to read to you! Go pick your books and get in bed! Oh, looks! This book has trucks!” At my parents’ house, he gets very excited to watch TV with grandma until he’s sleepy. I say flexible because if he’s had a rough day—like skipped his nap or had an allergy issue— he may need some extra love and gets nursed to sleep.
- Be patience. This is a big step for a toddler. How many adults still have trouble putting themselves to sleep? Jack usually needs a full hour to unwind and go to sleep, regardless of who puts him down and if he nursed or not. I know one day I will be able to kiss him and turn the light out as I leave. But that day is not today, he’s still learning to control his body. I got greedy when dropping night feedings started to work months ago and pushed him too far. All my progress fell apart and I learned my lesson.
- Follow your heart. If you try night weaning and something doesn’t feel right, stop. Maybe you aren’t ready and feel forced into it. Maybe your toddler isn’t ready and is feeling abandoned. Maybe there is another issue going on and ignoring it will make it worse (like Jack’s food allergies and him needed my milk for calories at night). You have the ability to be best mom possible for your child, don’t ever forget that. If Jack had one more night of truly upset and making me feel horrible, I would have thrown in the towel and waited a few months.
- Find a Lovie. Something they can snuggle and love to find comfort. It can be anything. A blanket, a pacifier, a toy, mommy’s shirt, daddy’s sock—anything! Jack has two, his stuff fox named Foxy and a glow worm named Glowy. Glowy sings him to sleep and he likes the feel Foxy’s soft fur next to him. He sees them in the bed and knows it’s his secure space to rest.
- Along those lines…Make their own bed special. Your bed was special because you were in it. Now they have to sleep in a strange bed without your warmth? Help them by making it their own space. Let them pick out their own favorite sheets. Let them help set-up the bed. Lay down in it with them for awhile so it’s not scary. Make it comfy and happy.
- Don’t expect perfection. At first it might be 1 step forward and 10 steps back. One night of easy sleep, and several night of crying in mommy’s arms. That one night of sleep was GREAT progress, don’t dismiss it. Wouldn’t it be nice if toddlers just slept through the night as soon as told them to and never relapsed?It’s a great dream, but don’t hold this in your mind as the ultimate goal. Focus on helping them learn how to listen to their body and relax to sleep.