Night Weaning for Sanity

Walt is fifteen-months-old today! And last night, he celebrated by sleeping from 8:00 pm until 6:00 am. Less than a month ago, he was waking up five times a night. How did we get here? Thanks to the advice of Jessica Weber, of the popular blog The Leaky Boob, and her advice to look into Dr. Jay Gordon’s night weaning method. Dr. Gordon is a pediatrician who offers a way for parents who share a bed with their baby to teach our kids to sleep for longer periods in a short, free article called, “Sleep, Changing Patterns In The Family Bed.” This seemed like a Godsend for us, deprived parents (meaning: no attention span, no short-term memory) who share a bed with our baby because he will not sleep anywhere else. And it has been. Oh, what a blessing!

Essentially, we did everything Dr. Gordon describes in his article, which comes down to teaching Walt that his preferred sleep pattern, one that included nursing every few hours, was not working for me. As the phrase “night weaning” suggests, we used Dr. Gordon’s technique to teach Walt to sleep without nursing. We were supposed to comfort him a little bit less, in stages, until just some “shushing” and a few pats were enough to put him right back to sleep.

I know. I was skeptical, too.

It wouldn’t be easy, and it would be loud. He would be angry. Reading about Jessica’s experience told me that this would probably be true, but also worthwhile.

Then, as he has done so often, my child shocked the heck out of me with his gentle, adaptive response to whatever curve life throws at him–he fussed and cried, but from the very first night, he slept longer than he ever had. Disclaimer! Our experience does NOT seem typical!

Details:

Nathan and I discussed our schedule and chose a seven hour window, 11:00-6:00, as suggested by Dr. Gordon, during which Walt would eventually not be allowed to nurse. This would be the “weaning” at night, and the no-nursing rule would appear at exactly 11:00 pm and disappear at 6:01 am.

Night One– I tried nursing him when he woke up, but didn’t let him fall asleep nursing. I switched to holding him and rocking him, but staying in bed, after a few minutes. I didn’t let him nurse after stopping until after he had fallen asleep and woken up again. Cue major heart ache as he looked up at me with big, fat tears and signed for “more” over and over. My saving grace? The sign for “wait,” something our babysitter taught him when he started asking her for breastmilk! (I know, I haven’t told you about hiring a babysitter. I will.) I saw understanding in his eyes, and his crying lessened to a disappointed whimpering. Besides being able to communicated “wait,” in whatever way Walt understands the concept, it helped enormously that Nathan and I were doing this as a team.

The next day, we talked it over and agreed that nursing a little bit, but stopping him before he fell asleep, had seemed confusing. Maybe this works better for babies who are always told “yes” by Mom when they ask to nurse. I will use the “wait” sign myself, however, when I want to finish a task, so I thought that a familiar event, even if at an unfamiliar time, would be easier for my sleepy baby to understand than the entirely new experience of being cut off from the breast before he was ready. I don’t do this, mostly because, rather than watching me sign “milk, all done,” he just starts playing. I don’t know how someone as highly strung as I am has such a laid back kiddo, but here we are! He only minds being interrupted if he is nursing during naps or bedtime.

The Other Nights When He Woke Up– things did, in fact, improve when I just started asking Walter to wait if he woke during the time we had designated as Night. They improved so dramatically, in fact, that I can’t remember which were the nights he woke up and stayed awake. I nursed him to sleep when we put him to bed, and every time he woke up before 11:00. He cried when he woke up, but he didn’t even seem angry. I held him in my arms. We both sang songs to him. He lay between us, and we took turns falling asleep mid-lullabye, trying to stay awake to keep any sort of rhythm to our pats on his back.

Most nights, he has stayed awake. The last few nights, he has seemed to really learn the schedule; his eyes have popped open within five minutes of 6:00 am. I, on the other hand, have hardly slept. I’m so anxious about sleep and sleeping, suddenly! My kid is adjusting better than I have! Explain that, please. I can’t.

I’m less exhausted, though, because a well-rested child, and nights spent reading, if not sleeping, are a HUGE improvement. It will be two weeks on Tuesday since we started this journey, and it feels like a month. But only for me–as I said, my husband and child had a pretty easy time, despite my sudden insomnia.

Sleep!
Sleep!

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been following your sleep struggles, and I can totally relate. My son has had periods of extremely challenging sleeping habits. Now — at two and a half — he has finally settled into a routine of sleeping through the night reliably. And that’s life changing, for the entire family. I’ve never been a great sleeper myself — a life-long insomniac — and making sure that both my son and I get enough sleep has been the hardest part of parenting for me. I also developed worse insomnia when my son started sleeping for longer stretches as a younger toddler; I would still “on alert” for his cries. That gets better though… I’m so happy for your progress so far!

    January 20, 2014
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      Sleep deprivation is absolutely the hardest part of parenting, for me. I feel like I can do ANYTHING with consistent healthy sleep. Without, I feel like I’m barely making it through my days. It has actually been really comforting when moms like you say that you, too, had a hard time letting go of “alert” mode. I kept thinking I was going insane, not sleeping when I was so darn tired! This comment is also a good reminder that everything is a stage. Here’s hoping that this stage lasts a good, long time, for Walt, and that my insomnia ends soon.

      January 20, 2014
      Reply

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