Tag Archives: Sleep

Nightweaning a Co-sleeping Toddler

Oh, sleep.

I’ve missed you.

Beginning with my fantasies of being able to press pause and take a nap during labor, my relationship with sleep transformed into something I desired without any real promise of attainment. I craved it. I daydreamed about it. I practically salivated over it.

Until recently.

After twenty months of co-sleeping and nursing on demand, I finally decided I’d reached my limit. I was fine continuing to share a bed as long as I could sleep without having to nurse every hour or two. While E had gone through stretches where she slept a few hours or more at a time without needing me, she was suddenly becoming more and more demanding again and my body couldn’t take it. Just as I always figured would happen eventually, I knew I was done.

Then, I hurt my shoulder and I was really done. Like there was no other option. I couldn’t lie on my side for hours upon hours. She was going to have to learn how to put herself back to sleep.

Now here’s the point in the story where I pause for a moment to tell you every baby and family is different. While we decided not to cry-it-out early on, I now have a new appreciation for the idea that maybe some moms need the separation earlier than others. Co-sleeping and night comforting was something that worked for us for a long time. I enjoyed the closeness. And, honestly, it was just easiest for me. We had shared a body, so it felt natural to share a bed. She was right there next to me, easy to put back to sleep. No need to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. You get the idea.

Even within the same family, moms report different techniques working for different kids. This worked for us. I’m not looking for approval or to suggest what we did was right. It was right for us until it wasn’t anymore. Of course, many people in our lives warned us it would be hard to get her out of our bed, but it was also hard for me to get out of our bed in those early months. To me, it has been worth the trade-off, even if it isn’t easy to transition her to her own space.

What we have done after two long months is get her to sleep for about 8 hours (on average) without needing anything from me. I still nurse her around 5 or 6AM and then she goes back to sleep for a few more hours. When you consider we were nursing hourly at some points in the last few months, this is a HUGE victory. However, it was hard-earned.

I’ve had a couple of moms recount their cry-it-out experiences as gentle fussing in the crib. This was never an option with E. For awhile she’d start her night in her own little Montessori bed on the floor, but as soon as you’d try to put her down in a crib she’d scream to the point of gagging. I’ve heard her gently fuss. This wasn’t it and we couldn’t take it for more than a few minutes. She would hyperventilate. She would freak out. It was too much for us so we didn’t push it.

Accordingly, I scoured the web for a “gentle” approach to night weaning. I knew putting her in a crib and walking away wasn’t an option for us, even if I’d tried it a couple times just to see what would happen, (and, as I described, could only take for a couple minutes!). So, I figured the first step was to get rid of nursing during the night and then worry about the bed-sharing afterward. Fortunately, my husband stumbled across this video and sent it to me:

Basically, the plan went as follows:

  1. Pick a 6-7 hour window to withhold milk as the source of sleep
  2. Nights 1-3 use any comforting you’d like to get her to sleep, nursing may be used to comfort but not put to sleep during the 6-7 hour window
  3. Nights 4-6 no milk during the 6-7 hour window, any other comforting okay
  4. Nights 7-9 no milk, no comforting

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to withhold her favorite source of nighttime comfort, but I had no other choice. It was time. And, it was terrible. She fought back, hard. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, even though I was lying there next to her.

I tried everything. I sang songs, I ignored her. Nothing helped but time. While the plan in the video suggested 9 days, it really took us about 5 weeks with the first 2 being the most intense. Although the plan transitions to no comforting by night 7, it took us longer to get there as simply rolling over to “hold you” became her favorite trick.

Even now, I have to make sure I pack her full of as much food as possible during the day because she was clearly relying on night nursing for some of her caloric needs. Below are my journal entries from the first few nights to illustrate what a challenge it was:

Night One: Went to bed at 9, nursed but she fell asleep without nursing around 10, withheld nursing 5 or 6 times throughout the night, threw short fits then went back to sleep (still challenging), nursed once around 4 to relieve pressure, and again at daylight, slept in until 9:30+ and put herself back to sleep once after I got out of bed (heard her cry, but didn’t go to her)

Night Two: Ouch. We were off to an awesome start. I nursed her then used other methods to get her to sleep, (sing, cuddle, etc). She fell asleep after about 30 minutes without any fits around 10PM and slept soundly until 1AM when she woke up in a torrent. Nothing would get her back to sleep.

Unlike the fits the previous night, her screaming just kept escalating. A sippy cup helped calm her a little. Walking her around calmed her until my arms felt like they were going to fall off, (well, my right arm since I sprained my left shoulder and couldn’t put much weight on it).

Still, I kept refusing to nurse. I sang songs, tried to cuddle, until finally the screaming became too much. I asked her dad for help, (he was sleeping downstairs so he could face his workday). She just got angrier until the screaming became so intense that I felt like I was going to throw up.

At that point, I deferred back to the rules for the first three nights– nursing is okay to calm, just not to put to sleep. I calmed her with milk and then she went to sleep easily after I stopped nursing her. She slept without fits the rest of the night. I nursed her at 5AM since it was past the 7 hour milk-free mark (starting at 10PM). I just couldn’t handle another fit. She nursed again around 8AM and is still in bed now, (9AM).

Difficult night.

Night three: Repeat of night 2 but took 2 hours to get her back to sleep around 2, minimal additional waking, just one monstrous fit around 2 and a refusal to go back to sleep. Getting harder to want to keep going.

***

We basically repeated this for weeks. Some nights were fine and then we’d start all the way over again. It sucked, but I was determined. And, little by little, it paid off. We started to sleep through the night here and there. It was the encouragement I needed to keep going through the hard nights.

As she began to soothe herself back to sleep more consistently, it was amazing to see the shift. She’d cry for just long enough for me to question whether I should intervene and then magically put herself back to sleep. It made me appreciate the concept of self-soothing in a whole new way.

Eventually, she stopped night waking pretty much altogether. Now she’ll wake maybe once or twice, and put herself back to sleep quickly, as long as I’ve fed her adequately throughout the day. The other magical improvement is naps. She used to wake up in the middle of her nap and want to nurse. Now she generally puts herself back to sleep during her naps as well.

Parenting is such a personal journey. What works and has worked for us is definitely not for everyone. But, this is exactly the kind of blog entry I wish I’d read a couple months ago. It would’ve helped to hear that these plans don’t always work in a week or two. Sometimes they take months. Sometimes they take a lot of (comforted) tears. Our sleep plan is a work in progress. She’s a night owl. She’s still in our bed. But, one step at a time. I’m just grateful to be sleeping on my own clock again.

Welcome back, old friend.

What I did not expect about “better” sleep…

Our much happier sleeper this morning!
Our much happier sleeper this morning!

For the last couple months, I have craved a more consistent sleep routine with E. Co-sleeping served us well for nearly half a year, but she got to the point where I could no longer escape from bed after putting her down in the evening. This caused her bedtime to creep back later and later as she would reawaken when I would try to get out of bed without her. I dreaded nighttime because it meant hours of repeated attempts and usually ended with me so tired I would just give up and go to sleep with her, leaving zero adult time in the evenings and taking away valuable sleep from her routine.

I knew as soon as we had our new place, I would have to start new systems, but I really dreaded the crib and crying it out. Friends had shared both the horrors of dealing with screaming (and vomiting) babies for several hours on end as well as the amazing leaps in sleep duration. It would be our last resort. Instead, I read up on the Montessori bed, and as I already shared, it was magic for naps, but not for bedtime.

Then a friend recommended The No Cry Sleep Solution. While I am still waiting for our copy to arrive, I was able to glean enough from descriptions on the internet to get the point that repeated action is the key. For the past couple days, I have kept our day and sleep routine exactly the same. We wake-up, eat breakfast, nap, have lunch, take a long walk (getting outside is also supposed to help), nap, go through our dinner rituals, get cleaned up, and start the bedtime steps as soon as she shows the slightest sign of being tired, (even if that means 7PM!). We use the same vocabulary, pull out her comforting blankets and toys, and then lie her down to nurse over and over with the same words until she goes to sleep.

I had heard recommendations of repetition in the past, but I had always felt like my attempts were enough. I would give up after a half hour or so, and allow her to come hang out with the grownups until she seemed tired enough to start the process again. Last night, I did not give up. For two hours, I repeated the steps, over and over, putting her little squirmy body back into her bed until finally, at 10PM she was asleep in her own space and I was able to go downstairs and sit in front of the fireplace with my husband.

I realize it is still a little early to declare sweet victory, but for us, it felt like it. She slept three whole hours in her own bed AT NIGHT. This earned her an entire extra hour of sleep and did not require me to stay in bed with her like usual. From what I have read, if I continue this unrelenting repetition, the amount of time spent getting her to sleep should decrease, and I can already tell from the consistency of her naps over the last week we have made some real progress in getting her to sleep in her own space.

What I did not expect, however, is how difficult it would be for us. Both my husband and I debated carrying her into our room when it was time for us to go to sleep last night. We could not wrap our minds around the idea of not sleeping with her after so many months of falling asleep with her between us. Still, we resisted the urge in hopes it would buy her more sleep than usual. For an entire hour, I lay awake in bed, unable to drift away without the warmth of her little body next to me.

When she awoke screaming around 1AM, we both jumped out of bed, relieved and eager to have our little beast back with us. I guess we will eventually have to work on encouraging her to stay sleeping in her own bed when she awakens, but for now, it is exciting to think I may have my evenings back to myself, even if I find myself missing her next to me when it is time to go to sleep.

Parenting is funny. We want so much for ourselves and our children, but often we are the ones dependent on old habits. I would never take back co-sleeping and the special bond it has created or the extra sleep it bought us in those first crazy months, but I also recognize it is time to do a little letting go for her good and mine. I just have to remind myself the benefits are worth the twinges of pain.

Maybe Co-Sleeping is Just as Much about Us…

More often than not, she is the little boss around here... thank goodness for naps!
Thank goodness the boss *usually* falls asleep on the job a couple times a day.

E. is napping in our bed. My fingers move quickly because I never know how long I have until she awakens. Some days I get hours, others minutes. The result is an inability to focus. Do I work on my novel? Do I blog? Do I catch up on sleep?

Undoubtedly, her eyes will open when I have settled into a rhythm on my own. I have learned to save everything we can do together, like eating and cleaning, for when she is awake. Generally, I cannot bring myself to nap. Time alone is worth the occasional deprivation.

This is possibly the hardest lesson of early parenthood. Everything cannot be done. Must prioritize. As much as I love yoga, it has become a once-a-week activity. Today my husband watched E. while I went to class. Tears streamed down my face as I lay in Savasana, thoughts of growing old and E. caring for me instead of the other way around. Life, cyclical and gone in a blink.

Back home, I cuddled her to sleep in our bed, lingering an extra twenty minutes, minutes I could have had to myself but were too sweet to give up. Choosing to sleep in the same space has been on my mind a lot lately. As with anything, not everyone gets it.

Sometimes I question our choice, too, on hard nights, when she cannot sleep and I am stuck beside her for hours to keep her calm. Then I remember like everything before, this will pass. The alternative would require “sleep training,” and I am just not willing to let her scream for long. Some babies go down with less of a fight and E. is called Little Beast for good reason.

Most importantly, when it works, co-sleeping is a beautiful part of our life. Moments together, close, savoring now. We don’t worry she will be in our bed forever. We know the time will come when either we will encourage her into her own space, or she will say “Peace, y’all.” Seeing as how she demands to feed herself already, I have a feeling she will be asking for a “big girl bed” sooner than we expect.

A recent parenting piece in the Washington Post struck a chord. Sometimes the path of less stress is better for everyone. Maybe we could teach E. to sleep on her own with a few nights of intense “training,” but for what? So I would have to get up to comfort her instead of just rolling over? So we could sleep without her in our bed? The truth, co-sleeping is just as much for us as it is for her. We crave the connection, too, her sweet little body curled between us.

When it consistently stops working we will find a solution. Until then, I am happy to watch her nap all snuggled in our bed while I sit in my big, brown chair and steal some minutes for myself to write. Nothing lasts forever. Part of me wishes it would. I cannot help but think back to all the nights I lay awake in bed, pregnant, talking to her in my belly as she twirled about. I already loved her intensely then.

The night we stop sleeping next to E. will be a bittersweet one.

Month Four: Awake.

I am awake. It is 4:16 AM. She is asleep. I should be too but instead the hum of the fan is pounding a hole straight into my head. Insomnia is not fair when your sleep revolves around someone who is four months old. I take it back. Insomnia is never fair. The sleep gods must have a strange sense of humor.

I get up and turn off the fan, worried I might wake my husband who sleeps restlessly in the Sacramento summer heat. I creep back to my spot, her small hand reaches out to make sure I am still there. During the fourth month she has shifted her preferences and now refuses to sleep in her bassinet. Instead she has to touch me. I don’t mind. I actually revel in the closeness. Her soft skin helps me sleep, her quiet breath a lullaby.

Often I feel attachment parenting is as much for me as it is for her. People like to warn us we will regret it later. We just smile. For now shared sleep buys us extra hours and strengthens our bond as a family. We know we are not alone. Many of our friends sleep with their babies. I don’t know why it is such a shameful secret. In other cultures it is normal. Separation after all those months in one body is what feels wrong, for me at least. We tried the other way. It only partially worked and was exhausting.

Without the fan I can now hear everything. My head no longer hurts but I am aware. The dog’s claws scrape the wall where he sleeps under the curtain, desperate for a little cool air from the open window. Birds chirp and then disappear. A large truck moves somewhere blocks away. My husband breathes rhythmically, the other dog snores. I listen as the dog beneath the window goes to the kitchen. He huffs. Shit. He needs water. I should get up.

The words of this post begin to sift through my brain, but I lie in bed, enjoying the feeling of her skin against my arm, listening. The other dog continues to snore as the first patters past the open window, outside. Shit. He is going to bark. I hear him huff a couple muffled yelps, his attempt at self-control. Then he lets loose. I jump out of bed and stumble into the door of his open crate. I make more noise than he does. My husband stirs, the baby is still.

I get the dog inside and give him water. He twirls in appreciation. His bowl was empty. I sit in front of the computer, 4:18 AM. The crinkle of my granola bar wrapper awakens the other dog. They both breathe rhythmically by my feet as I type, asleep again. I am the one still awake. Twelve minutes have passed. I no longer care.

I will pay tomorrow, but in this moment the price is worth it. The cycle of sleep, play, feed, repeat is the most beautiful gift life has given me, but it leaves little time for anything else. I know it is a season, a brief span of time where I am needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel rebellious stealing these few minutes for myself. I am like the teenager on the phone in the middle of the night when the alarm clock looms just beyond the horizon and my parents have given up on telling me to go to bed. Tomorrow I will show up to life with black circles.

Oh right, tomorrow is already here.

She often sleeps through the night now, or for eight hours at a time. I seldom go to bed with her, so somehow it still does not feel like enough before I have to pull myself out of bed to feed her. If I am lucky, she will go back to sleep and I will somehow find eight hours myself. If I am not so lucky, she will open her eyes and smile and I will still be lucky anyway because she is mine and for the moment my only job in life is to take care of her.

On second thought, I better try to steal a few more minutes of sleep.

People like to warn us we'll regret sleeping with her later because we'll never get her out of our bed. We just smile. Some experiences are just to sweet to pass up, even if we might have to do a little extra work later.
Hard not to be happy sleeping next to this sweet being.