When I became pregnant with Lennon, I knew I wanted to do everything in my power and ability to give her exactly what she needed to be a healthy and happy person. One of the biggest things I could do for her was breastfeeding. I had no idea it would also be one of the most difficult things I have ever done, including childbirth. But breastfeeding is more than just feeding. It is a serious relationship that requires both parties to work together so that it benefits both. Not necessarily equally, but it still must serve both people or else something is lost about the relationship. After months, a year even, of breastfeeding Lennon, I started to feel that I was not enjoying the relationship the way that I once did. I also knew that I wasn't ready to stop breastfeeding and had hoped to make it to at least 2, if not longer. And the problem was never that Lennon didn't love nursing. Because she loves it so much she wants to do it all day and all night, and for a long time particularly all night. When I couldn't take it anymore and needed so desperately to get a good nights sleep, I began my researching in to night weaning.
I was recommended the article by Dr. Jay Gordon, available here: http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html and also to read about Jessica over at the Leaky Boob's site about her night weaning journey with her second youngest daughter, available here: http://theleakyboob.com/tag/night-weaning/. Both of these helped me greatly in trying to wade through dark and treacherous waters.
We first tried at 15 months. It was not successful. Let's just paraphrase and say that she absolutely was not ready to comprehend sleeping without the assistance of nursing. Weeks of trying, weeks of both of us crying, and finally the decision to try again when she was older and we were both ready to be committed to such a huge change.
At 20 months, almost 2 years of age, we moved our existence to California and simultaneously found out we were pregnant with baby number 2. And that was the beginning of the reality that things needed to change because they truly had changed. A huge part of successful night weaning is the parents, and particularly the mama, acknowledging and resolving herself to make changes for everyone's sleep sake. Every woman has a different threshold for those long nursing nights and every child has a different requirement for their mamas warmth, touch and milk. So don't worry about the age of your child when you begin this journey, if you are ready, you will both know you are ready.
We started very gradually, laying in bed with her and helping her fall asleep cuddling instead of nursing. She protested and was not impressed by the changes we were trying to instill. Taking it slow helped convince her it really wasn't that bad. A couple of times throughout the night, especially towards the morning when I was pretty much at my wits end, we would hold out on nursing and try to put her to sleep cuddling. I found she was cognitively at the age where I could explain to her that mama needs sleep, and she needs sleep, and that it was OK to rest her head and sleep. This helped a lot and marked a large shift in her understanding of what going to sleep was all about.
We kept this slow process up for almost 2 weeks, every night trying a little bit more, having James put her to sleep without me there, or have him pull her close and put her to sleep. It was bittersweet for me because on the one hand she was moving away from her intense dependency on me and on the other hand she was developing a deeper and fuller relationship with her dad. We needed both of these to happen as the next baby was growing and getting ready to join our family outside the womb.
When we moved into our new house, we set up her own room for her. This was also tough for me because although I had grown to really dislike night nursing, I still loved sleeping beside my baby. But the thing with my baby was that she had grown into a thirty pound toddler who has an amazing ability to hold out for what she wants. Most nights she would carry on for long stretches, convinced I would give in to her cries to nurse. My presence was too much and the stress of her intensity and my first trimester symptoms were wearing me out so it was time that she moved into her own space. She was excited because as I said, she was aware of becoming a big girl and saw it as an exciting new part of her life.
We began by having James going in and putting her to sleep. It worked well for about a week. And then she stopped. The screaming and fighting kicked into full drive and I knew we had to start a different approach. So we came up with a sleep chart that me and Len worked on together as an art project that stated each step in her night time process and a large blank space for her to put stickers. It went: bath, teeth, books, nurse, lights out. We started doing this every single night. Many times I was tired, or didn't want to do one of the steps, but knew that to truly change her habits I needed to form new strong and lasting ones. And amazingly, it began to work quickly. She would go to sleep easily and after about a week of James going in when she awoke in the night and cuddling her back to sleep, she finally slept her first full night, 10 hours. It felt amazing!
Like all things children related, it didn't last long. They are constantly evolving and growing and so are we. This is the hardest part of positive change: wanting and hoping for it to never leave. She began struggling to go to sleep, wanting me to stay in her room with her and nurse her for as long as she desired, which could be up to an hour or more. Then once I left she would fuss and fuss. It was as though we had receded back by three weeks. It was tough and frustrating but again we had to change our plan and approach. I needed her to fall asleep without nursing to sleep.
We did our usual routine, except instead of nursing her all the way to sleep, I would nurse her for around ten minutes, telling her she had a couple of minutes left and then it was sleepy time and I was going to leave. It was tough at first. She hated it. Angrily screaming for me after I would leave the room which would last up to 20 minutes. But she stayed in her bed and I knew she was protesting change, not fearing separation. After keeping it up for another week, she began to ease into the new schedule and stopped fussing. Instead, when I would unlatch her awake and begin to leave, she would roll over and go to sleep, not waking again until 6 the next day.
Since being on vacation, her sleep has understandably been not as consistent as it is at home. But it is still better than before we night weaned her. She has a bad cold and I have brought her into our bed around 4 most mornings to nurse, knowing that I will have to stick to our routine diligently when we get home to get her back into sleeping all night in her bed.
Her nursing has picked up in the day, as I anticipated it would. She seems happier, learning quickly and playing hard in the day. It feels good to sleep again but it didn't happen over night and it will continue to be an up and down, give and take journey. I hope this helps any mama out there at their wits end just as I was know that this is a process and although it can be annoying to hear, it truly doesn't last forever.