In the Trenches of Sleep (Night Weaning (Sorta) Again)
Since it seems like everyone is talking about sleep these days (or the lack thereof), I thought I’d write an update on our six month night weaning saga. It’s actually not been that bad, or rather, parts of it have been incredibly challenging while other parts of it have been quite good. Mostly this is because we’ve come to terms with the new definition of what “good” sleep is, and there’s been a few bright shiny spots that give me immense hope for what lies ahead.
To recap, we decided to night wean the Doodle when she was 16.5 months and I wrote about our process here and here. One month later, I wrote an update what life looked like after night weaning. The biggest learning for me through all this is that night weaning does not equal sleeping through the night. Sleep was better, and it solidified into bigger chunks and we did get some long night stretches there that were quite remarkable, we just have never (and likely never will) get a 10 or 12 hour solid stretch from the Doodle. C’est la vie.
What I didn’t anticipate is that we’d all regress and that night weaning would become an ongoing process. We had a relapse when the Doodle broke her arm and during the 18 month sleep regression where nursing was the only thing that facilitated us being walking zombies (as opposed to prone zombies) during waking hours for a four-week period. We had to night wean for a second time.
For us, night weaning meant that the Doodle would nurse to sleep and would not be permitted to nurse again till around 5am. She woke up in the middle of the night and was easily soothed back to sleep, until that very early morning wake up. Then we’d bring her into our bed, if she wasn’t there already, and I’d nurse her intermittently until it was time to get out of bed.
We also co-sleep, but our arrangement has evolved into one of the mommies sleeping with the Doodle in her bed after her first wake up until it’s time for nursing in the wee hours of the morning.
After we night weaned for a second time, we hit another rough patch with sickness in the middle of November. The Doodle was sick, I was sick, Otto was sick, and the big kids were sick. It was just nasty and ongoing. I was sick for a month-long stretch, mixed with a dash of the flu in there, that I was struggling to function at all during the day.
We tried desperately not to nurse the Doodle back to sleep at her night time wake ups, but the wake ups began to balloon both in terms of quantity and duration. She was sick, her food sensitivities were flaring, and she had signs of teething without the eruption of her second year molars.
I needed to rest and Otto was on Doodle-duty one night and was at wits end. She gave the Doodle a bottle of milk and the toddler went back to sleep easily. We all woke up in the morning sick, but more refreshed than we had been in days.
What started off as one bottle, morphed into two bottles, and then three and then four. Each night we’d prep a little case of milk with four 3oz bottles of coconut milk in the kitchen to take upstairs with us to bed. It spiraled out of control in a way we never imagined. It was a love/hate relationship. I hated that we had to resort to bottles of milk rather than teaching the Doodle how to self-soothe; I loved that the Doodle would cry, ask for milk, we could hand her a bottle, and she’d roll over back to sleep with minimal intervention from us.
It was absolutely ridiculous, but it’s what we needed to do to survive.
We knew we would have to cut out the bottles at some time. The household returned to a healthy state just as Christmas festivities began and we were traveling to visit family. Then we all caught the really bad flu, and on the heels of that recovery, we started potty training. There was some more sickness and teething thrown in there.
Finally, we were ready. It didn’t take us much discussion to come to consensus around what needed to be done. We knew we had to do it. We knew it would suck. We knew we’d have to kick the milk habit cold turkey. We knew we’d have to trial it for at least five days before assessing whether or not the Doodle actually needed a bottle at night. And we also wanted to get rid of that last night time nursing session.
Aside from our concerns about the milk crutch and tooth decay, the Doodle really liked nursing in 30 minute increments between the hours of when she was allowed to nurse and when it was time to wake up. This usually meant 4 or 5 nursing sessions lasting a few minutes each.
Let’s paint a picture of how disruptive this was to me. Doodle wakes up, Otto brings her to our bed, and we nurse on one side. If she wasn’t done after one boob, she’d say “other side” and I’d proceed to pull her close to me, roll over, and offer the other boob. The Doodle would usually nurse herself back to sleep.
Upon her next wake up, the Doodle would cry and cry out calling “nunnas.” I’d wake up and confirm that she wanted to nurse. She’d latch on for the most briefest of times, before declaring that she wanted the other side, and then I’d pull her in close and we’d roll over together to the other side. Then she’d nurse for a few moments and be deep asleep and I’d be wide awake.
This would repeat itself another 1-4 times before someone would have to get out of bed to wake up, or someone would have to take the Doodle to pee.
Now, I like to get up early. I like sipping my coffee in the quiet morning of the house. I savour that alone time.
The only problem with the scenario is that I wasn’t permitted to get out of bed. The Doodle was sleeping so lightly that every time I would try to leave she’d cry out and refuse to go back to sleep with her mama, or I’d have to take her downstairs with me which entirely negates my ability to enjoy my coffee alone in silence.
I was held hostage in my own bed listening to everyone else in the house snore while not being able to sleep or drink coffee.
With all of my awake time, I was noticing that the Doodle was actually nursing less and less at each wake up. I realized that she was only nursing for comfort, and very little comfort at that. That buoyed my confidence that she was ready to completely night wean, and take the next step in our weaning journey.
Two Saturdays ago, we cut out the bottles and nursing. We told the Doodle before she went to sleep that there would be no bottles or nursing.
As to be expected, the night was rough. We were up for a few hours singing, rocking, swaying and cajoling the Doodle into sleep. She was pissed off when we handed her a bottle of water instead of milk. She threw it across the room and broke the lid.
She was entirely pissed off when we told her she couldn’t have nunnas. There were tempertantrums, and tears, and screaming and hitting. It was ugly. But we survived.
Each night since then, it’s gotten a bit better, and her sleep chunks have extended. There are fewer wake ups, and she easily goes back to sleep.
I nurse her to sleep around 8pm, and then either Otto or I go in there at her first wake up which is usually somewhere between 9pm and 10pm. We take her to potty (I forgot to mention, but since day potty training, the Doodle often wakes up at night because her bladder is full), and then she quickly goes back to sleep. She usually wakes up again sometime between 10-11pm, and Otto goes in, and inevitably falls asleep, too.
The Doodle may wake up again 1-2 times in the 2 to 4 am range, and at some point, both Otto and the Doodle end up in our bed. I take over the night time parenting and deal with any post-4am wake ups.
Over the week, Otto says the toddler isn’t waking up as frequently, maybe once. And, I’ve also been having similar successes. The Doodle’s been able to get back to sleep after her first 4-5am wakeup, and each day I pushed the time we got out of bed back by 15 minutes. On Friday, we didn’t get out of bed until 5:45am!
The first of what we hope will be many miracles happened last night.
After Otto went to soothe the Doodle at her first wake up at 10pm, the Doodle slept straight through until 6:45am. Now that’s a record! Oh, and did I mention that I discovered the first point of her first two year molar broke through at some unknown time during the week? We had used advil a few nights to help her deal with the painful teething signs, but we didn’t have those awful nights like we did when she got all of her molars and canines in in quick succession. I’d say that tooth has made its appearance with relatively little fan fare (thus far…knock on wood).
All in all, I think things are looking up. It’s been pretty much two years of crappy sleep, and frankly, it can’t really get any crappier or harder than it’s been (cause that 9 month and 18 month period were particularly pretty darn dark). It does keep on getting better here for us.
A big part of this is perspective. We’ve just come to accept that we have a crappy sleeper and we’ve made peace with that. I’m happy to have interrupted sleep, I’ll gladly get up 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 times a night if the toddler will quickly go back to sleep, as long as I don’t have to deal with 30 – 120 minutes of screaming multiple times a night.
What we do as parents is figure out how to compensate for the crappy sleep and make the tweaks and changes to our toddler routines and our lives outside of the toddler to cope with days of little sleep.