It’s one of the top concerns of parents of young children, and one of the top questions we ask each other and we are asked by strangers. “How’s he sleeping?” “Is he sleeping through the night?”
Sleep at our house looks nothing like what I planned when I was pregnant, and it definitely doesn’t look like what I thought it “should” look like. I thought it “should” be baby in his crib after a couple months spent in a bassinet in our room. I thought it “should” be lie baby down in his crib and let him fall asleep alone. Certainly I thought there “shouldn’t” be any nursing to sleep! I thought I was “supposed to” train him to sleep in his crib by leaving him there to cry.
Where did I get all these ideas? Well, honestly, it was just stuff I heard from other parents, stuff I saw when I used to babysit, what my Mom said worked for her… oh, and what I read in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child which convinced me I was scarring my son for life!
So then I was a bit embarrassed, a bit ashamed, when, right off the bat, Cub was in bed (safely) with us.
Transitioning to his crib
At about 2 months old, I transitioned Cub to his crib next door, but I (guiltily) nursed him to sleep. In his swaddle wrap, he slept quite well, waking to feed once or twice a night and easily going back to sleep on his own. I was very proud of his sleep habits, though I also felt like I had very little to do with our success: it was just his disposition.
Back in our bed
Perhaps, if our routine hadn’t been interrupted by our first trip home to visit my family in BC at the end of December, Cub would have always slept easily in his crib. But during our stay on the west coast, he slept in our bed. Cub and I stayed on in BC til almost the end of January, so by the time we got home, he was very used to sleeping with me. With another trip on the horizon where we’d be sharing a bed with him, I didn’t make an effort to get him back in his crib, though he did nap there during the day.
I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t getting him to sleep alone in his crib. I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, that I was doing him a disservice by letting him sleep with us. For a while, with the spare bed in his bedroom, I would lie with him til he fell asleep then carefully transfer him to his crib. My husband had heard from other Dads he knew that the “best way” to do bedtime was to let him cry… that his friends had let their kids cry for ages alone in their cribs til they “learned” to go to sleep on their own. We tried this a bit. I hated it.
Oh, I’m an Attachment Parent!
We put up a bed rail on the spare bed and I started sleeping with him there for most of the night. Papa works long hours and his cell phone rings during the night: it didn’t make sense for us to all sleep together. When I saw Peaches Geldof describing her co-sleeping arrangement, it was the first time I didn’t feel like I was doing something “wrong.” It was the first time I realized that I was an Attachment Parent (without ever setting out to be one).
For quite some time now, bed time at our house looks like this:
Reading stories in the big bed (in his room), turning out the lights, nursing, then staying with him til he falls asleep. Sometimes I sing lullabies, sometimes I rub his back or his head. He sings quietly or makes other sounds, and it often takes him 45 minutes to an hour to fall asleep.
When he would wake up for the first time in the night, I would go nurse him and usually end up staying the rest of the night. Normally, he would wake 2-3 times, nurse a bit, and go back to sleep.
At 18 months old, I’m not in a rush to stop breast feeding, and I really don’t have an issue nursing him a bit at night. I get a great night’s sleep since I barely wake at all for a bit of milkies. I’m still a bit embarrassed when I tell people I usually bed share with him while Papa’s in the next room, but I am trying to take ownership of a choice I know works great for our family.
Deciding to night wean
So if I’m happy breast feeding at night, why are we at our one-week anniversary of night weaning? Because amazingly, my menstrual cycle has not returned yet and I would like to get pregnant! Cub nurses very little during the day, but this reduction has not been enough to spark the return of my cycle, so, I decided it was time to cut out night nursing. It was a tough choice, honestly, to take away something he’s so used to and so comfortable with for reasons he can’t understand.
I initially hoped to be able to night wean Cub without disturbing Papa’s sleep. Yes, I know, Papas need to be involved, but as the one staying home, the one not having to be at work for 8 AM bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I’ve always done 99% of bedtime duty. On the Friday night when I decided I wanted to start, at the first night waking Cub was hysterical. He went ballistic. He was furious I wouldn’t give him milk, I was upset, and Papa took over. It wasn’t pretty. But each time he woke, Papa was there next to him, doing his best to comfort him without milk. (Cub has never really taken a bottle.) After that first night, I was prepared for Papa to say “f* that, just nurse him tonight!” But instead, he wanted to soldier on.
When I nurse Cub before bedtime, I tell him that milkies are going dodo (dodo = sleep in French), and that he’ll have milk in the morning. Each night since that terrible Friday has been better. My husband slept with him 6 nights in a row, and each night Cub woke less, and was quicker to settle.
On Thursday night I tucked my t-shirt into my PJ pants and put on a tight-fitting hoodie (to make self-service impossible), and I went to sleep next to Cub. When he woke up, he signed for milk, but I was able to settle him without nursing. He woke up twice, settled back, and in the early morning he nursed as usual. (I’m aiming for no nursing from 9 PM to 6 AM.)
Last night, our one-week anniversary of night weaning, Papa slept with him and he only woke once, briefly. Papa even said HE himself had a great sleep! They slept in til 9! Cub didn’t ask to nurse until about 11 AM.
Our sleep goals
Slowly but surely, I know that it is important for Cub to become comfortable sleeping alone for most of the night. Knowing he can fall back asleep without nursing is a step in that direction. The goal now will be to go to him when he wakes and comfort him til he falls back asleep, but, if I want to I will go back to sleep in my own bed.
I would also like him to start going to bed on his own, in the sense that I can leave the room and he can continue to sing and chat to himself til he falls asleep, but without me right next to him. I’ll start this process by leaving for short times during the falling-asleep-process, and telling him I’ll be back.
Final thoughts on sleep for toddlers and babies
First off, this post has not been about telling you if you don’t co-sleep, if you weaned earlier or if you use controlled crying or cry-it-out strategies that you are doing it wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite: this post is about how doing what works for your family means doing it right. The first person who needs to realize that is me!
One reason our sleeping arrangement works is because our bedrooms are next door to one another and we live in a one-floor, two-bedroom apartment. I would not have left Cub sleeping alone in a big bed as young as I did if it had meant going back downstairs for the evening. Also, I’m a stay-at-home Mom 6 days out of 7. I don’t know if I’d have been night nursing and co-sleeping this long if I had returned to work.
Resources that helped me:
Kelly Mom’s Night Weaning Tips <– We followed the “Gentle methods of night weaning for toddlers.”
The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby (affiliate link) <– I wish I’d read this while I was pregnant.
Normal Infant Sleep: Night Nursing’s Importance <– Thank you for taking the guilt out of night nursing!