For various reasons, the time has come to begin night-weaning Limerick. He still co-sleeps, in a sidecar crib, and has always nursed to sleep. It was the path of least resistance for so long… but now, 15 months later, it has become a sleep crutch that prevents him from resettling when he wakes briefly during the night and thus wakes me about every two hours all night long. And the older he gets, the more difficult it seems to be for him to drift off while nursing, because he wants to engage and interact with me the whole time!
However, while I was convinced of the need for night-weaning, I was also convinced that I didn’t want the process to be one of prolonged or solitary crying. If he was going to cry, I was going to be there with him; if he was inconsolable and clearly not settling on his own, I was going to slow the process down and go at the pace he was able to handle. So I brainstormed some ideas for a new routine, and explained everything to Limerick a few times before implementing them, so that he wouldn’t be taken off guard when we did something new at bedtime.
“First we’ll nurse with the light on,” I told him, “and we’ll snuggle and talk about the day and pray together. Then, after you’ve had some milk, I’ll lie you down with your head on the pillow in your crib, tuck your bunny in next to you, pull the blanket over you, give you your bottle of water, and turn off the light. I will lie here right next to you and sing you a lullaby, and you can go to sleep.”
Why these steps?
First, the time of nursing and talking gives us a chance to connect at the end of the day, without any other people or distractions around, which is particularly important on days that I’m gone at work for hours. I want him to know that his bedtime isn’t just a task for me to accomplish, but a special time of calm and quiet for us to share. Also, he is still young enough that I want him to keep nursing, even though I can’t physically deal with the nursing all night long!
Second, the little details of the bedtime routine help to provide continuity and consistency from one night to the next, without making things too long or complex. The pillow helps keep his head elevated when he’s congested and the bottle of water gives him something to suck if he wants or a drink if he’s thirsty still after nursing (since my supply is getting pretty low, and it’s dry here in Arizona!)
Turning the light off after nursing helps to separate nursing from sleeping, so he doesn’t roll back to me for “kikis” after I try to situate him in the crib. This was a mistake I had been making on previous attempts!
Finally, Limerick loves music, and he seems to be far calmer physically when he has something to do with his mind – like listen to the words and melodies of songs. So the lullabies (whatever I happen to remember or make up) help him to relax, which in turn helps him to fall asleep.
As we were going through the routine, I narrated each thing that we were doing, reminding him of what we’d said earlier, until I ended by singing some old lullabies. His breathing slowed. His body relaxed. His hand holding the half-empty bottle dropped to his side. And I slid off the bed and went downstairs.
This was just the first night of the new routine. We’ve now had four nights of the new pattern, and in addition to falling asleep without the incessant nursing that was driving me crazy, he seems to be sleeping for longer stretches as well! Considering he is also teething right now, I’m quite surprised at how well this is going. Night 3 was a bit rough for him, and we ended up nursing a little bit more after the lights were off to help him calm back down, but he did eventually go to sleep on his own without crying alone or feeling like he was abandoned or unheard (it’s amazing how much calmer he got just from me saying, “You are really upset right now, huh?”). I’ve even been able to put him back down after a night waking in this way, which I didn’t expect to be able to do for a few weeks still! So there is hope, fellow gentle parents with poor sleepers 🙂 We can take care of ourselves and our babies in ways that won’t leave either of us resentful, bitter, or hurt.