We have a guest post for you today from Sarah Jane Barnett, a famous (sorry Sarah, I inserted that adjective into the biography you supplied – I’ve noticed you in the media a bit recently!) writer and reviewer who lives in Wellington. She blogs at the red room.
Most nights I listen to podcasts to trick myself into sleep. While I want to go to sleep, my active brain makes lists or works on writing projects. My son Sam—who is now 15 months—takes after me. Before I became a parent I didn’t understand how much his personality would influence the way we care for him, especially when it comes to sleep. Sam is what experts call a high-needs baby. Personally, I don’t like that term because suggests that his needs aren’t normal or reasonable, which they are. So let’s call him an energetic baby! Yesterday morning my energetic baby woke up, sat up in our bed and said “Go!” And that’s what he does – go, go, go. Over the last month we’ve started to night-wean Sam, and I wanted to share the method we’re using for other parents of energetic babies.
A bit of background: My husband Jim and I attachment parent. We try to respond consistently to Sam’s needs as a way to build a secure attachment. We don’t leave him to cry to sleep, or do controlled crying. We also co-sleep, do baby led weaning, and baby wearing. While other people parent differently, this is what feels right for us. You could say we’re at the hippy end of the parenting spectrum.
Night weaning is purely a selfish move. Since Sam was born, we’ve rocked, nursed, and patted him to sleep. Through gentle encouragement, he’s learned how to self settle for his daytime nap (at daycare and at home) with an adult nearby. At night I nurse him to sleep, after which he wakes between three and six times a night. Since we’re co-sleeping he may only wake or a few minutes, but in fifteen months I haven’t had more than five hours sleep in a row. It’s hard work, and Sam’s ready both physically and emotionally to learn how to settle with cuddles.
The technique we first tried was Dr Jay Gordon’s weaning in the family bed. Gordon’s technique is for older babies, and is reasonably gentle. It involves making a change every three nights until the baby is night weaned. For example, on the first three nights you nurse the baby but don’t let them fall asleep on the breast. For the next three nights you cuddle the baby and don’t nurse them at all. It’s a great method for families that co-sleep.
We thought we’d give Gordon’s method a try to see how Sam reacted. For the first two nights, it took two hours of cuddling, patting, and singing (and a very angry baby) for Sam to go to sleep. I also felt very upset, and after a few tearful conversations with Jim I figured out it was because I wasn’t ready to night wean! Sam spends six hours a day in daycare, and our night feeds are a way for both me and him to reconnect. I didn’t want to lose that closeness with my bubba.
With this new piece of information, we decided on a different plan, which was to wean Sam for the first half of the evening. This is when his waking interrupts our precious adult time. The rule: if Sam wakes before 9.30pm my husband settles him back to sleep. After three weeks we’ve seen a huge improvement, with Sam waking less often (if at all), and being settled without needing to be picked up (Jim is getting very good at the humming/patting combo).
Last weekend we started stage two: Sam being resettled in his bed without nursing until midnight. This stage is a little harder as we tend to go to sleep at 10pm, so for the last three nights one of us had slept in Sam’s room until midnight. Sleeping on the edge of a toddler-sized futon is not very comfortable, but by making small changes over time, night weaning feels gentle on both mama and bubba. The final goal: to drop all night feedings, but to still nurse Sam to sleep and nurse him when he wakes up in the morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.