Daisy asked me a little while ago to write something about my approach to night weaning my nearly three-year-old, as she knew I tend towards gentle methods. I’d been putting off writing this, as I’d been wavering between the ‘wait for her to do it in her time’ approach or the ‘let daddy take over at night’ approach.
My general parenting philosophies are to let my children develop at their own rate and to go with the flow unless something is a problem. My daughter had been in our bed and breastfed when she ‘asked’ every night since she was born and for the most part this had not caused a problem for us – she didn’t wriggle, and would just need a quick feed for her (and I) to drift off to sleep again. I hardly even had to wake up. This meant no crying and more sleep for all of us, including her older brother. I didn’t keep track of feeds. Some nights I’d feel like we swapped sides many times, other times I’d wake up stiff from not moving which meant she’d only fed once or twice.
My son had started sleeping through with no help from us around six months old. Some nights he’d need a comfort feed while teething, but once the tooth was through he’d go back to sleeping through again. However, he also spent most of the night in his cot and weaned completely at around 15 months when I was pregnant with my daughter, so the second time around has been a bit different.
I’d still been confident that she’d sleep better in her own time, and around her first birthday she did spend most of the night in her cot and I was hopeful that was going to be it. Then teething hit – she didn’t get her first tooth until just after her first birthday – and sleep went out the window. Since then it had never felt like the right time to change anything with nighttimes. The status quo was mainly working, we were waiting for all her teeth to come through, and it just seemed like too much effort. I hadn’t been feeling sleep-deprived, and I didn’t feel tied to the house, as she was quite happy to go to sleep for my husband if I was out. Another factor is that our spare room is not insulated and freezing and damp during the winter so it wasn’t a nice prospect to camp out there.
Lately, however, I’d been getting more and more irritated by her feeding during the night. She would help herself and get annoyed if she couldn’t. I was feeling touched out and resenting the night feeds. She also didn’t seem to actually be drinking much, as she’d been dry overnight for months. The spare room had warmed up and had been aired out after winter. It was time to make a change.
So two weeks ago I told my daughter that mummy’s breasts were feeling too tired at night to give her ‘boowa’ anymore and that daddy would give her cuddles during the night instead. She took this really well and repeated it back to me. Night one I fed her to sleep as usual and she was still asleep as I went to bed. I lay awake for ages, unable to get off to sleep in a different bed and away from her, and I kept waiting for her to cry. The first time happened around midnight but didn’t last long, then she had another short cry maybe an hour later. I fell asleep and woke at 6am not having heard anything else and thought it must have gone really well. It turned out she’d woken a few more times and had a little cry then attached herself like a limpet to my husband when she realised I wasn’t there. My husband was tired but knew it was for the best.
The second night started off the same but she woke around 9.30pm for a comfort feed. She fell asleep and I tried to transfer her to our bed but she woke and got really upset, asking me to stay with her. I felt terrible but left her with my husband and went to the spare room and she was quiet within a minute or so. Then I didn’t hear a peep out of her all night! She did apparently stir a couple of times but went back to sleep with a quick back rub. The next few nights went even better – still waking a few times but no crying, and she fell back asleep after a cuddle. ‘We’ve cracked this,’ I thought.
Then on night 6 I woke to hear her hysterically screaming and asking for me and ‘boowa’. This was completely different to the other nights and didn’t seem to be stopping, so I reluctantly went downstairs and hopped into bed and fed her. I lay there worrying that I’d undone the good work of the past few nights. However, I thought there was also a good chance her last molar was coming through and that she really needed the extra comfort that only my breast could provide. I needn’t have worried, though, as the next night was fine and she slept well. Even better, on night 8 she slept through for the first time ever! She’d stirred at 10.30pm for a quick cuddle then slept till 6.30am. Success! We had another ‘sore teeth’ night a couple of nights ago where I needed to go in and feed her, but last night she slept from 10pm to 7am again.
For me, two weeks of mostly uninterrupted sleep has been fantastic. Although I hadn’t been feeling deprived, I’m sure my ‘normal’ state has been slightly sleep-deprived for the last 4.5 years (from when my son was born), so I’d just got used to it. My patience and tolerance levels have risen, and I feel more ‘on to it’ in general. I’m also less annoyed by my daughter’s day feeds, and it seems to have improved her nursing manners. My breasts weren’t engorged in the slightest despite cutting night feeds, so that confirmed that she was hardly drinking anything anyway.
I’ll camp out in the spare room for a bit longer to make sure this new development sticks and once she’s sleeping consistently the plan is to try and get her sleeping in her own bed in my son’s room. As much as I enjoy co-sleeping, a nearly three-year-old takes up a lot of space in a queen-sized bed, and it will be nice to reclaim it for ourselves.
I’m glad we waited till this point to make a change, as she had the reasoning ability and maturity to cope well with it. So my experience of night-weaning has been remarkably painless, and should give some hope to any other long-term, night-feeding co-sleepers out there!