This post will be the how of night-weaning, just the mechanics, and I’ll save the why and all the feelings and waffling for another post. This is already going to be long enough.
Everyone seems to do the Dr. Jay Gordon method of night-weaning. I don’t know why really except that it is pretty much the only plan out there for addressing frequent wakings in co-sleeping toddlers. I’m not saying it isn’t a good plan but there are probably 30 different books on how to sleep train your infant and really nothing on how to gently nudge your older baby towards sleeping longer stretches. (No, I’m not writing a new sleep book and trying to hawk it here, just saying it’s interesting.) Anywhoo, there were some things about the Gordon plan that I didn’t think would go super well with B, so I just made up my own.
I didn’t want B to have to go all night without nursing because I thought he would be truly hungry. (Yes, babies this age CAN go a long time without nursing/eating, not arguing that point, but if they are used to nursing multiple times and you quit cold turkey they will feel hunger.) I was also willing to drag it out and take our time, which made worrying about hunger possible.
I also didn’t want to have G deal with the wakings rather than me. G did offer, which was nice, but I wanted to make it clear to B that he was only losing the milk and not his Mama. I figured the best thing for us to do was to start very small and not make a big deal of it. This was 100% so I could back out later if I wanted to. I really didn’t know if he would take it well or panic, and I was not going to push it if it was really hard for him.
I also wanted some sort of system that seemed non-arbitrary. If we weren’t going to go until the sun shines how would he know when it was ok to nurse? He can’t tell time. Enter technology. I purchased a Teach Me Time Clock. You can set the clock to be yellow all night long, and then turn green when it’s ok to wake up, and stay green until whenever you want. For our purposes we called it a milk clock and said when the clock is yellow the milk is sleeping and when it turns green the milk is back. I thought the presence of the clock and my explanation would induce anxiety, but nope, B is really proud of his milk clock and likes to show people and explain how it works. After introducing him to the milk clock, I started the plan.
My night-weaning plan
Basically I took the times that B usually nursed and decided we would cut out one at a time. The most he ever woke up before we started (for the most part) was 3 times at 1 am, 3 am, and 5 am.
I set the clock to turn green at 1 am. This meant no milk from the time he fell asleep until the clock turned green at 1. After 1 am he could nurse whenever he woke. He was a little confused, understandably, but he didn’t even always wake at this time to nurse before so this transition wasn’t particularly difficult.
Nights 4-6 Nights 4-8
I set the clock to turn green at 3 am. Originally I planned 3 nights at each new time, but as long as he was still regularly waking for the latest one I was not about to move on and tackle another one, so we stretched this one out a bit. He had a harder time with the 3 am than the 1 am but I was still surprised at how well he did. He barely even cried, and when he did it was more of a whimper. He did have some longer stretches of being awake, up to an hour, but that time was spent asking for back rubs and lullabies, so all in all really not miserable. One night he waited until he saw the clock turn green for himself, then nursed, and went right back to sleep.
This is where we are now. The clock is set to turn green at 5 am. Unsurprisingly this has been the hardest transition. Still no major crying or anger or anything horrible, it just is taking some time to adjust to and I haven’t decided where to go from here. Some nights he does pretty well but there are others where he wakes up at 4 and then stays up until 5. He’s never very upset during this time, but just whimpers and makes lots of demands for backrubs and singing.
Overall, we have definitely made progress. He almost never wakes up before 4 am, and if he does it’s to babble, or ask for a snuggle or something adorable and really brief. These hour long wake-ups at 4 am, however, are an unwelcome change. Being up for an hour is about 10000x worse than waking up briefly 3 times so on those nights I feel like I’ve made things worse for myself. When B doesn’t nap he goes to bed around 7:30 so waiting until 5 is 10 hours without food or drink and I think he legitimately gets hungry. Oftentimes at 4 am when I tell him no milk, he will ask for various items from the fridge so I don’t think he’s wanting to comfort nurse, I think he just wants to eat. I can’t go 10 hours or more without eating so I can’t really get behind holding him to a higher standard. I also don’t want to get greedy so I’m debating just setting the clock for 8 hours from whenever he goes to sleep and calling it a partial victory for now. A year ago I would have given everything to be in this spot so I need to not get greedy.
Since the results have been somewhat promising, I assume people are going to ask me why I didn’t do this sooner. Many, many, reasons and I’ll go into them in the why post. Really though, I don’t think he was close to ready until recently. (Let’s be honest, he’s probably still not ready to go all night, you know, since he can’t.) When he was still waking up every 1-2 hours regularly, I think this would have been much more traumatic and unpleasant and I would have concluded, ok I did conclude, that it was easier to just quickly nurse him and get him back to sleep. I also think it helped immensely that he stopped nursing to sleep, all on his own, several months before we attempted this. Although he was used to getting milk when he woke up, he no longer relied on it to fall back asleep.
Lastly, G would be upset if I didn’t mention his favorite part (besides not having to listen to me whine about how many times I wake up every night.) When B wakes up out of a dead sleep and sees that the clock is green, he will often sit straight up and scream, at full volume, “The milk is back!!!!” It is enough to wake G up and send him into hysterical laughter.