Saturday, February 23, 2013

sleep training a toddler who is still nursing

First let me prefface this post with, I am not an expert. Maybe if I were, I would have been getting more than 1-2 two hour chunks of sleep in my own bed each night for the past six months. Since I am not, I can only offer a little hope and encouragement to other nursing moms who are having trouble getting their babies back to sleep at night. I stumbled by accident onto a method that has worked twice for Elsa and I. I say twice because sickness/teething/job change caused me to fall back into the pattern of staying in her room until she fell asleep every time she woke to nurse at night. Here's what that looked like:

 Head upstairs for bedtime routine of nursing/snuggling around 6:45/7pm.

Nurse until she fell asleep or until I ran out of milk and it was time to put her in her crib.

Curl up on the floor in her room using three pillows for 'comfort'. (She didn't need me to do anything, just be there. She would go so far as to point to the floor and make her 'uh-uh' sound or nod her head if I asked her if she wanted Mama to stay with her until she fell asleep. What can I say? It's nice to be needed!)

Wake up 30min-3hours later when either the CD pulled me out of my exhausted sleep state or Elsa woke to nurse. On the rare occasion when I managed to not nod off, I would go downstairs to spend some time with Sam and Julia before their bedtime.

Repeat 2-4 times until 5/5:30am when she starts to sign "exercise" or "change diaper"  

IF I was lucky enough to wake up before she did during any of those 2-3 hour stretches of sleep I would creep back into my bed to grab as much decent sleep as possible.

On Monday at 4am I reached my breaking point and decided that the consequences of her crying and waking others was better than living in a haze and Elsa not getting the rest she really needs.

Here is the method I went back to:

After she nurses I leave the room. 
Silly how something that simple can be so effective. I was caught up in the all-or-nothing of letting her cry it out.  I had such a hard time with the Ferber method because I know how much she counts on nursing. I just couldn't go cold turkey on night nursing AND not being in the room when she fell asleep. The neatest part of how everything played out for us is that she slept for 6-9hour stretches instead of 2-3hour stretches so we have cut down on the night nursing effortlessly.

We went from (day 1) Monday 4am cry fest for I don't know how long since I fell asleep - remember that haze I've been living in? - to (day 2) crying 5 minutes when I would leave, to (day 3) crying 20 seconds, to (day 4) 2 seconds, to (day 5) complete confidence in her ability to fall asleep on her own.

Last night I reminded her as I put her in her bed that Mommy sleeps in her bed and Elsa sleeps in her crib. She curled up at the same end of the bed she always sleeps at, nodded her head, and that was that.

Not a peep. Not a whimper. 6 1/2 hours later she woke to nurse and again, not a peep when I put her back in her bed.

Getting more rest has been glorious. I can manage with one wake up in the middle of the night - especially because I'm sleeping in my bed in between! But the very very best part is Elsa's behavior during the day has changed. She has always been a happy girl, but very very clingy with me. This week she has spent more time playing near me without asking to nurse or to be picked up than she has in the past 3 months combined.

I can only imagine how much better SHE feels getting way more uninterrupted sleep!

One thing I know for sure, it doesn't get much sweeter than this!

What sleeping 'training' method worked for your family? 

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  1. Yay! for more sleep. It's such a glorious thing which we take for granted, unless we're not getting it. What worked for our daughter was moving her to her own room. Due to our life circumstances, Rachel was in our room until she was 10 months old and a terrible sleeper. Once we moved and she had her own room she started sleeping through the night almost immediately. For Sam, it was just turning one which helped him immensely.

  2. I guess I was fortunate that my children slept through the night from about 2-3 months old on. It was usually 8-9 hours. I also nursed but I did nightly loading with them. I nursed almost all evening and then they were satisfied to sleep. I don't know how you have managed this long without sleep. Poor thing. My youngest started waking nightly when he was about 3 years old with fears and would crawl into our bed. We had many years of disrupted sleep with him but as a baby he was much easier.


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