Sleep Training Without Tears…
When Max was 15 months old and still nursing 3 times during the night, we decided it was time to night wean for a few reasons. Although he was well past the usual age for this transition, we were adamant that a gentle alternative to the old cry-it-out had to be possible. Many people said it would not be possible, but I did end up finding a quick, effective, nurturing, very-few-tears solution. You can read about our journey in this series of posts:
THE DECISION: REDEFINING LOVE AND TOOTH DECAY / January 31
Our decision to night wean was inspired by a healthy fear of cavities and on the need to jumpstart my fertility to conceive baby 2. Uninterrupted sleep was just the icing on the cake. I wrote about our decision here.
THE SOLUTION: LITTLE BIRD, LITTLE BIRD SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT / February 1
Last night we came a big step closer to getting Max to sleep through the night. During the night he woke up three times. The first wakening was a disaster of crying, rocking and eventually going to the computer to watch music videos with Papa. The bright spot was finding Dr. Jay Gordan’s article Changing Sleep Patterns in the Family Bed (which for those of you who sleep separately can easily be adapted for non-co-sleepers). He lays out a 3 phase plan that looks something like this:
Phase I: baby wakes, pick up, cuddle & nurse for short time, put down awake, rub back and say comforting things
Phase II: baby wakes, pick up, cuddle, put down awake, rub back and say comforting things
Phase II: baby wakes, rub back and say comforting things
So on Max’s second wakening I followed Dr. Gordon’s advice for phase I. To my complete amazement it worked. After a short feeding I broke suction and put him down awake. He fell asleep almost immediately. Score! The next wakening we gave him a bottle of milk. Doesn’t help in the healthy teeth department, but Papa thought this might help him get used to a new routine. Again to my surprise he grabbed the bottle from my hand, drank a little, took it out and fell asleep. Dr. Gordon points out that after a year of sleeping in the family bed, this is a securely attached child who can certainly handle the frustration of transitioning to a new sleep routine without becoming a deranged alcoholic serial killer. Well maybe he doesn’t mention anything about deranged alcoholic serial killers, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he means.
PROGRESS UPDATE: SO PROUD OF THE LITTLE MAN / February 3
Last night was night 3 of Dr. Gordon’s sleep plan, which we are following in effort to jumpstart my fertility, prevent cavities down the line and get a better night’s rest (after 15 months I suppose we could all use that!) So far Max is adjusting beautifully. We are in Phase 1 which means he has a short nursing session upon each wakening before being put back down awake. So far each time he squirms a bit before settling down to sleep within a few seconds. Already on the 2nd and 3rd night he woke only twice instead of three times. Technically these are big changes in his routine but he is handling it so gracefully. Instead of moving into Phase 2 tonight, we are going to stick with Phase I but shorten the nursing sessions to make the transition smoother. Then we will move into Phase 2 which is where you replace nursing with a short cuddling session. We are so proud of you little man!
ALMOST THERE: SLEEPING BEAUTY / February 11
When we started Phase I of Dr. Gordon’s sleep plan, Max was waking up at least three times during the night. Phase I involved picking him up during each night awakening, nursing him for a short time and then putting him back down while he was still awake. During this phase he quickly went down to just two night awakenings, and by night 5 he was only waking up once a night. That’s when I decided the time was right to move into Phase II.
Phase II is the cuddle only, zero-milk phase. As it turns out, being held and yet refused the breast was more disruptive than comforting so I decided to skip ahead to Phase III. In Phase III I’m supposed to say comforting things and rub his back while allowing him to toss and turn without picking him up.
Last night when Max woke up and began the tossing, turning and crying cycle, I offered my usual routine to comfort him: rubbing his back, saying “Wait until morning”. Then I realized…it was morning! Turns out he’d slept continuously from 12am to 6:45am, which he hasn’t done in over a year. So we got up and started our day, but held off on the milk until he had played for a little while. I didn’t want to give the impression that crying would lead to milk! I’m so proud of him for handling this so well.
SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR 2 WEEKS AND COUNTING: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! / February 28
Last month we decided to try to get the little man to sleep through the night without nursing. At 15 months he was pretty set in his ways, so I worried that it would be difficult for him. We were adamant that we wanted a no-tears approach and wanted to continue co-sleeping. Late night googling turned up the Dr. Jay Gordon sleep plan which is laid out nicely online. Nothing to buy, no long book to read. Overnight we saw improvement and within 2 weeks Max was sleeping through the night. All with no more tears than a little fever might induce.
We modified Dr. Gordon’s plan so that it looked something like this:
Phase I: Baby wakes, pick him up, cuddle & nurse for short time, put him down awake, rub his back and say comforting things. I shortened the length of each feeding little by little each night. I also lengthened this phase to 7 days, waiting until he was only waking up once during the night to move on to the next phase.
Phase II: We skipped phase II which normally involves picking baby up each time he wakes and cuddling, reassuring, etc. without nursing. It was too frustrating for him to be held at the breast and yet denied milk. So we moved right into phase three.
Phase III: Baby wakes, rub his back and say comforting things. We found that he settled down quickly if we let him toss and turn in bed while rubbing his back with the refrain, “time for sleep, wait til morning…” I developed a rhythmic way of firmly rubbing his lower back as soon as he woke up. This became a comforting reminder for him that milk would come, not now, but soon.
I was afraid to start the no milk phase. But the first time he woke up and got a back rub instead of milk, he immediately understood and went back to sleep. After one or two nights of waking up to the back rub instead of milk he was sleeping through the night. Now he sleeps for 8 hours before waking after sunrise to nurse. He then sleeps another 2 and a half hours before waking up for the day. There have been a few slip ups here and there, but all in all he has transitioned fully with very little stress. Mission accomplished!