Adventures in Nightweaning 

My dear sweet Cupcake has always been an avid nurser. She suffered from reflux and I think this just served to increase her frequency. All throughout the first year of her life, I would rise several times throughout the night to breastfeed my little girl. It was our special quiet time together. 

Sure, I was tired. There were days that I’d get frustrated, but overall it was a great experience. In the dark she’d need me, her mama, and nothing else could soothe her. As she got older she developed the habit of gently rubbing my arm or twirling my hair as she drifted back to sleep. 

Before Cupcake was born, I had no expectations for breastfeeding. I thought I’d try it and take it day by day. Weeks passed into months and then a year quickly arrived. Cupcake was still nursing 3-4x a night. I was exhausted. 

I was too tired to enjoy the nighttime feeds, but also too tired to cope well during the day. I was suffering. This was when we decided it was time to nightwean Cupcake. I researched various methods and decided that Ferber seemed like the best fit for us. 

I channeled my former elementary teacher self and drew a big poster. I included the “rules” and room for us to record what happened. The first few nights were horrible. Cupcake didn’t sleep. We didn’t sleep. She was a mess during the day and was extremely clingy. Her naps got all screwed up. I pushed on. This had worked for so many people and I knew that if I just pushed through, we’d get through this sleep-deprived tunnel. 

After a week, Cupcake still showed no improvement. Things just were getting worse. I had followed the plan perfectly and it had not worked. She was not ready. I returned to nursing her on-demand at night and my happy little girl returned. 

A few months later I was done. We had just moved several states away from all of our family and friends. My husband had started a very demanding job and I felt alone. I was tired and stressed out and again found myself pouring over parenting websites looking for help. 

I learned that it was normal for babies to still wake through the night at this age. I searched some attachment parenting sites, found support, and resumed nursing her through the night with lifted spirits. I was tired, but not alone. 

As Cupcake grew, we had a few nights where she’s sleep for four hours straight, but those were rare. I was starting to really not enjoy nursing Cupcake all night long. So, I again turned to the Internet and found reference to Dr. Jay Gordon and his method for sleep training.

This is the general idea: The parents select a seven-hour window where they will not nurse. He suggests 11p-6a. On nights 1-4, mom will nurse the child anytime before 11p. If the child wakes up between 11-6, mom will nurse, but will put the baby down awake in his/her crib. Mom will hug/cuddle/sing and comfort baby. The baby cannot get more milk unless they fall asleep. If they fall asleep and rise again, mom repeats the process. After 6am, mom resumes breastfeeding as normal. On nights 5-8, mom will NOT nurse baby between 11p and 6a. She should still comfort baby, but not offer milk until 6am. After night 8, mom will continue to NOT breastfed between 11 and 6. Additionally, she will not pick up baby if (s)he wakes up during those times. Mom can still rub baby’s back and continue to talk or soothe baby. Overtime, baby should stop requesting milk and will hopefully stop waking up during that time. 

Here’s what happened in our house:

Night 1- Cupcake woke up at 10pm. I nursed her as normal and she went back to sleep. She woke up at 1:30a. I briefly nursed her and put her down awake. She called out for more milk, but I told her that “milkies” were sleeping. She cried and asked me to hold her hand. It took her about an hour to fall back asleep. She woke at 6:08 and I nursed her as normal. We survived night 1! 

Night 2: Her first night waking wasn’t until 1am. I was scared of this scenario, since now she was going to be going from 7p-6a without milk. But it was only day 2, so I decided to push on. Again, some (a lot of) hand holding did a lot of good and she slept until 6:30am! Wahoo! 

Night 3: She was really hard to put down for bed tonight. She kept screaming for more milk and wouldn’t settle. I prepared myself for a long night. It was also my husband’s first night back home after a week of night shift. Cupcake woke at 10 and I nursed her. She woke at 2:30 and would not go back to sleep. After trying to console her for over 45 minutes, I walked out of her room. I put on my headphones and listed to a nighttime meditation to block her out. She must have fallen back asleep because I didn’t hear anything from her again until 5:15. In my half-wake state, I picked her up and started nursing her. Whoops! She was then up for the day! Yuck! 

Night 4: huh?! She nursed at 10:30 and then slept until 7! This was great! I was a bit bewildered  by the extra sleep! I was happy, but also a little sad because this was the last night we’d be night nursing and she slept  through it! 

Night 5: I was so scared of this night. No night nursing. How were we going to manage that? I decided I’d offer her a sippy cup of water so I didn’t have to worry she was thirsty. She woke up 10:59 and I dashed to her room to fit in one more session. I kissed her little baby face a million times and may have gotten a bit emotional. I knew this was the right choice. I was happier and more well-rested. I needed this, but it was also sad to see that part of her babyhood end since I knew it was me that was pushing for it. She woke at 12:30. I went in with her water and she cried for milk, but after a few minutes settled for cuddles and water. She woke at 5:47 and I rationalized that she couldn’t tell time so I went to go nurse her. I was greeted by a happy little girl saying, “Hi mama!” Success! 

Nights 6-8: I adjusted her times from 11-5a, since she wakes almost every day in the 5 o’clock hour. With a quick nursing, she goes back to sleep for another hour or two! 

Tonight I supposed to be night 9, where I stop picking her up. I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet, so I’m going to continue what we’re doing because it works for us! 

She has been so much happier these days. I think she is benefitting from the extra sleep. I think having a well-rested mommy is also helping! While this method certainly won’t work for everyone- it worked for us! 

  

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