Night Weaning and Sleep Training: our experience
From the beginning, we knew we wanted to cosleep so I could nurse on demand in an attempt to delay the return of my fertility. Cosleeping, defined loosely, means keeping the baby in the same room as the parents via bed sharing or crib sleeping. When we moved into our current home, Tom was just four months old, and we finally had room to setup a crib. He napped regularly in there, no issue whatsoever, but still slept with us in bed once we got into bed for the night. He would nurse a few times a night, neither of us fully awake, and it didn't matter too much. On some nights, he slept from 7:30 pm to 5:30 am without waking to nursing, and that was wonderful. I did wake up often those nights to make sure he was still okay! Sleeping and waking up is a habit, y'all.
Come September (I think), Tom was now kicking us at night and it seemed as if we were keeping him up more than he was keeping us awake, so we tried keeping him in the crib all night. I would nurse him, lay him in the crib partially awake, knowing he would cry or fuss. I don't mean to sound heartless, but we both knew that Tom could fall asleep on his own because he would do so in the car, in the baby carrier, and on occasion in the highchair. So we wanted to help him to learn how to fall asleep on his own, even if it meant some crying in the beginning. Our decision was that Alex would check on him every few minutes until he was just blubbery or chatty, in hopes that he would drift off to slumber in no time.
The first night we ever tried this, Alex was going back and forth every five minutes for about an hour. Some may think this is long, while others babies who have cried and fussed for much longer. Alex would go in there, readjust Tom, comfort him, say a prayer, or something to that extent, then quietly leave. Tom's cries definitely changed, more angry then sad, then they became tired. A sound of quiet and relief whenever Alex went in.
The next night he went in maybe four times. The third night, once. And the fourth, I laid Tom down, and he tossed and turned and fell asleep. So getting him to learn to fall asleep by himself was done and over for now, and whenever we would go to sleep, we just left him where he was, instead of bringing him into bed with us like we had done in the past. I still nursed him whenever he cried or woke up, but at this point, most nights he slept until 2:30 am to nurse, then woke up around 5:30 am or so and we kept him in bed with us then. Sometimes he just fussed around 9:30 pm or 10 when he hit a stage in the REM cycle, and either Alex would go and rock him, or I would nurse him. Soon after, we just returned him to his crib after every feeding, even on the nights he was teething and wanting to nurse every hour or so. Some nights I would fall asleep while nursing him and he would stay in bed with us remainder of the night.
Well this was all fine and dandy until December, when he had his tongue, lip, and buccal site ties all revised. Nursing had to be more frequent to encourage the tissue to heal properly. Then we were out of town for a month and most of our routine was disrupted, as it happens when traveling. Prior to all of this, Tom was only nursing a couple times during the day, and a couple times at night, and my body knew it was ready to resume things as before. As soon as we returned home after our month long travels, Tom caught a virus and was sick for almost three weeks. His doctor wasn't sure what virus, so all Tom and I did was rest, nurse on demand all the live long day, and sleep. He had no appetite, and had a fever until I gave him a pain reliever just so he could sleep and nurse happily. He recovered from his first virus for a day and a half, and relapsed with a respiratory and sinus virus and could barely nurse at that point because he was so stuffy. It seemed that as soon as we could clear his nose it would fill right back up. All of this to say, I was nursing around the clock if he wanted, and everything was 100% off in terms of routine. Snuggles and naps were aplenty though.
He got better right around his birthday, but this past semester was so tough for all of us because of Alex's crazy schedule. I couldn't expect as much help from Alex at night because he needed to do well in his studies and work, so we just established a rhythm of sorts, but Tom wasn't sleeping as well as he had been. Then we had visitors, and were out of town, and no time was right to get our nights to where we wanted them to be.
I had tried one version of night weaning which recommends shortening one nursing session until it's dropped, then on to the next time. But honestly, if I'm nursing at night, I'm half asleep, and NOT going to pay attention to the clock and such. However, we did cut one feeding out a night. Sometimes it was the 2:30 am feeding, sometimes the 4:30. Sometimes none at all. He had been sleeping in his crib the whole night like he had been in the fall, so he was not been in our bed, only for nursing.
As of the past month or so, Tom is putting himself to sleep again, but he was doing this obnoxious wake up thing at 4:30 am, wide awake, babbling, and rolling around and nursing until either 6 or 6:30 am. So awful. We didn't turn on any lights, or say his name, we just feigned sleep the whole time until we got kicked or had our noses poked. I could not find any consistency in his meals or what happened the night before that would induce him to think 4:30 am a perfectly acceptable wake up time.
Once Alex finished finals, we had decided that I would in the in the guest room for a few nights so Alex and Tom could figure out the nighttime and hopefully get rid of the 4:30 am wake up. The guest room still needs to be reconfigured in order to fit Tom's crib, which is why I left our bedroom.
Night number one:
Tom woke up every hour and a half or so, and Alex either rocked him or patted him back to sleep in either the crib or our bed. He was awake from 4:30-6:30. I didn't sleep well because I heard him from the other room, and prayed for peacefulness of spirit and body for Alex so Tom could sense it and relax. It was the first night I've slept alone without Tom, and it was just lovely to sleep all by myself! Rare things must be appreciated.
Night number two:
Tom woke up twice, staying awake for about an hour the first time, and falling back to sleep quickly the next. Alex said Tom kept looking for me, which I kind of felt bad about later, but it was for the best. No 4:30 am wake up.
Night number three:
Tom slept through the night. He stirred and fussed around 2:30 am, but Alex didn't touch him, and he fell right back asleep. HAL.LE.LU.JAH.
Night number four:
I slept in our bedroom again, and he woke up around 2:30, but Alex took care of him, and he fell back asleep.
Night number five:
I had contemplated sleeping in the guest room again, but decided against it. Tom slept completely through the night.
Now that we're a few weeks out, we've gone out of town and have come back. I was mentally prepared for a change of nighttime routine, but Tom fell asleep by himself at 8:30 pm, and didn't wake until the morning every night except for one or two nights. He had congestion of some sort, so I nursed him one of those nights, and the other night I had been away from him all day and night, so he woke up right when I had arrived back. But the next night he resumed everything as normal.
We've been home for a couple days, and he has been so out of sorts, and woke up three times the past couple of nights. He's always out of sorts for a few days after leaving his aunts and uncles, I suspect he gets bored of me, or it's just too mellow for him without everyone clamoring to play with him and take him about! However, I'm pretty sure, and hoping, that he returns to his good sleeps tonight. I am just glad that we all know what he is capable of.
All in all, I am learning to go with the flow, and if he's off in some way, the night time most likely will be. But that's alright! Not one of us sleeps perfectly all the time. I am no sleep expert, I am merely sharing our experience, partly because people have asked to hear it, and partly for my own benefit later down the line.
I would love to hear what has worked or hasn't worked for you! And if nothing has worked yet, and you believe that we all have guardian angels, may send yours over to your baby's to have a chat. Sometimes it works. ;)