Our night weaning journey – finding clarity out of the confusion
Bubba G is now two and in the last month or so, she has started waking up multiple times at night to breastfeed (one night she woke up 8 times in 6 hours). I am really needing to start sleeping through the night after two years of waking at night to breastfeed her. Good sleep is critical to my health and we are wanting to maximise our chances of falling pregnant again soon, so my husband and I have decided that it is time to night wean.
This decision has been a real challenge for us because it means that we need to completely change our sleep philosophy (it is an evolving journey after all).
We identify as Attachment Parents. We love co-sleeping with Bubba G and I have enjoyed breast-feeding her on demand (day and night) for the last two years. This has worked really well for us until recently. I have never had to get out of bed to tend to her night time needs (except for two occasions in which she woke with a mild fever) and we have all slept well with this arrangement up until now.
We based our sleep philosophy on Attachment Parenting and on the work of Naomi Aldort, who we heard speak at the 2012 Conscious Parenting, Natural Learning Conference in Byron Bay.
Our philosophy for the first two years was:
- Allow Bubba G to sleep when she is tired and to wake when she is ready (no bedtime and no routine).
- Facilitate sleep if she looks tired (breastfeeding to sleep).
- Avoid any bedtime struggles,
We aimed to never spend more than 10 minutes getting her to go to sleep!
Until recently she has gone to bed with me (between 10 and 10.30pm) and then she has slept in (between 8.30 and 10 am). This worked really well for us, because Bubba G has always been a great sleeper and we were all getting the sleep that we needed. She also naps (between 1 – 2.5 hours each day) and she seems well rested, healthy and happy. We have really enjoyed having a ‘port-a-baby’ and being able to doing things in the evening with her.
Over Christmas we holidayed in Perth (which is three hours behind Sydney) and when we returned home, Bubba G remained on Perth time for many weeks. This meant that she was staying awake longer than we wanted to be awake and she was having trouble getting to sleep (even with the boobie). For a couple of weeks DH resorted to taking her for a drive to get her to sleep. He really enjoyed this lovely time with her. They would drive to beautiful places and enjoy the view, however, we did not want this to become a long-term solution.
Another challenge that surfaced, was that she would wake and attach to the breast when I joined her in bed (if she went to sleep before me) and this meant that I had trouble initiating sleep. I also went through a period of being woken around 2 am and then having trouble getting back to sleep. All of this, in combination with my fears around the effects of poor quality sleep, lead us to decide to begin learning about night weaning.
Having never accomplished such a feat before, I began researching in earnest. I surveyed my friends on Facebook and sent an email to the wonderful parents on the Sydney Attachment Parenting forum. I read Dr Jay and ordered a copy of The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers.
I also read a heap of articles by parenting authors that I respect. Here are a few of the articles I read:
Sleep, changing patterns in the family bed - Dr Jay Gordon
Helping young children sleep - Hand in Hand Parenting
Baby’s no cry sleep is exhausting - Janet Landsbury
Breastfeeding for comfort (the all night diner) - Janet Landsbury
Help a baby sleep – The aware parenting approach - Marion Badenoch Rose
A Securely Attached Baby and a Restful Night’s Sleep – Just a Dream? - Marion Badenoch Rose
We started following Dr Jay’s method, but this lead to Bubba G being up half the night asking for cheese and water and we were all getting even less sleep than before. We abandoned this method after about a week (definitely not long enough to follow the whole procedure and to get good results) and we went back to our old patterns.
We read The Aware Baby before Bubba G was born and it really resonated with us. We understood the importance of allowing Bubba G to express all of her feelings and of not stopping her from crying and raging if she needed to. We got all of this on an intellectual level, however, as an Attachment Parenting Mamma, I always used breastfeeding to soothe Bubba G when she was upset. Even though I had read ‘The Aware Baby’, I still had an unconscious belief ‘that if Bubba G is upset, I am not meeting her needs and therefore I am not doing a good job as a mother’.
Two afternoons I listened to my intuition and I decided to say no to boobie for a couple of hours (many afternoons we spent sitting on the couch reading books and breastfeeding). In the Aware Parenting model, the breast can be used as a control pattern that a child can use to avoid releasing pent-up feelings. Setting this limit (and not suppressing her feelings by breastfeeding her) allowed some big feelings to bubble up to the surface to be released via crying. I stayed present and empathic and listened as she released. At the end of the release, we had a beautiful, connected cuddle. On those two nights Bubba G slept through the night. This showed me that I may be on to something and I decided to investigate this philosophy further!
I heard Marion Badenoch Rose speak at the 2014 Conscious Parenting Natural Learning Conference. Marion has a PhD in psychology and is a certified Aware Parenting Instructor. I was really impressed by her gentleness and her beautiful ability to empathise with and validate the feelings of those in her workshops. More recently, Marion facilitated a series of workshops in Sydney. I was able to attend her ‘Playful Discipline and Aligned Parenting’ workshops which were both really helpful to me.
I had been through a couple of weeks of feeling totally confused about the best night weaning approach for our family. I felt really stressed out about it (lack of sleep wasn’t helping) and I could not seem to connect with my gut feelings in that foggy state. So I organised a consult with Marion (the universe had sent her to me with perfect timing).
In the session Marion helped me to uncover another limiting belief that was impacting on my ability to move forward with our night weaning journey:
- ‘feeling and expressing big feelings can lead to a downward spiral with my mood’.
And we also talked about the limiting belief that I had recognised myself:
- ‘If Bubba G is expressing big feelings, I am not doing a good job as a Mother’;
Marion helped me to refocus on more helpful beliefs:
- ‘Releasing big feelings is part of being well’, and
- ‘Supporting Bubba G to release her big feelings is part of being a great Mother’,
In the Aware Parenting model, it is believed that children wake repeatedly in the night because they are woken up my stored feelings that need to be released (just like our stresses and fears can wake us up at night). Therefore, children can be helped to sleep through the night by listening with loving empathy to their big feelings when they bubble up to the surface for release.
Marion listened and supported me as I came up with a plan (I really felt that I needed one). I decided to begin with teaching Bubba G to fall asleep without breastfeeding. I chose to feed her during story time and then to say no to boobie until she fell asleep. I explained this (and all my reasons for it) to Bubba G before we began the process. I decided that is would be easier for me to listen to her release before bed (and during the day), rather than listening during the night. I also chose this as our first step because many of the mothers I surveyed said that their little ones did not begin sleeping through the night until they learned to go to sleep without the boobie.
Amazingly, Bubba G learned to fall asleep without the boobie within a couple of days, however, the whole bedtime routine now takes about an hour! My next step was to start saying no to boobie during the night, but this happened easily for us at the same time as step one anyway! Some nights she has a huge release (up to an hour of raging and crying with me remaining lovingly present and listening) and some nights she does not….and it is working for us! She is waking much less frequently and is going back to sleep easily without breastfeeding (or crying) during the night. She is still pretty insistent on breastfeeding early in the morning though! I will work on that one next…
I have also read the great majority of ‘The no cry sleep solution’ and while it is a different model to Aware Parenting, I have gained some really helpful tips from it too. The most helpful things that I have implemented are:
- To pat her back to sleep if she wakes and asks for boobie (apparently little ones are often still asleep when they ask for a feed during the night).
- Playing lullabies until she falls asleep (I stay with her until she is asleep).
- Telling a bedtime story with Bubba G as the main character.
- I have tried to implement routines, but I am totally hopeless at that (and it doesn’t seem to make any difference to Bubba G’s sleep if we don’t follow our routine strictly anyway)!
- We have a general routine of dinner, bath, teeth, pyjamas, books and boobie, essential oil spray, lights out, music playing, reflect on our day and the telling of a bedtime story.
- We have also slowly brought bedtime forward and Bubba G is generally asleep by 8pm. This means that she is waking earlier….. this is our next challenge! It is a work in progress.
IMPROVING MY SLEEP
I have also taken the following steps to improve my sleep:
- No screens 1 hour before sleep
- Supplementing with melatonin and pre GABA before bed. NB: (melatonin is prescription only in Australia. Do not take it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding unless it is prescribed by your Dr).
- Going to bed earlier
- Napping in the day with Bubba G if I am tired
NB: (It is best to only use supplements that are prescribed by a qualified practitioner).
Here is my blog post about sleep: Do you need help with your sleep? They say we teach the things we most need to learn!
With love, light and appreciation