Letting go, or holding tight

We dismantled our giant family bed last month, and moved Emerson’s toddler bed to the corner of our room. I realize that that milestone is something that probably occurs within the first few months, if not weeks, of most children’s lives in this country. And it’s probably a bit farther than the corner of their parent’s bedroom. But, I think the act of letting go of our children, while wanting to hold on, transcends parenting philosophies and styles.

mamasnuggles

mama and em

Emerson slept mostly on my chest, skin to skin, for the first few months of her life. She then moved to my side, in our bed, pressed as closely to my body as possible at all times. At eighteen months we fashioned one mega family bed by removing one side of her crib and attaching it to my side of the bed. She slept with two limbs in our bed, two limbs in her own for months. Slowly, I taught her to remain completely in her own crib all night…. but still just inches from my body. At two and half, we made her bed a separate sleeping area, at a different height, but still next to our bed. And I thought we might remain this way until she left for college.

biggirl

Through all of these (painfully slow) baby steps toward someday sleeping independently, in her own room, I have cherished the closeness, appreciated the positive affect it’s had on my child, felt at peace watching her sleep, and, quite honestly, reveled in the fact that I never had to get out of bed to attend to her in the middle of the night. But, I have also longed for space, and wondered how long she would go on needing me like this if I didn’t (gently) ask her to take these baby steps. I’ve been frustrated, and at times, resentful. I have flip flopped between snuggling up to her while she sleeps, and wishing I had the freedom to sleep in hotel, by myself, for a week. Or maybe just have my room back.

But, every time I have thought about moving Emerson away from my bedside…really considered it as a reality….I’ve wanted to weep and keep her there forever.

biggirlbed

Yet, it can’t stay like this forever. While both sides of this party (me, and Emerson) are hesitant to move on, we both need and want that, at some point. We both cling, while pushing away. We both need to allow the string connecting our hearts to lengthen, and stretch, so we both can grow….and Emerson can grow away from me.

So, we experimented while on vacation a couple months ago. We put Emerson in her own bed in our hotel room. I thought, for sure, there would be tears, and she would end up sleeping in our bed….even closer than before. But, she was pumped. She couldn’t believe it was a bed, just for her. She climbed right in, and she slept there happily all night. I woke up, feeling nervous, a lot…while she slept. But, then I woke up in the morning feeling freeing than I have since I conceived her four years ago. And happy/sad in knowing she was growing up.

When we got home, we moved her bed to her own corner and set up a little “room” within our room. I really didn’t want to, but I did…for her. I’ve been able to move on with my life a bit since making that change. But, in that freedom, I feel that tug at my heart that all moms know—the tug of letting go. The tug of knowing she will move down the hall, and then to a college dorm, and who knows…across the country, or even the world. And I have to let her go. I’m so proud of her as she journeys outward. My heart swells knowing she is so confident and strong and adventurous, all of which I am sure will take her to so many places where I cannot go with her…because, this is her life. This is her adventure. This is her world to discover, just like I did.

And that is motherhood. Whether it’s a bed, or sending them to kindergarten, or watching them get married, it’s all the same. It’s a feeling we can’t escape, and it makes it all so, so, so worth it….but always comes with a few tears.

IMG_4326

The days that will not end

As I write this, it’s 5:15 pm. I should be making dinner, but I’m sitting comatose on the couch. This happens, you know. It’s a crystal clear snapshot of what parenthood can do to a person, yet something the outside world never sees.

You see, this whole day (save for the 5 minutes I was shoving warm homemade chocolate chip cookies in my face) I have wanted it to end. And I am one of those new-agey type people who really tries to “stay present” and enjoy the ebb and flow of life. But, still, I sometimes watch the minutes on the clock tick by at a painfully slow pace. I sometimes want to—or do—scream into the sky “please, just let it be bedtime!” I sometimes cannot find it in myself to read my child a book, or answer her (never-ending) questions (why? why? why? MOM, WHY?!!). I sometimes find myself pleading with a 2-year-old 3857374 times a day for space, and some silence.

I am cranky in a way I can’t snap out of. The type of cranky only a mother can understand. After too many days without adult interaction, or too many nights being woken up 5 times by a crying child, or too many days without help or a break, or a way too busy week, or way too many tantrums or fights with a person whose prefrontal cortex is not nearly developed enough to reason with in any sane way. It happens. And, oh man, is it fierce.

Sometimes, some sort of super human powers invade my body in these moments, and I spontaneously jump off the couch and clean the whole house, do all the laundry, read Emerson 17 books, put together some insane Montessori experience, make homemade lotion for the whole family, set up appointments, pay the bills, and giggle with my child for an hour. Miraculously.

Other times, like right now, my body, mind, and soul shut down, and I go on some sort of involuntary strike. And I send my husband a text saying “sorry, no dinner tonight” and he responds, “aww, great,” all while Emerson begs me to play with her….talk to her….something, mama….anything. But, nothing.

These are the days that will never end. They come in all shapes and forms in parenthood, but they are all long. These are the days that I start thinking about bedtime about 20 minutes after I wake up in the morning. It’s an unfortunate fact, but true. But, the beauty in these moments is that they will end. We will all crawl into bed at some point, the silence will come. And I will close my eyes knowing that tomorrow will probably be completely different from today…because that’s parenthood.

Changes and gains after night weaning

I’ve shared some night weaning tips, my seven-day plan, and my seven-day night weaning journal this week. But, what happened after the night weaning? How did our lives change? Personally, I was very curious to see how this would change our lives. Here are some things that happened as a result of introducing a new nighttime routine….

1. Sleeping through the night. Obviously, this is one of the main reasons for night weaning, but it doesn’t always happen. I was super worried that I would take away my child’s only source of comfort/sleep aid and she’d continue to wake at night and require more work (i.e. even less sleep) because providing alternative comfort feels a lot more exhausting to me than a quick nursing session while partially asleep. But, within days we were inching very closely toward STTN and on the seventh day it happened. Hallelujah! I’m still waiting for ME to STTN, but that may never happen now that I am a mama bear.

2. My milk did not dry up. I was also worried that this would happen, and I wasn’t done with nursing. I still wanted that connection and nutritional source to be available to my child during the day. Well, after three days of some serious engorgement when I woke after a night of not nursing, my milk supply shifted. I produce more during the daytime now and Emerson seems to still be getting a sufficient amount of milk.

3. Less nighttime clinginess. While the immediate reaction to night weaning was for Emerson to cling very tightly to me, and lie on top of me with her cheek against my cheek ALL NIGHT, what happened in the weeks after night weaning is that she got better and better at self-soothing (and continues to today). She was able to finally experience that I can be there for her without nursing and she became more and more relaxed and comfortable with independent sleeping (though we do still co-sleep). It now feels possible to teach her to sleep in her own bed when I feel ready for that.

4. I am no longer on nap and bedtime duty. It felt like the world’s greatest miracle that my child could (happily) go twelve hours without nursing and STTN, but it got even better recently! All of the self-soothing practice, and realizing that she can let go of me while sleeping and everything will be okay has resulted in Emerson being able to put herself to sleep! I mean, wow. That is the best. I have spent an average of one full hour every night, and a half hour at nap time, every single day of her life just patting, nursing, singing, bouncing, and lying next to my girl hoping and praying (and sometimes cursing in my head) that she would fall asleep. She just had so much anxiety wrapped up in the whole sleeping process. Now, we nurse while reading bedtime stories, I put her in her crib (attached to our bed), talk to her a little and leave the room. My life just improved times a million.

5. I feel like my old self again. Well, a slightly different version of my old self, that is. What I mean is that my old energy level, enthusiasm for life, ability to be productive, and way I take care of myself has been restored. I am happier and feel healthier. When you are sleep-deprived you know it doesn’t feel too pleasant, but once you start to get some rest you truly realize all the areas of your life that were really affected.

What happened during our seven days of night weaning

So, I’ve shared some night weaning tips, and the plan I created and used to night wean Emerson. But, what exactly happened during those seven days? Here is the journal I kept to share just that with you all…

Day One-

We put Emerson to bed as usual, with the exception of the quick talk we had with her reminding her that the num nums were going to sleep tonight so she would have to wait until the morning to nurse again (remember, we chose a 11-6 sleep window). Emerson only nursed once before 11:00. Then she woke up A LOT. There was some upset—whimpering and crying each time she woke up, but only for maybe 30 seconds at a time (not hours and hours like I anticipated). The first time she woke up and was told she couldn’t nurse was the hardest, but the whole protest didn’t go on for more than 5-10 minutes. She asked to nurse a few times throughout the night, but seemed to really get that the num nums were sleeping and easily accepted other forms of comfort.

The hard part—she was sleeping in 15-minute intervals (yes, really) most of the night once she realized we were serious so I got a total of THREE HOURS of sleep. It was like that I-know-the-alarm-is-going-to-go-off-any-minute-so-I-can’t-fall-back-asleep syndrome (Emerson being the constant alarm clock, that is). I was up comforting her and just really wanting to get through this difficult first night being as supportive as I could. And it seemed like she was ok, but understandably nervous about the change and had to constantly wake up to check and see if num nums were awake yet.

Since I was awake the whole night, I watched the clock until it hit 6:00, at which point I turned on the light and yelled out “we made it!” At which point, Emerson nursed like it was her last meal. Wow. And I was just as relieved as her on account of the engorgement. I will say, my breasts had grown several cup sizes overnight…haven’t seen them look like that since Em was a newborn.

I feel like hell today, but am in the best mood I’ve been in in so long because not only did we get through it, but Emerson was so loving and happy when she woke up! She was ok. Totally ok. The first thing she said was “I love you so much, mama! You’re so sweet!” and she proceeded to kiss and hug me repeatedly. I am now filled with the hope of a more normal life.

Day Two-

Em woke up just once before 11:00 again. After that she did really well most of the night! Not to be premature, but it really feels like she was up “studying” all night the first night—really trying to understand this new routine. And after that 12-hour study she just got it. That’s her personality, though. She practices things intensely until she masters them.

She did not cry at all until early morning. Every time before then she just woke up, flopped around while grunting/whimpering, then dozed off again on her own by snuggling up to me. She still woke up a lot—every half hour to hour—and woke me every time with all the movement, but such big progress.

After 4:00 things were rough. She was hungry. She tried to go back to sleep but just could not stay asleep because her tummy was rumbling. She accepted some water in lieu of milk. She cried and was pretty unhappy, but we made it to 6:00.

Day Three-

Emerson didn’t nap yesterday (what? why?! you haven’t slept in days child!) so she passed out at 6:45 last night. I was sure we’d all sleep for like seven hours without interruption given all the sleep deprivation and lack of napping, but instead we were up a billion times to nurse before 11:00. I felt like she finally caught on that this small window of opportunity to nurse (before 11) existed, and because she hadn’t eaten enough food during the day she used it to tank up. It was kind of tortuous after two nights of such little sleep to not be able to go to sleep early. How is she managing to sleep so little and be up all night? Ahh!

After 11:00, she woke up pretty regularly, on the hour, but with little upset. Just a snuggle and she was out. We once again had trouble with the early morning hunger. I think this two-hour window is going to be tricky to change on account of that, and just because she’s always struggled with the early morning hours, but I think we’ll get it done eventually. The progress she’s made during the rest of her twelve hours in bed is enormous, and there is progress here too (4-6), it’s just at a much slower rate.

Day Four-

She skipped her nap AGAIN, which was miserable because I needed to sleep so badly. She was, of course, really tired but would not sleep. I think it was nerves. When she needs extra reassurance from me she often skips her naps, because it means extra time with me.

We had a very cranky afternoon. She kept trying to fall asleep on the couch. She literally fell over asleep while I was reading to her several times! But, it was too late in the day to let her stay asleep. To top off this exhausting day, she fought bedtime and was an overtired crazy person. We got dad involved and she passed out by 7:30.

Then the miracle happened. She nursed just once before 11:00 at 9:30. Then she woke up just once more at 2:30. Other than that She slept all night…it was glorious! She still had trouble with the 5-6 stretch (I guess it’s better than 4-6), which I really hate, but it’s more manageable if I am sleeping relatively well the rest of the night.

Day Five-

She napped, but fought bedtime again. I’m not sure if this is an emotional reaction to the process. She spent some time away from me during the day so that could be it. I always notice she wakes up more at night when we aren’t as connected during the day, and I’d think that phenomenon would be exaggerated right now given we are weaning.

Anyway, she woke once before 11:00. After that she woke pretty consistently and frequently, but was very good at settling herself with minimal to no fuss. 5-6:00 was once again hellacious. She cried and fussed and refused water. This time she just woke up fully and sat in bed waiting for 6:00. Her new thing is asking us to turn on the light…because that means num nums will wake up. Clever girl.

Day Six-

For the first time she didn’t wake at all before 11:00. It was 11:24 when she woke up, and I was worried she would be hungry and pissed off because she had missed her nursing window, but she just went back to sleep quietly! Since we’ve had so much trouble making it to 6:00 am even with an extra feeding before 11:00 pm, I assumed she’d be up even earlier in the morning or just really angry that the restaurant was closed, but no. She slept just fine. AND she made progress. She was still restless and tossed and turned, but for the first time she did not fuss or cry all night. AND she actually fell back asleep in the morning and slept PAST 6:00, and right through the alarm going off, rather than jumping me like an animal ready to devour her kill at 6 on the dot.

Day Seven-

It happened…she slept through the night! Wohoo! Not the lame “five hours of consecutive sleep” kind of sleeping through the night—the whole darn night!! She did wake at 9:00 for a 30 second feed, but then she slept until about 5:30. She sometimes rustled around when transitioning between sleep cycles, but never actually woke up. This is huge! She is getting it! She’s really learning how to sleep on her own.

On another note, though—she has been sleeping cheek-to-cheek with me—the two of us curled up into one ball of intertwined limbs—throughout the night weaning process. This actually began shortly after I taught her to fall asleep without nursing two months ago, but she’s gotten even more on-top-of-me in the past week (as if it’s even possible to get closer). She was previously a relatively independent sleeper as far as giving me plenty of personal space. Back then I could move her into her crib (which is attached to our bed), and she would move herself back there after each night feed.

So, I have been a little concerned about suddenly sleeping like cats, on top of one another, all night. I have been wondering if this is what I have to put up with in exchange for some sleep. But, last night there was some progress here so I am feeling hopeful that it’s all part of the process and she is just getting comfortable with our new arrangement.

I will also point out that last night Em slept through the night…but I did not. Pre-child I slept through hurricanes and cars backfiring, but I now have to retrain myself to sleep through the night. I’ve read that this is not only normal, but it may take me a few weeks to actually feel the full effects of sleeping after not sleeping for two years. That’s a lot of sleep deprivation to make up for! Well, yesterday was the first day I felt different. It was the only day since my child has been born that I didn’t at some point during the day wonder how I was going to keep going. Yay!

Also, the morning nursing session (once we hit 6:00) has shortened. Throughout night weaning it has been an hour-long session of nervous feeding and comfort sucking, but I can tell she’s getting used to the whole routine because she’s shortening it every day.

Bonus…the day after we learned to sleep through the night…

Day Eight-

I wanted to put this down, because last night we were able to test this new routine in the face of our worst enemy: teething. I was nervous about teething, developmental milestones, and illness, because previous to night weaning Emerson would wake about every half hour all night when going through any of the above. She heavily relied on nursing to comfort her through those challenges. So, what the heck would happen if she didn’t have that source of comfort??

Well, Emerson started cutting two molars yesterday and was in serious pain and cranky all day. But, I am happy to report this did not prevent her from sleeping through the night again! She did wake before 11:00 a couple of times, but I’d rather deal with two times at the beginning of the night and then sleeping through. There was also minimal to no restlessness from 5-6:00. ALSO, I was able to move her into her crib for the beginning portion of the night for the first time in months so we continued to move forward even in the face of an obstacle (teething pain). Progress is bring made!

She seems very comfortable and actually happy with the new nighttime routine (maybe because she’s getting a better quality of sleep?). And the day time has changed so much already! She likes the new improved (rested!) mama. She is a bit reluctant to be away from me right now (I hear a lot of “I want mama “), but she is happy.

If you found this helpful, check out my 5 tips for night weaning and my night weaning plan. Come back tomorrow to see what surprises and bonuses were gained after we night weaned.

 

My night weaning plan: how I taught my toddler to sleep through the night in seven days

Let me start at the end, because the end is what we’re all after. I taught my twenty-two-month old how to sleep up to twelve hours in a row after nearly two years of waking every one to two hours. That is a drastic change! And it is something I never thought would happen given my child’s high needs nature.

So, let me set up some parameters before I dive into my plan. First, it’s important to know that this plan was devised for older babies. Emerson was twenty-two-months old when I night weaned her, and though I think I could have done this a lot sooner than that, I cannot speak to night weaning a child under the age of one. It may also be relevant to note that I night weaned while co-sleeping as I felt it would be easier, and quite frankly I am not ready to stop sleeping with my child yet (though she does her own sleeping space next to our mattress that she uses part of the night)…I just wanted some sleep while doing so. But, I think this could work with other sleeping arrangements, too.

If you haven’t already read my 5 tips for night weaning, please do that first! Those tips were the keys to the success of night weaning my child and are really Step One of my plan.

Lastly, I devised this plan after reading and considering two other gentle plans—visit here, and here. I am not a sleep expert—I am simply a mom who put a lot of thought into the way I night weaned my child and wanted to share my ideas in the hopes that it helps someone else out there!

So, as I said in my 5 tips for night weaning, pick a date ahead of time to start this plan when you have time off of work (for at least a couple of days) and the help of your partner. It’s important to be prepared, do as much reading up on night weaning as you can, discuss with your partner, and do one or two months of prep work with your child (also discussed in 5 tips for night weaning). I know I keep saying it, but the prep work is key! I think the actual weaning part was so fast and painless, because I put the effort in ahead of time to make it super gentle.

Okay, here we go. It’s really quite simple. Choose a seven-hour window of time that you would most like to sleep during (this is the part that is based on Dr. Jay Gordon’s method). Remember that the definition of sleeping through the night usually only means five hours of consecutive sleep so seven hours is technically a lot more than that. But, between you and me, when I think “sleep through the night” I mean (and want!) the whole darn night. So I went back and forth about this seven-hour window. Shouldn’t I just cut her off from the time she gets in bed until she wakes in the morning? Isn’t it confusing to her that she gets to nurse during some hours at night, but not others?

Here’s the thing, Emerson had never gone more than a few hours without nursing ever. I wanted her to naturally ease into going the entire night without a snack so she could adjust and learn to eat more during the day rather than freak out and feel like I was starving her. And I just wanted to be gentle on her, emotionally speaking. So, I stuck with the seven-hour window. I chose 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. because being woken up (and then not being able to fall back asleep…sigh) at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning was killing me. I was fine getting up at 6 as long as I got some solid sleep before then.

So, you have your seven-hour window. Any time your child wakes up before that window, nurse or comfort her as usual. If it’s 10:57 nurse, if it’s 11:03 don’t. It’s easy to slip and keep on slipping when you aren’t specific about the time. And the morning time can be especially hard, because that little one is going to be begging for milk at that point. But, I made Emerson wait until exactly 6 a.m. unless she was seriously starving and flipping out at say, 5:50, which really didn’t happen.

Don’t fret too much about this specific window becoming something you will later have to change. It is a teaching mechanism and will naturally disappear over time. I’m sure it’s different for every child, but Emerson stopped waking between 7:00 (her bedtime) and 11:00 after about two weeks and now she never asks me to nurse after she’s gone to bed at night. She learned to sleep more deeply, and no longer needed me in order to fall back asleep so she dropped that window of nursing time on her own.

Okay, now it’s 11:01 p.m. and your child wakes. Hug her, cuddle her, pat her back (whatever form of comfort she accepts) and repeat your mantras (remember to come up with those mantras beforehand!), but do not nurse. There will most likely be a lot of bargaining on your child’s part. Stay calm and confident, and just repeat your mantras. There may be some crying. Comfort, hold and repeat your mantras. Know that even if she’s crying, she really does know that you are there for her and she’s safe, because you are actually holding her and doing a very thorough job of comforting her, just in a new way. She’s sad about this change, but she will learn to be happy with it soon.

Continue to do all this until she falls back asleep (comfort and mantras), and repeat any time she wakes up before 6:00. I wanted Emerson to understand the concept of the num nums (our word for nursing) going night night and then waking up with her in the morning so I made sure she would know when exactly num nums were awake. I set my alarm for 6:00 and turned the light on immediately (since it was still winter and dark outside). She caught on quickly that if the light wasn’t on, she still needed to sleep.

A lot of night weaning plans involve a slightly different technique every few nights during weaning (tapering off the comfort) in the hopes to eventually teach the child to sleep through the night. This was the part of every plan that made me uncomfortable. If that appeals to you, go for it! For those of you who want to be ultra gentle but still teach your child to sleep through the night, have faith that teaching your child this new routine will nudge him/her toward more independence on their own timetable.You don’t necessarily have to force it all in order for it to happen. Personally, I did not want to nurse at night anymore, but I didn’t feel totally opposed to cuddling or comforting—just having my body to myself was a significant gain in my eyes. This is why every night of my plan is the same.

What I found was that both parties (the child and the mother/father) naturally separated more and more every night without forcing it. I was so exhausted from being up all night (yes, weaning is exhausting) that I naturally offered less and less complicated forms of comfort—I started out singing, patting, holding, and repeating several mantras and then it was just holding and a couple of mantras, then just a hand on her back and one mantra, then nothing but simply being there for her to lie next to. That was a mutually agreed upon (but subconscious) progression that led to more independent sleeping in just under two weeks. I offered less mostly because Emerson was asking for much less every night until she was asking for nothing in order to fall back asleep.

Given I had already taught Emerson to self-soothe in a very gentle manner at a time when she wasn’t simultaneously being night weaned, she caught on very quickly when nursing was no longer an option. She felt safe and comforted in other ways so she relaxed into this new routine and tried something new (sleeping!).

Some important things to consider…make sure you are really ready to do this. To be effective you need to go in a straight line. Your child is looking to you to provide consistency and guidance so he/she can learn a new routine. It will be confusing and makes things much harder if you give in and then try to stick to it, over and over. However, if you start to night wean and it just doesn’t feel right or you don’t like your child’s reaction, stop! You can always try again in a month or so. A good way to gauge this is to watch your child’s behavior during the day. I was encouraged and able to continue with this plan, because Emerson woke up so happy, and actually more loving than ever, in the morning while we were night weaning. Our relationship did not change at all. There was no added clinginess, fear, or resentment on her part.

afterlight-84 Lastly, as Dr. Jay Gordon says…pay your baby! You are asking that she give back a little to the family that has been sacrificing for her sake for so long, now that she’s giving back to you pay her with all the extra energy and enthusiasm you have now that you are getting some Zzz’s! And to ease the transition during the first few weeks (or longer, if you wish) nurse her more throughout the day so she feels secure in that source comfort still being there. Good luck!

Come back tomorrow for my night weaning journal—exactly what those seven days looked like for us. And on Friday, all the bonuses that were gained as a result of night weaning.

5 tips for night weaning

Before I share my night weaning plan (check back tomorrow for that!), I will share some tips to get you started. These are the five things I needed to realize, and really understand, in order for me to get comfortable with the idea of night weaning, create a plan, and commit to doing it no matter what.

1. Be confident and have a mantra. I think the important first step you must take when night weaning is realizing that you not only have a need for it (on a personal level), but that it is the right thing for you. This is important to the success of whatever plan you choose to use, because a confident mama will be exactly the kind of guide her baby needs in order to learn this new habit. Your job is to be calm, to be a rock for that little one who has only known nursing at night her whole life. That nursing (or feeding) routine is a very comforting, natural, beloved routine for your child- one that is not going to be given up without some very real mourning.  Be calm and confident for your own sake (because, yes, you are doing the right thing for you!) and to make it easier for your child to accept a new way of sleeping. If you are nervous or unsure, your child will be, too.

To facilitate all of this, it is helpful to have a mantra—a phrase, or series of phrases, that you can repeat out loud throughout the weaning process. It will comfort your child (and you!), and remind them, in their confusion, exactly what you expect of them. Emerson listened intently to everything I was telling her when we weaned, so much so that she began to repeat the phrases to herself as a way to self-soothe.

To provide an example, the phrases we chose were “num nums (our word for nursing) are sleeping, night night baby, I’m right here, I love you, you’re okay.” Simple, but very effective.

2. Remember that kids can surprise you. Yes, even your child who you are so sure will act one way can just as easily surprise you. I’m saying this as a mother who truly believed her child could not be weaned. It seemed impossible to believe that my child could give up nursing for up to twelve hours at night when she had been waking every one to two hours for twenty-two months.

Emerson has been a very serious nurser from the beginning, and even now, after night weaning, is still very enthusiastic about her num nums. But, she surprised me! Not only did she in fact night wean, she learned very quickly and with barely any tears! I was absolutely shocked! I thought for sure…for sure she would cry for hours and hours. She would definitely be that baby who stayed up the entire night in protest and just not sleep, because she had never relented to anything…EVER…in the past. I thought for sure she would kick and hit and pull on my shirt and act like she was being tortured. She did none of those things. None.

I will say that it was very important to listen to my gut on when was the right time to consider weaning. I don’t know that I would have been as successful if I had pushed Emerson to wean when neither of us was ready for it emotionally.

3. Be prepared. It is much easier to handle the anxious moments of am-I-doing-the-right-thing or omg-she’s-freaking-out-should-I-stop when you have a plan. I mean plan every little detail of this that you can think of so you know what to do when the time comes. Pick a date in advance- preferably one when you are not working and know you will have the help of your spouse or another trusted family member at night, and during the day for a few days, because you will most likely be exhausted. Then come up with a plan that feels right to you, exact phrases you and/or your spouse are going to use at night (because a lot of talking and explaining and freaking out in the middle of the night is not going to be very effective), decide whether or not you want to work in shifts with your spouse, have a plan for getting enough rest during the day, have some pre-made, frozen meals (or takeout) at the ready so you don’t have to cook (again, you will be tired), have all the groceries, diapers, household items you will need for a few days, etc etc.

Beyond the planning as a way to make it easier aspect, I say “pick a specific date ahead of time” because personally I have been through countless difficult phases with my child, as most parents have, from the time she was born, during which I reacted in the moment with “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t want to nurse you at night! I’m going to lose my mind! That is it!” only to later calm down and know that I did not truly feel that way. I think it’s important to chose a time to night wean that has been thought out and decided upon in a calm manner rather than as a reaction to a bad phase (teething, biting, sickness, developmental milestones, growth spurts, etc).

4. Don’t let bad phases scare you. To further what I just said above, you can do this regardless of the seemingly never-ending phases your child is going through. Once I realized that I needed to night wean (for my own well-being, and therefore my chid’s), I felt a bit hopeless about it. I knew it needed to happen, yet I couldn’t see how I was going to get there when Emerson was always going through something. I had chosen a specific date during my husband’s spring break, which was the only time for many months that I would have his help. And in the weeks leading up to the big day Emerson started to cut two molars and then had two back-to-back colds! It felt like the worst possible time for her to handle such a huge change, and to take away her only comforting mechanism.

Then I did a ton of research on night weaning while teething. I found this really long, extremely useful discussion amongst mothers with similar concerns. This was helpful because the mothers discussed their experience with teething while night weaning, and had consulted with Dr. Jay Gordon himself on the topic (an expert who has a night weaning plan that I  used as the foundation of my own plan). What I came away with from all this research is this very obvious, but true fact: it is nearly impossible to find a 10-day window during which your child will not be teething, sick, or going through a growth spurt/developmental milestone. I was waiting for a time that didn’t exist (at least not until Emerson turns three)!

So, with the encouraging words of other mothers and an actual expert himself, I went ahead with my plan. I did wait a few days until the peak of Emerson’s cold and teething had passed (which was recommended), but she was still feeling the effects of both and it wasn’t an obstacle at all.

5. Don’t be afraid to take your time. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We expect quick fixes. But, this isn’t easy. It’s work, and it’s hard. Personally, it was my feeling that if I was patient and was as gentle as possible, the results would be more lasting and gratifying. And that is exactly what happened. In all honesty, I feel closer to my child now after going through a process that I was afraid would have the opposite effect, and all because I took my time.

I did teach my child to stop nursing and sleep through the night in just seven days, but that was after a lot of prep work. Yes, prep work. That is what I mean by “take your time.” Here’s what that looked like for me…

I had been nursing Emerson to sleep (and then throughout the night any time she woke) for 20+ months. So, my first step was to teach her to go to sleep without nursing. Now this isn’t necessary, and some people choose to continue to nurse to sleep during and after night weaning, but I was resenting this being the only way for her to go to sleep so I felt it needed to change. I also felt it would be a small step in teaching her not to associate falling asleep with nursing, which is obviously pretty important in order to night wean.

So, we altered our bedtime routine to my husband reading Emerson stories while I nursed her. When the stories were over and we turned out the light, the num nums went to sleep. She still got to nurse close to bedtime, just not actually at bedtime. This is another important lesson necessary for the night weaning you plan to do: your needs will be met almost all the time, little one. Your child’s fear of never being nursed again can make things pretty loud and challenging while night weaning, and rightly so, but if they have already learned the word “almost” it is much easier.

Emerson first learned that she would not be nursed to sleep at bedtime, but the rest of the night I was still there for her to nurse. She really got that. I took my time by spending a week or two letting her have a little extra nursing while trying to fall asleep on the nights she was really upset about not being nursed to sleep, and then cut her off completely during the third week. There were a few tears, and only one really difficult night, but she quickly adapted and accepted hugs and lullabies instead of nursing, which let her know I was still there for her.

The next prep work step for me was teaching Emerson to fall asleep without me touching her. Emerson was very addicted to physical touch. She was nursed while being worn in a sling while being patted on the back and bounced on an exercise ball. Every night. No exceptions. That was just what she really needed for the first eighteen months of her life. From eighteen months to twenty-two months she still needed nursing and back patting. But, once I taught her to fall asleep without nursing, it was honestly an easy segue into falling asleep without touch. I would simply lie next to her in bed and let her flop around, talk to herself, climb on me, whatever it took for her to fall asleep. This did mean getting used to lying in the dark with her for at least an hour, but she learned the lesson beautifully and self-soothing is a very important part of night weaning, and even more so sleeping through the night.

Beyond those prep work lessons, I also prepped Emerson by talking to her about what was going to happen in the days leading up to night weaning. She listened very intently, and was visibly nervous, but it really did prepare her. Instead of being surprised, she knew it was coming and felt respected and trusted me.

I hope these tips have helped! Come back tomorrow for my night weaning plan!

 

Let’s talk about night weaning

Like most parents, my life has been greatly affected by a lack of sleep. I was lucky that my newborn was an excellent sleeper, and immediately began sleeping in 5-6 hour stretches from day one. That really helped me adjust to motherhood in the gentlest way possible. But, at four-months-old the honeymoon ended very abruptly. Emerson began waking up constantly throughout the night, every single night. Still, I soldiered on with a hearty constitution and commitment to nursing my child on demand for as long as she liked. I really believed in this, and that strong feeling of I-am-doing-what-feels-absolutely-right-for-my-child kept me going through all the difficult phases. Until I could take no more.

The first year was exhausting. Sure. But, nothing….and I mean nothing like the second year. For this, I wasn’t prepared. I thought things would get easier, with the newborn days behind me. And I had always heard people talk about their babies sleeping through the night, and I believed my child would miraculously do the same…on her own. But, as I learned, that is pretty rare without major intervention (which just wasn’t my thing) early on. It is a fallacy that sleeping through the night is some sort of developmental milestone that every child should/will hit around roughly the same age.

photo-119

Of course, Emerson would not go to college still needing to nurse at night. She would eventually wean herself. But, the truth, as I learned firsthand and from a truckload of research and talking to other mamas, is that she might have still been nursing every two hours until age three or four. THREE OR FOUR. EVERY TWO HOURS. Again, something I was not prepared for. After that second year of not only being woken up every two hours (and sometimes even more!), but mothering a now walking, talking, exhausting child (instead of infant) during the day, I felt like I was going to break.

Cranky doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt all the time. I was in a perpetual funk. Every hour of every day felt like the most tired I had ever been. I was moody, unable to take good care of myself during the day, and began to really resent waking up to nurse my child. The very thing I had been doing to love, honor and respect my child was now affecting my ability to do any of those things. Though I tried my best to be happy and as loving as possible with Emerson, night and day, regardless of my feelings, I am sure she sensed it on some level. Most kids do. And that killed me.

I wanted us to both get some sleep so that I could take better care of Emerson…and myself. I needed to set some healthy boundaries.

This is not to say that the decision to night wean was an easy one. I never even considered it as an option for the longest time, which kept me locked in what felt like a never-ending imprisonment. But, it wasn’t closed-mindedness that kept me from considered night weaning. It was the world around me. It was difficult for me to arrive at my own feelings and desires with a sea of opinionated voices weighing in on my nighttime parenting. It seems pretty much everyone in the mainstream world thinks you need to get your baby to sleep as soon as they are born. But, not only are babies not biological meant to sleep through the night for their own health and survival, every parent/child relationship is unique…every child (and mother) needs something entirely different so it’s useless to think there is some norm to be working toward.

Thankfully, after struggling for months, I finally found a neutral person to talk to about night weaning. Not even my husband had been able to provide that type of sounding board for me (hey, he was invested). But, at exactly the right time, I found someone whose opinion I respected immensely, who understood my parenting style, and who allowed me to try on the idea of night weaning without judgement. And then, I began doing an insane amount of research (as per usual) on the subject. This research, however, made me feel anxious and doubt my decision. There was no one “plan” that really sat right with me. And there really weren’t that many to choose from when it came to night weaning a toddler, not an infant, or how to do so gently without disrupting our bond or crying-it-out.

Then one day I saw the light. I realized, that just like with every other parenting decision I’ve made thus far, all I needed was to listen to my intuition and get creative. And so, I created my own night weaning program that I am happy to say was far more successful than I could have imagined! I put a lot of thought into this plan with a lot of attention to child psychology, mother/child attachment, developmental phases, and what I perceived to be some major obstacles. Then I decided I would share my plan and experience right here for other mothers who, like me, are combing the internet for any kind of help they can get when it comes to night weaning or getting their child to sleep. Personally, I found little tidbits of useful information on “expert” websites, but the greatest wisdom and guidance came from the hundreds and hundreds of personal stories shared by other mamas that I read.

So, this week I will be sharing tips for night weaning, my night weaning plan (aka-how I got my child to sleep through the night in seven days), my night weaning diary, and things that changed after night weaning. I hope it helps someone out there!

On being needed

“I want mama!” That is what I hear on repeat all day right now. Sometimes, I even hear it while I’m actually holding my child in my arms. As if I’m not holding her tight enough or with enough attention. As if it’s possible to give any more of my heart than I already am. But, she asks regardless. She asks when I’m un-caffeinated, un-showered, have a bladder that’s about to explode, haven’t slept in days, haven’t had another set of adult hands around to help me in weeks, haven’t touched the laundry or dishes or eaten a meal. She asks when I’m on the verge of my own tears. “Mama? I want you to hold me. I want you to cuddle me. Mamaaaaaaa!”

This isn’t supposed to be happening, I tell myself. She’s supposed to need me less right now. But, I know that’s not true. I know that growing up is not a linear event. I know she’s going to push for space and then pull me in closer as we navigate her childhood together. I know that we are inextricably linked in a way that is unparalleled in its beauty and power, but, at times, frustrating for both of us. She needs me more when she’s going through something difficult, and then I give and give until I’m cranky and it’s difficult for me to give at all, which makes her feel more nervous and more clingy, and then I feel like I’m going to scream and then she starts sleeping on top of me all night and then I actually do scream and she gets scared. And. And. Help us both.

So, we’re both going through something right now. I have never seen Emerson in this much pain or discomfort. Her new two-year molars are currently pushing every tooth in her mouth into a new position. Not to mention the laundry list of things that may be making her nervous right now on account of us trying to sell our house and start a new life. So, she’s been needing me like crazy lately.

That “need” is something I’m sure every mother understands. There is just no replacement for a mother. Her love and attention and comfort are vitally important. That is an honor and something I’m absolutely humbled by. I spend the vast majority of my life trying to respect that very fact.

But, there is no way around how overwhelming being needed is when you’re going through a rough patch. Instead of lifting me up with joy, I sometimes feel suffocated by it. I find myself daydreaming about moving back to California, to my quiet, empty, immaculately clean apartment. I walk down the city streets of my neighborhood at sunrise (in my mind, of course) to my yoga studio. I drive across the Golden Gate bridge for my favorite lunch on the water. I walk aimlessly through the park. I shop for frivolous, extravagant items at the outdoor mall, because there is money in my bank account. I watch the sun set on the beach as the weird hippies with didgeridoos and bongos show up to thank the earth for another day. I watch movies all night and sleep by myself. And no one asks me for anything.

I can’t help but want to run away from being needed. I want the time to actually take care of my own needs, for a change. I want to feel sane in a way I’m fairly certain I never will again now that I am a mother. To sleep in a way I’m fairly certain I never will again now that I am a mother.

Yet, somehow, as I fight to exist on my own, I know that deep down I really want to recharge so that I have more to give. Because, I cannot exist without giving anymore, as difficult as it sometimes feels. I cannot feel life’s purpose without that little face on my pillow asking me “are you happy, mama? Are you having fun? Did you have a good day? Can we talk, mama?” as I beg her to just fall asleep. And so, I take a deep breathe, brush the back of my hand across her angel soft cheek and say “yes, I’m happy. I’m having fun. We can talk for a few minutes…because I love you.” And that love is everything. That love is exactly why I have to stay right here.

Ch-ch-change

We are in the midst of many huge transitions right now. It seems like every area of our life was turned upside down a couple of months ago, and we’ve been slowly putting the pieces back together, creating a new life. It feels like so much to get into here, but the two biggest changes would have to be #1 my decision to night wean Emerson, and #2 our decision to sell our house and move back to our home state. Those two things alone feel enormously monumental.

First, the night weaning. I’m telling you, people, I feel like a totally new person. I had planned on nursing Emerson on demand, night and day, until she chose to wean herself. I felt so passionate and so good about that decision. But, I came to a point in my mothering where this decision was doing more harm than good for all those involved. It’s moments like those that we have to open our minds, do some serious reflecting and change what once felt like immoveable beliefs.

In my quest for a new way to approach nighttime parenting, I came across a lot of useful information, different perspectives, and ultimately found a way to forge my own path. I will be sharing all of that in a week-long series about night weaning, in the hopes that it reaches other mothers who, like me, are desperate to find a way to gently teach their child a new nighttime routine (that doesn’t involve crying-it-out) while finally getting some much needed and deserved sleep!

Second, moving. Oh, moving. I have such a conflicted relationship with this topic. I have lived in 16 different homes, five temporary living situations, three states and two countries in my life. And I have never hesitated in moving to any one of them (outside of my childhood). Never hesitated to change states, establish a new life, reinvent myself, or become part of a new community. Then I had a child and all of that changed.

I want things to stay the same for my child. I want her to have a home she can always come back to. Unfortunately, that home cannot be here. We have been living an unsustainable life for quite some time, and things kind of reached a boiling point a couple months back. Everything began to crumble around us, waking us up to the reality that change was necessary. Vital to our survival, really. As my man Pablo Picasso once said, “every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” I think about that quote constantly, and have all my life, feeling hyper aware of the fact that I am always creating or destroying.

afterlight-83

So, we are moving. Something I was unwilling to consider as an actual possibility for quite some time now. But, so very cosmically, once the decision became apparent and we latched onto it with excitement instead of fear, everything began to change. There is a completely new life right within our reach, and I can see it so clearly now.

I will be so sad to leave this house…the first home we owned…where our child was born, and her placenta was buried beneath a tree…the place where we became a family. It will be hard to leave, and hard to make Emerson leave. But, I know in my heart that this place was a stepping stone, not a future. Looking back, I feel that I came here to birth my baby. There was no other place, no other way, with no other people that that was meant to happen. And we came here to grow, up and out.

Now it’s time to settle into a forever (or semi-long time, because that’s the best my restless soul can muster).

Allergen-free lunches for toddlers

**All meals, products and recipes in this post are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and peanut-free.

In our house, we avoid gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and peanuts while being incredibly health-conscious at the same time. It is challenging, to say the least. But, even more challenging is catering to those demands with a toddler mouth to feed.

food7

Since I am always on the look-out for new meals and foods to offer my little one, I figure there must be plenty of people out there looking for the same. So, here are the most popular lunches in our current rotation…

food10

Brown rice pasta in fun kid shapes with shredded vegan “cheese,” avocados, organic applesauce.

food9

Grilled “cheese” made with sorghum bread, vegan cheese slices, and coconut spread. Peas, frozen blueberries.

food5

Hummus mixed with mashed avocado, brown rice sesame crackers, vegan cheese slices, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower (aka-snow puffs).

food3

Eggs scrambled with shredded mozzarella “cheese,” sorghum toast with coconut spread, peas, strawberry coconut milk yogurt.

food2

Quinoa dressed with a splash of olive oil and sweet potato.

food

Quinoa with green lentils (spice as desired).

Super Simple Pumpkin Soup with Fun Shaped Pasta
food11
Ingredients:
2 tbsp Earth Balance Coconut Spread
2 tbsp finely diced onion
2 cups canned (I recommend BPA-free boxed) Pumpkin Puree
4 cups low-sodium Chicken (or veggie) broth
2 tbsp organic, no sugar added applesauce
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 cup noodles
Directions:
-In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt “butter.” Add onion and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
-Add pumpkin puree, broth, apple sacue, allspice, and thyme and bring to a boil.
-Add noodles and cook just until tender, according to package directions. Let cool slightly before serving.
To store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Some allergen-free kitchen staples (follow links below):
food8
365 Organic Quinoa