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.

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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!

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