Changing Our Sleep Patterns- the plan and 1st night

Yesterday I shared that we are ready to get 18 month old Smunchie to sleep through the night after what has been years of challenging sleep issues.  This time we’re using Dr. Gordan’s method of changing sleep patterns in the family bed.

Smunchie must have heard us plotting.  Last night wasn’t at all what I expected.  Just another episode of “Parenting- you really don’t know squat!”

Smunchie woke one time last night.

Good thing she’s cute.

This would be a success story.  If it lasted.  Waking only once and going back to sleep after a short nurse and cuddle with absolutely no fussing was not supposed to happen on the first night.  I sound disappointed, I promise, I’m not.  Just groaning at the irony.  I really can’t complain that the child that wakes more times a night than I can usually keep track of slept with only one brief waking.  For months (by months I mean years) I’ve been praying for this.

To be clear, The Piano Man and I are still exhausted but that’s our own darn fault; we stayed up too late dealing with a family thing that came up and making sure we knew how we would handle wakings.  We stayed up late to be sure we knew how to handle the wakings.  Make that waking.  One waking.

The Piano Man and I made a plan.  We both read Dr. Gordan’s article and The Piano Man saying “it seems a lot like stuff we’ve done before” to which I replied “I’ve been too tired to remember what we’ve done before and this time I didn’t have to read a whole book to remember.”  It was great to skim the section of the article again last night that was just about the first 3 nights and devise our strategy.

The Plan

We know that with parenting you can have a plan but it’s always subject to change.  The small people we love and care for often seem to have not gotten the same memo or read the same books so being flexible is important.  Still, having a general plan with built in flexibility options seemed like the best way to go if we were going to have any chance at success in getting sleep.  We talked through all our different concerns and needs and tried to create something that fit us.

Bed Time. We decided that being night owls the 7 straight hours that meant the most to us were between midnight and 7am.  That was the time we were going to tackle first.  Smunchie’s bed time is 8pm and we didn’t want to change that but if she woke any time between 8pm-12am I would go ahead and let her have the breast as long as she wanted.  As usual she would go down in her own bed in our room and join us when she woke.  The Piano Man and I would aim to be in bed between 10.30 and midnight.

There has long been an interesting phenomena with our last two babies.  Bed time and a bed time routine is established fairly early and goes well.  Seeing as we stay up later than our nurslings (remember, we’re night owls) they go to bed in our room, on their own from 8pm-11pm or midnight.  Oddly enough they don’t wake too often during that time.  Occasionally, yes but not regularly.  But once we go to bed, anywhere from 10-20 min. I have a small person cuddled beside me.  It doesn’t matter what time I go into the room, it happens at 8.30pm or 1am.  I’m pretty sure she can smell me.

Wakings and feedings. From 12am until 7am we would follow Dr. Gordan’s plan.  We weren’t sure what constituted a short feed (the child would remain attached for all 7 hours if she could, short would be 3 hours!) and discussed timing it, waiting for some sort of cue such as a suck change, and watching her to be sure she didn’t fall asleep.  That last idea seemed the hardest because I realized I’m not sure she even fully wakes up usually and I have no idea when she falls asleep at the breast because I’m trying so desperately to sleep myself.  In the end we decided to wing it.  The Piano Man and I would help each other stay awake once she woke so we could pay attention and figure out when to end the feed.  If we both fell asleep we wouldn’t make any change.  Whenever it was we felt the feed needed to end I would softly say “Bobbies all done” while signing “milk all done” and count to 10 before breaking her latch.  For a few weeks now I’ve been ending some of our feeds that way.  It has been going very well for us and she now usually breaks her suck at count 4.  The Piano Man and I both thought this might help keep the shorter feeds less traumatic.  To help us stay awake we’d turn on the dim bed side table light which would also help us read Smunchie better.

Bed. We debated over this one; nurse her in bed, cut it short, comfort her there, all sleep there. Or nurse her in bed, cut it short, move her to her bed, comfort her there, she sleeps there and we sleep in our bed.  I really wanted to move her back to her bed.  We have a queen size bed and are often joined by 3 year old Squiggle Bug during the night.  With 2 adults and 2 kids it gets a bit crowded.  However we were concerned that it would be too much change at once.  No more bobbies (Smunchie’s word for breastfeeding) AND kicked out of the big bed?!  Oh the hurt feelings that would follow such an insult.  The goal, we decided was sleep, not bed.  We planned to do the short feed in bed, comfort her in bed and try to move her once she was asleep or go ahead and let her stay if that seemed best.

Who. We were concerned that if I was close to her she wouldn’t do well.  Since she can apparently sense in her sleep when I come into a room we wondered if I would be a distraction.  However, I didn’t want to do the short feed and then not be involved so we planned a compromise: The Piano Man would get her, bring her to me, he would stay close by during the short feed and when we ended the feed we would both do the comforting in bed.  If it got to be too much he would take her out of the bed and comfort her standing by her own bed.  If she still was freaking out wanting me then I’d leave the room.  The major variable here was Squiggle Bug, if she joined us and wanted daddy as she often does it could throw the whole thing off but we’d do what we could and see what happened.

Day time preparations. We’ve been planning to tackle the sleep issue for a while.  To move us in that direction we’ve been setting some boundaries with breastfeeding including me stopping sessions that go on and on with telling her “bobbies all done” as I sign then counting to ten or singing a song, ending the nursing session when the song ends.  We keep offering higher fat foods in the evening to help her be full longer and sit and cuddle while she has a cup of almond milk before brushing teeth and having bed time bobbies.  In spite of my internal reel of some zombie movie, I try to provide energy spending activities to fill our day, particularly in the afternoon so lots of living room dance parties, hoping/jumping sessions, pool/sprinkler time, walks, and park time.  We’ve also been reading Nursies When The Sun Shines by Katherine Havener which is a preciously told and illustrated story of a mama and baby (toddler) moving to sleeping through the night in their family bed.  The last piece of our preparations has been really solidifying our bed time routine and as much as possible, sticking to it.

The reality

The best laid plans of mice and parents, right?  Actually, we did pretty well.  We had dinner with friends we haven’t seen in ages and stayed out late so our normal bed time routine was replaced with falling asleep in the car on the way home.  It worked though.  The Piano Man and I went to bed well after midnight and as if on cue, Smunchie woke up.  He got her, brought her to me in bed where she immediately asked for bobbies.  With the low light on we watched her feed trying to gage if she was awake or asleep since her eyes remained closed most of the time.  After a bit, maybe 5 minutes, I could tell her suck was changing and I gently told her bobbies were all done.  After saying it twice and just as I was getting ready to count she release the breast, opened her eyes and blinked twice before twisting away from me.  At first it seemed like she was going to go to sleep but then a kind of cranky complaining fussing started and she began to ask for bobbies again.  I expected it quickly turn into a full blown angry fit but I was wrong.  Instead, we helped her get the lovey she had lost track of, I cuddled her close and did our little soothing two note “mm-hm” coo to her and she quickly settled in and fell back to sleep.  I decided to move her back to her bed, she stirred with the transition but that was it.

And that really was it.  Nothing again until after I was already up at 6.45 to braid Lolie’s hair so The Piano Man could get her to the set of the music video she’s in by her 7.30 call time.  Both of my breasts were full and leaking up a storm.  By the time Lolie and The Piano Man were gone and I had started this post Smunchie had awakened, nursed and fallen back asleep for almost another 45 minutes.  She has been wanting to nurse a lot more often this morning but ate her eggs for breakfast and is playing just fine.

It was too easy.  If this were a zombie movie there would be a sneaky trap waiting and I’d run screaming for my life.  That’s probably tonight’s scene.

I kind of think this was a fluke, maybe something to do with the moon, I don’t know.  If I’m wrong and this is how it’s going to be I will be kicking myself for not trying this sooner.  Or maybe it just worked because it’s the right time.  I don’t know.  I should write a theme song for the Parenting- you really don’t know squat show.  Tonight is night #2 and we’ll just have to see what happens.  I’m not about to sit back and think we are done, I’ve made that mistake before and it’s not helpful to pat yourself on the back too soon.  Instead I’m drinking a cup of coffee, reviewing our plan and getting ready for tonight.  I may take a nap.

Several people have asked how we’ve gotten by on so little sleep.  Generally I can go on little sleep and do pretty well, I’ve always been like that.  I do regularly take Vitamin B12 and supplement my Vitamin D as well as be sure to drink lots of water and find these measures a tremendous boost to my energy levels.  Right now I’m working on getting my iron levels up.  I’m also a bit of a coffee addict.  Ok, a lot of a coffee addict.  I drink 2 cups a day, one in the morning (which I’m working on right now) and one in the afternoon.  The Piano Man typically needs more sleep than I do to function well but he has been pushing through on coffee for years.

What do you think, was it just a fluke?  A result of a later bedtime and altered routine?  (I don’t think so, in my experience that makes things much, much worse.)  What has or hasn’t worked for you in getting your little ones to sleep through the night?

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Comments

  1. Haha, figures!
    When we started our modified version of Dr Jay’s method, we also had a surprisingly easy -though definitely not that easy- first night, an ok second night, and then a few relatively rough nights before things got easier again. It’s the usual parenting roller coaster that I’m sure you’re used to riding 🙂
    I imagine you’re gonna get a gazillion comments with helpful advice, so I wont bore you and everyone else with the details of our night weaning antics. But our strategy really has worked wonders, if you’re interested in the details shoot me and email and I’ll give you the long-winded version :)-

  2. Angelica says:

    I’m happy you were able to do that. Certainly preparing her with that little song to say it’s time to stop nursing for that moment does help. I wouldn’t try it myself. I get sleep at night now….we usually nurse without either of us waking up and my hubby gets sleep all night. To force the issue would result in no one getting any sleep and that would be a bad thing. She’s slowly weaning herself off at night as we move to more food during the day and evening…and she’s walking up to a Km at a time.

  3. I have zero advice, no perspective, I just want to say: thanks so much for sharing this journey. I think it’s a really helpful story and a situation that a lot of people don’t know how to handle. Balancing needs of parents (sleep!) and the needs of babies (sleep! love! bobbies!) is so difficult. I hope you all continue to get more sleep!

  4. Jessica says:

    I had an all night nurser too, and with our 4th baby on the way i decided it was time to get her night time weaned, we did the same thing (well by we I mean I, my hubby sleeps like a rock) and it worked! she still wakes up and comes into bed with us (she’s 16 month old now) but now instead of nursing all night long she just hogs the bed and kicks off our covers (this i can handle!) This method really does work, I took some liberties with it by stretching the first 3 nights into 6 or 7 ( it felt more gradual and comfortable to me that way) and never actually kicked her out of our bed (I’m just way too lazy to get up and take her the 5 steps down the hall into her room) I let her sleep in our bed for the remainder of the night, eventually i’ll start taking her back to her room but for now this pattern and arrangement works well for us!

  5. Thanks for sharing this journey. So interesting. When my babes responded well to any sort of night weaning it just reinforced to me that they are indeed ready to sleep on their own without the “bobbies.” If anything you just got a big shot of confidence so that when tough nights do present themselves, you can more easily stick with your plan. Its only fair to her and you after all the hard work and thought you’ve put into this. Good luck!

  6. We tried a modified version with my 2.5 yr old a month or so ago. We started by talking about it, then I enforced it. She could have milk at her first night waking (around 12 – 1 AM), then just cuddles until the sun woke up.

    The first few nights were relatively easy, then it got a little rough, and then it was impossible. I was SO tired from her waking up so much that I started sleeping right through her latching on. On more than one occasion I woke up and she was nursing. Whoops!

    We threw in the towel on that method and started putting her in bed with her big sister (they share a queen). So far being with her sister is working well for us, and I am PRAYING it continues. I’m much happier to nurse her when she wants during the day if I can have a few hours without her laying across me at night.

    I hope Smunchie responds well to this method and you all start getting better sleep!!!

    • Christine says:

      Katy~ I’ve had sort of the opposite experience. 🙂 My almost-3 yr old has always been obsessed with nursing, and after tandem nursing for 15 months, I was ready to begin weaning. I didn’t want anymore daytime feedings (which were all the time), but I didn’t mind the one or two night time feedings. After the first difficult day, it was completely normal for to not nurse during the day, but then it became an all-night thing. My husband is deployed for three more weeks, and then he can help with her like he was before. My 17-month old has her own sleep space, but I’ve been noticing that when we put the two girls together they sleep much better & don’t ask to nurse as much. I’m hoping their own shared bed will do the trick. 😉

  7. Heather says:

    I am afraid for you tonight. Very afraid.

  8. thepianoman says:

    Nice, thorough rundown of our thought-processes, our first night, and our zombified state. I’m drinking coffee right now, hoping the sensation I’m feeling in my head, taunting me and threatening to become something more, like a headache, will be contained once again in the dark elixir I’m sipping.

    I just wanted to add that we had talked about how long we’d allow Smunchie to stay on the breast, and had planned on both observing her pattern AND setting the timer for 5 minutes. The timer was probably more for me than either Jessica or Smunchie; a way to make sure that we wouldn’t all just fall right back asleep. Just knowing that the alarm would sound in just a few minutes tends to be enough to keep me awake. As it turns out, Smunchie was done and Jessica was moving her back to her bed when there were still about 20 seconds to spare.

    Tonight is a new night. I hardly dare hope that it’ll be as good as last night, and fear how bad it’s bound to be. Maybe we’ll be smart parents and go to bed earlier in anticipation; but let’s be real here, when we’re feeling great at 10:00 tonight, with kids and bed and time to ourselves, are we really going to waste that time and get extra sleep?

    • AAAAAAAAAAAAND in evidence of my zombie fog, I totally forgot about the alarm. I didn’t even realize you set it. Good thing I blog, huh? I may never have known.

      Suck down that coffee to get through the rest of the day, I’ll see you at 10.

  9. Kathryn B says:

    We tried nightweaning based on that method, at 18 & 20 months it was a disaster, boy was distressed & panicking after a few nights & we didn’t want that from it.
    Come 22 months – barely a fuss. He slept through twice in the first week (7pm – 6am!) and now he only wants daddy to give him a cuddle when he wakes except on the very rare occasion – it’s unfortunate he still wakes screaming a few times most nights, but at least he’s only awake for a minute while he has a hug!

  10. Melissa says:

    I am impressed! I hope tonight goes very well for you all. We are working on dropping a night feed with my 9 month old right now and HOLY COW its hard. I havent slept more than 5 hours in over a year now, so I feel your pain. Anyway good luck!

  11. My son is the same age as Smunchie and when I went back to work when he was 8 weeks old, he began reverse cycling and eating all night long. Getting him to sleep through the night has been a miracle. We don’t co-sleep anymore because the slightest movement from me (I move a lot in my sleep) initiates another nursing session.

    I had asked for some advice a couple weeks ago on night weaning and emphasized that no, I was not interested in baby-led weaning as he apparently was not getting the hint :-). I am working on the high protein/calories before bed and allow him to eat as much as he would like. Our last nursing session is sometime before 7pm and after that if he asks, I offer water until 8:30pm when I offer him a bottle of whole milk. The key to that was warming it up to mommy milk temperature (35 secs in the microwave). He continues to ask for “mih” sometimes but resigns himself to the ba-ba after about 2 mins. He chugs that down and has slept better than he has ever slept before. Usually 9pm to 7:30 or so. I never thought this was possible. We’re down to two to three feedings a day and it’s going so well.

    My friend’s son goes to bed at around 5:30pm (He LOVES sleep) and she wakes him at around 10pm to feed him so he’ll sleep through til morning. That way she didn’t get wakened when she and her husband went to bed later.

    Good luck to you, the piano man and Smunchie!

  12. Allison says:

    Tjanks for sharing this. Ive got my fingers crossed for yall tonight. I swear my dd smells me at night too…it never fails within 10 minutes of me coming in the room she is awake!

  13. Thanks for sharing! I am so glad to find out that I am not the only one out there who co-sleeps or extended nurses. I feel SO alone most of the time! I have a 20 month old who is not a great eater during the day & relies on nursing to go to sleep for nap time & at night. She also wakes frequently at night to nurse. It seems to me that she only gets a very small amount of milk & is mostly nursing for comfort but is waking up because she is legitimately hungry due to her poor eating during the day. I love having her in bed with us & my favorite thing is snuggling with her. I actually feel anxious & can’t sleep when she is not next to me, so I haven’t pushed very hard to get her in her own bed. This arrangement does make it very difficult to ever leave her with a sitter at night as nobody else can really put her to bed. I am hoping to have her weaned & sleeping through the night (finally!) by her 2nd birthday at the end of November. Wish me luck as she is very strong willed & I think she will put up a good fight!

  14. Thanks for sharing the details! It’s soooo nice to hear I’m not the only one in the world nursing a toddler who would happily stay attached all night long!!! Just tentatively trying night-weaning at the moment with Little M & we’re 4 nights in. He’s just turned 2 & I’ve woken pretty much every 2 hours for 2 years! Haven’t had much success yet in terms of sleeping for long stretches but he is happy to go to sleep after stories with Daddy. Similarly to you, I have been shortening his nursing sessions during the day by saying ‘bye bye feedies’ & this has started to work at night too, with the latching off & rolling over just like you said! It’s too cute!!

    Thanks for sharing : )

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