This post is made possible by the generous support of Arms Reach Concepts makers of ARC cosleepers.
After Dreaming about sleep for years, The Piano Man and I decided to try Dr. Gordon’s method for sleep changes and the family bed and blog about it. You can read about night 1, night 2, night 3, night 4, night 5, night 6, and night 7.
The last two nights Smunchie has slept 11 hours straight. Yesterday I felt like a new woman. As we’ve been sharing this journey I’ve been asked several questions so I thought I’d take some time to answer them all at once. The questions range from the very practical (i.e. what’s your bed time routine) to more about our parenting approach or why we decided to do XYZ. I am not a doctor or any sort of expert on any of this, all I am doing is sharing our choices as parents and why. It is up to you to make as informed of a choice as you can for what will work best for your family. I have included links that I think may be helpful to your research as they were to ours.
Why not put Smunchie in her own room? Wouldn’t that help, specially if she wakes when you go into the room you share?
With our 3 older girls we did put them in their own room at some point in their first year, usually around 4 months. However it didn’t really help us get sleep since we had to go to them and they often ended up in our room anyway. Additionally we are a family of 7 living in a small 3 bedroom house (with one bathroom) and there’s not a room. Everyone shares sleeping space in our family so it’s really not even an option.
More importantly and why we wouldn’t put her in her own room even if we could is because we don’t want to. Over the years we’ve changed and learned a lot as parents and we have a better understanding of child development which has led to us making different decisions than we ever expected. Including decisions related to co-sleeping/bed sharing. I’ll be honest (always am), I don’t like bed sharing and don’t particularly care for co-sleeping even. Just another thing in my parenting list I’m not crazy about. I also don’t like changing diapers and sometimes I hate making meals. But through research and personal experience The Piano Man and I feel that what our children need is to be with us and us with them, even through the night. Over the years co-sleeping has started growing on me and I’m starting to enjoy and appreciate the practice more. The research we’ve done strongly supports co-sleeping and bed sharing. If you’d like to learn more about the sleep needs of infants and small children, I strongly suggest this very thorough review of co-sleeping by James J. McKenna and Thomas McDade of the University of Notre Dame. This review may help some to understand better why we choose to co-sleep with our babies.
Wouldn’t it be easier to let her cry it out?
Easier for whom? Ok, I wasn’t actually asked this question, or at least not so directly, just implied. I’ve been asked even more direct than that in real life, however so I feel it’s one I should address. The Piano Man and I feel that cry it out (CIO) or sleep training is not something that would be right for our family. We tried it, once, 11 years ago, when Earth Baby was about 18 months. It was traumatic and I believe greatly harmed our relationship, which I share a little bit about in the post I Dream of Sleep. I know some people swear by it and I have friends that have used this practice and their children seem to have experienced no harm that I can see. Still, it’s not right for us. There are concerns about levels of cortisol in a child’s brain when left to cry it out and some associations with attachment disorder related to cry it out methods. The risk and our own personal experience as well as our philosophy of gentle parenting eliminate CIO entirely as an option for helping us get more sleep. These concerns have been covered in mainstream news outlets as well as reputable medical journals. Even without that all it takes is one flashback memory to know I will never do that with my children again.
I don’t understand how you can do this, how can you deny your child her milk and how can she possibly understand? Why would you ever do that?
It’s so neat to see that people care enough for my family and me to ask even the really hard questions. I got a few emails and comments on Facebook asking me this and maybe even 1 or 2 on the blog posts, people genuinely concerned that night weaning would be confusing and harmful for Smunchie. The concern and care is so appreciated and I am touched. One woman said “…I just feel sad, when I read. I cannot ever imagine denying my babe milk day or night, nor can i think of a reason to try or want to try…I really cannot.” I shared with her this list of reasons: Because I’ve been so exhausted when I’ve gotten behind the wheel of the car that later I wondered if I shouldn’t have driven. Because I’ve had conversations with my older kids and realized I couldn’t even pay attention long enough to remember what they said. Because my 12 year old some times needs someone to talk to late at night away from her sisters. Because I can’t keep my children prisoners in my house simply because I am lacking the energy to keep up with them and their activities. Because I struggle to get any sleep with a child at the breast and lack of sleep leads to me being irritable and not the kind of parent or partner or really even just the kind of person I want to be. Because with my history of sexual abuse sometimes I start feeling trapped and don’t want to resent my child. Because I have experienced doing things carelessly or dangerously simply because I was too tired to be doing them at all. Because I am educated enough to know that physically she can go 8 hours without additional calories and therefor can experience comfort in other ways. Because I know my child well enough and am and have been tuned in to her needs long enough to be confident enough in my parenting to know she’s ready for this and we have found a way that works for all of us- including her. Because I’m human and know that if things don’t change I will be facing depression stemming from deep fatigue and that is not good for my family. Because I want to remember her toddler time, not just get through it.
I believe Smunchie can understand it because I’m with her and that even more than the breast, I am what she needs. We have each other and she understood before I even did that my breast is not the only way she receives comfort from me. Because she’s not going through this change alone, we are going through it together. The way we are bringing about this change is mindful of her needs, attentive to her cues, gentle in approach and flexible to modifications. Together we learn to give and find balance. And no, I don’t think my 18 month old who can understand sharing a toy with her sister or a bite of her apple with me is too young to understand accepting comfort measures other than what she prefers.
Extended sleep deprivation is dangerous. There comes a point when one must calculate the risks and I am certain that it was becoming increasingly dangerous for us to continue to try and operate at such a level of fatigue. I feared for the safety of my children.
How old is Smunchie? Why now? Why not younger/older?
Smunchie is 18 months old, born December 28, 2009.
This is going to sound so unscientific: because now felt right. Unscientific but important. More and more we were seeing Smunchie seek other forms of comfort besides the breast and respond well to them. She was also having fits at night that the breast wouldn’t sooth. We observed that after certain foods offered at dinner she would sleep better with less wakings. It seemed that she was not in the middle of any major milestone and would have a bit before something new would develop. And I could tell my fatigue was becoming crippling at best, dangerous at worst with depression seeping into my daily life as a result of my exhaustion even when I forced myself to bed early. Knowing that physically she could go longer stretches without requiring additional calories as well as being aware that often her suckling at night was not giving her calories, just comfort, I felt confident she could transition to going without the breast at night.
While I have longed for a good night’s sleep for a very long time, doing so before now would not have been the right time for Smunchie and our family. I believe she wasn’t ready until now. In fact, I have found that research supports that before at least 1 year babies are not ready to go the night without waking and there are actually advantages to them waking frequently at night including a lower risk of SIDS. As much as I would have loved to sleep more before now I do not believe that Smunchie was physically, developmentally and emotionally ready to do so. If we had waited I’m afraid I would have begun to resent her and we didn’t want to continue the pattern we had begun to establish in our fatigue of not being the kind of parents, partners or people we want to be.
Why use Dr. Gordon’s method and not something else?
Since CIO wasn’t an option for our family there really wasn’t a lot left. We like the No-Cry Sleep Solution but I was too tired to implement it well or even read the book again. We did use the No-Cry method with Squiggle Bug and liked it at the time. I think we would have liked it now too but we were looking for something more simple. Back with The Storyteller we tried The Baby Whisperer and at the time we kind of liked it. It was hard though and a little too close to CIO for us so we modified it greatly. When I read Dr. Gordon’s Sleep, Changing Patterns In The Family Bed I felt that it not only fit our parenting desires but was also something we could manage and The Piano Man agreed. Simple and compassionate. I don’t care how great a method is, if it’s too complicated to implement when you’re exhausted then it’s probably not going to work. I love that Dr. Gordon’s suggestions are not according to some arbitrary age that a child should be sleeping through the night and instead he encourages parents to do what works for their family. He just shares the tools that can work when and if the family wants to use them.
How have you functioned on so little sleep for so long? Why do you stay up late?
The sleep patterns of our little ones tend to change every few months so it’s not been the entire time that we’ve been waking every 2 hours or so, just since 12 months and she’s now 18 months so it’s been a 6 month stretch this time. Before that it was more like 3-4 hours, there was a period with more like 5-6 and other times that it was every 2. I’ve always been able to function pretty well on less sleep. My natural rhythm is, unfortunately, out of synch with most of the world so I’ve adapted to a middle ground. I become very alert around 9pm so going to bed early is very difficult, instead I just tend to do with less sleep. And I like coffee, a lot. I also take vitamins and try to stay very well hydrated and avoid processed foods. Between my performance background in music and theater and my midwifery training (moms tend to labor at night) I’ve gotten pretty good at making just a few hours of sleep work for me. The 8-midnight is my time to get work done, work for TLB, work for my other job and release my creative side. This is important to my mental and emotional health, when I have neglected this I become depressed and bitter. I have to have balance of all the various sides of myself which is why I find it important to Nurture the Nurturer.
However, if I go very long periods without decent sleep I can certainly feel it’s effect. Less than 5 hours for more than a few days and I feel nauseated, grumpy, struggle with memory and I notice the very mild heart condition I have starts making me feel uncomfortable. When that happens I try to find some way to get more sleep such as The Piano Man taking the girls out or putting a movie on and me sleeping on the couch. About twice a week I go to bed “early”, between 9.30 and 11pm.
What’s your bedtime routine with Smunchie? Does she nurse to sleep?
Around 7.15-7.30 or even 7.15-8.30 (flexibility is crucial in our family, the reality of having older children with activities) we start getting ready. A story or two (usually French selections daddy reads) with Smunchie and Squiggle Bug on the couch while Squiggle Bug drinks a cup of milk and Smunchie a cup of almond milk. Then brushing teeth and getting into pajamas. After giving good night kisses to the entire family we split up, The Piano Man taking Squiggle Bug and Smunchie is with me. On night’s that he’s working I work it out on my own. I nurse Smunchie for a bit while reading to her but I haven’t let her fall asleep consistently on the breast for a long time now so when she’s done she sits up and we read a few more books. Then I say a little prayer with her, we snuggle, I start singing something and stand up, she hands me everything she wants in bed with her (usually a couple cooks, her lovey and her doll and sometimes random things like shoes), I lay those down and then she reaches for me. We stand just outside her bed hugging then give kisses and say night-night while I continue to sing and lay her down. I stay in the room but out of sight singing or mm-hmming for a bit until I can hear her settling and then I slip out. She doesn’t usually cry or fuss at all but if she does I go to her, pat or rub her back and stay close by. Every great once in a while she will nurse to sleep if we’ve been out too late or if she just can’t seep to settle but it is, by now, the exception.
How did you get Smunchie to take a lovey object?
I planned for it before she was even born. While I was still pregnant I slept with the little blanket we picked to be her special object so it would smell like me. From birth it’s just been “around.” Once it was safe for it to join her in her bed we would lay her down with it. It just stuck.
I was asked a few other questions including some regarding how I fixed her lazy toddler latch and using the phrase “bobbies all done” and her accepting that. There is a future article planned on breastfeeding a toddler some where I share more about these and other tips related to breastfeeding an older baby or toddler.
We’re not experts, just figuring it out as we go along like most parents. Along the way we’ve adapted and changed as we have adjusted to the different personalities and needs of our different children and shifting family dynamic. Identifying what is important to us we make it work with flexibility. What works for us may not work for you and what’s important to us may not be important to you. Hopefully with parents sharing their stories and experiences along the way combined with taking responsibility to research and surround ourselves with knowledgable doctors and experts as well as those willing to help and support us in our goals/desires you and I can make the best decisions we can at the time with the information and resources available. Thanks for letting us share our journey with you.
Do you have other questions for us about the night weaning process? Or something else? Post your questions in the comments below and I’ll try to get to those as well. No question but have some thoughts on what you read here? You comments are most welcomed, I look forward to reading your opinions and experiences as well.