Mama Musings: Operation No More Night Boob, Part One (Or, Why We Night Weaned)

Some time around the beginning of my second trimester, once the disbelief about this second pregnancy had begun to settle, I came to the conclusion that it might be time to seriously reconsider the possibility night weaning my then 19 month old. I am open to and hopeful about tandem nursing, but the thought of tandem nursing at night? It made me want to weep big, hot tears.

You see, at 19 months, my kiddo had never slept through the night. He was still waking every two to four hours to nurse. There were times when this night-nursing frequency felt unbearable, but also times when it was decently manageable. We bedshare, and while I solidly credit this practice with strengthening our nursing relationship, I also quietly worried that our family bed set-up could be a giant stick in the spoke on our journey to ever sleeping through the night.

Sleep, oh, infinitely precious sleep! Like any new bleary-eyed parent, I’d done a fair share of reading about infant sleep, some of it instructive and insightful, and some of it…? Well, not so much. I remember one time taking a sleep book with me to a salon to read during some much-needed mama pampering , and it wasn’t until my stylist asked me, “Can you, um, relax your shoulders a bit?” that I realized how tensely I reacting to the dispiriting book I was reading. (Who does that? Reads about infant sleep while they’re supposed to be relaxing? A desperate and exhausted parent, that’s who.)

I don’t mean for this post to be about sleep, per se; you and I could probably sit down together over a pot of tea and talk all night about all of the sleep literature that’s out there and how it jives (or doesn’t) with our respective families’ needs.  After reading the good stuff and the garbage, these three tenets undergirded my personal philosophy about sleep: 1)Nighttime parenting is just as important as daytime parenting; 2)We share sleep  safely; and 3)Sleep is a developmental milestone like any other for my son, and he’ll get there at his own pace.

I’d tried to night wean my son in the past, and it was a pretty gnarly experience. I’d long held on to Dr. Jay Gordon’s approach for night weaning for bedsharing families, like a hopeful how-to manual  for balancing what felt like, to me, the competing goals of sleep and gentle nighttime parenting. This approach relies heavily on the non-nursing partner’s involvement, and the non-nursing partner in this house is much slower to rouse than me. By the time he awoke to parent our son back to sleep, our son was wider awake and more difficult to soothe than he would have been had I just simply popped a boob in his eager mouth. After a few nights of these shenanigans, I figured it was easier on everyone if I just kept on keepin’ on with the boob-poppin’. The kiddo relaxed back into sleep faster, the husband hardly stirred and was better rested for his work day, and I was better able to relax next to a toddler who wasn’t steadily ramping up to a full awakening.

I had hope for the No-Cry Sleep Solution, but it, too, was a stunning exercise in defeat for us. The Pantley Pull Off (the gentle removal method) was simply too confusing for my son: Wait, I get the boob, but then you take it away? And then I get it again, and you take it away again? WAAAHHHH!  And, similar to my experience with Dr. Gordon’s plan, I found that it was decidedly easier to just nurse him back down all the way. I came to slowly understand that it wasn’t that these approaches were unhelpful (I know peeps who’ve had good experiences), but rather it was that my son simply was not ready to be night weaned. I decided to table our night weaning efforts indefinitely.

Enter the unexpected, yet someday-hoped-for second pregnancy. Suddenly, sleep seemed like it would never recover from its endangered status anytime in the foreseeable future. More than six months after our last attempt at night weaning, I heaved a big, weary sigh and decided it was time to test the waters again. Thus commenced Operation No More Night Boob.

In the next week I’ll be sharing more detail about how we night weaned, but here’s a sneak preview: my approach wasn’t anything I’d read in book or on a website. My approach had everything to do with listening to my mothering gut and to my child. Stay tuned!

Rhianna composed the bulk of this post from her family bed in St. Louis, snuggled next to the cutest and snoring-est two dudes she knows. She is currently scratching her head over the best way to introduce a future night-nursing sibling to their shared sleep set-up.

Photo credit.

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3 thoughts on “Mama Musings: Operation No More Night Boob, Part One (Or, Why We Night Weaned)”

  1. BUT, but, but … I need to know TONIGHT how you did this ; ) Seriously, I am in the throes of decision-making about night weaning my 17 month old, too, and I need a very gentle way that doesn’t involve my husband. I am eagerly awaiting the continuation…

  2. Hi, Jes! I’ll try to finish it up sooner then! 🙂 I found night weaning to be one of those decisions that was so easy to make, but also so very hard to make. (Doesn’t that sum up so much about parenting, though?)

  3. “My approach had everything to do with listening to my mothering gut and to my child.” That’s parenting in a nutshell, no? 🙂 My first weaned herself completely when she was 17 months old (I was five months pregnant with #2 and #1 made it clear that she noticed the change in the taste of my milk) so I don’t remember having any trouble with her.

    My second, however, nursed until she was 30 months old. She always has and does sleep with me still (she’s 3.5 years now), but I cannot recall having any trouble night weaning her. Maybe I never tried? At this point I cannot be certain (without looking through old diaries).

    Anywho, I just wanted to note that even the most consuming parenting battles seem miniscule years down the line. Somehow we find a way, and everyone is okay, and then we sort of forget how hard it was to begin with (or at least that’s how my mind works) 🙂 Glad you found a solution! Good luck with #2!!!!

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