Go The #&%$ To Sleep! (So I Can Too)

Many of the more “personal” posts, I’m keeping for W as a sort of journal of her baby/toddlerhood. I thought long and hard about whether to save this one for her, since it’s got some tough stuff in it. In the end, I’ve decided to do so. I know that over time, my memories of the trials of motherhood will fade, and (blessedly) what remains will be mostly the good stuff, the sweet stuff, the stuff that will make me want to say to new moms, “Oh, treasure these days! They go by so fast!” (Which, incidentally, though I’m sure it’s true, is something NO ONE should EVER say to a new mom). When W is a mom herself someday, I want to be able to give her a realistic accounting of how I felt when I walked in those shoes. I want her to know that there’s nothing wrong with her if she feels resentful of her baby (despite loving said baby more than anything), or if she wonders what she’s gotten herself into, or if she sometimes feels like every parenting decision she makes is wrong. I want to show her these posts and say to her, “W, check it out. Here’s what I experienced, and sometimes it sucked royally, but when I look back, I wouldn’t have traded the experience, and everything worked out fine.” Oh, and also? I want to believe that some day, that will be true.

There’s an excellent post on Science Of Mom this week on baby sleep and CIO (cry-it-out). In addition to being well written and informative, I personally find the post very timely. In fact, I find myself holding my breath, hoping and praying that in her next posts on the subject (Alice has promised a series of at least three), she’ll reveal The Secret To Good Sleep (no pressure, Alice!).

I know this isn’t going to happen. I know there is no Secret To Good Sleep. If there were, there wouldn’t be so many damn sleep books out there. There would be one, presumably called “The Secret To Good Sleep.” And the author would be wealthy, venerated, and possibly crowned empress/emperor of the world. Or at least should be.

We have sleep trouble. W sleeps with us; she has from the time she was two days old. We didn’t intend to co-sleep, but quickly realized that it got everyone more blessed shut-eye, since pre-co-sleeping, it was taking 2-3 hours per nursing to get her fed and back to sleep again (at which point she’d sleep for about half an hour, and then cry to be fed once more). Once we moved her into our bed, nursings were quick and easy, and right back to sleep for everyone.


She’s now on the doorstep of her first birthday, and while she goes through short phases (a few days) of only one or two night-wakings, most nights, she’s waking 4-5 times. Each time, she wants to nurse back to sleep, which is a problem for me for two reasons:

1)   I have never been able to sleep while she nurses; the sensation is not compatible with sleep for me.

2)   I worry about nursing cavities, based upon my review of the scientific evidence.

I’m not categorically opposed to the idea of sleep training/cry-it-out in some regard, except that:

1)   I don’t think it will work for W. The one time I tried a modified CIO with her for naptime, she sobbed for a solid two hours, turning herself red and retching.

2)   I know several moms of toddlers with W-like personalities who have to redo CIO every time circumstances change (they go on a trip, new teeth come in, baby gets sick). I might be able to stomach one bout of CIO, but I really don’t see myself being able to handle doing it over and over again.

3)   I would really want to look at the science first, which is why I’m eagerly anticipating Alice’s post (except that I’m still not convinced it’ll work for W).

I’ve read a LOT of sleep books that are gentle/non-CIO, including Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry books (Sleep Solution and Nap Solution). I’ve read Dr. Jay Gordon’s stuff on gentle night weaning, and I wonder if night weaning would be a good solution for us, except that:

1)   When we tried to do the first night of Dr. Gordon’s plan (nurse baby, but don’t nurse to sleep), W screamed for HOURS. We gave up, because;

2)   Both hubby and I work full time. I have the benefit of being able to work from home at least part of the time, but I still have to be sort of sentient.

As long as I’m listing things that are complicating life right now, I’ll list one more: I’m having mixed feelings about continued nursing (even during the day). Sometimes, I really love nursing her. I love the special relationship, and I love that if she’s upset or scared or she’s just fallen and banged her chin, I can nurse her to comfort her. I love the quiet times when I can just sit and hold her, and we can rock and nurse. However, I resent — frankly, I can’t STAND — having her follow me around whining and making the “nurse” sign when I’ve JUST nursed her, I’ve offered her a snack (“real food,” so she’s not hungry), and I know all she wants is to luxuriate in my lap with a nipple in her mouth. I am not a dairy cow, dammit! Sometimes, I love nursing. Other times — I’ll be honest here — I feel like she’s sucking the life out of me one mouthful at a time.

It’s like the older she gets, the whinier she gets about nursing. She plays with her daddy, she asks my mother’s helper to read to her…but me? She just follows me around making the “nurse” sign and whining nay nay NAY! (her word for nurse). I guess I’m just resentful that sometimes it seems all I am is a giant pair of boobs.


So…I’m appealing to the wisdom of the masses. Got any ideas for me? Failing that, want to just make me feel better by sharing your own tale of sleep (or nursing) woe?




25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chris
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 18:28:53

    I had a similar issue with my oldest. At a little over 1 year I quit nursing her (day and night). Within one week she slept better (oe or no times waking up at night). I also slept better and everyone was happier. Overall I loved nursing – but weighing all the options I think that quitting at that time worked best for us. Also – she FINALLY would eat real food for me (otherwise she would only want to nurse when I was there but ate fine for everyone else). I also said “she was sucking the life out of me.”
    When it came to going to sleep – it worked best if daddy put he down for that week. It was a tough few nights – but then it was over.


    • SquintMom
      Feb 07, 2012 @ 18:37:03

      Can I ask how you went about weaning her? Were you just sort of in absentia that week? What kept her from throwing tantrums? I’ve honestly thought about weaning…but am not sure…Thanks so much for your comment!


  2. Cloud
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 18:35:54

    I will try come back and write a real comment, I promise- I have been through the wars with nursing toddlers and crappy sleep and all that, and would be happy to share what worked and what didn’t for us. But I’m at work right now, so don’t have time to write at length.

    You could go look at my old posts, though, to see how the sleep thing played out for us- both times around.

    Here are all my sleep posts:

    Or, just go to my blog and look at the archives from about 12/07 to follow along with the worst of it.

    We’re through it now, and my formerly crappy sleeper sleeps through the night in her own bed, and has done since ~2 years old.

    If I had to boil down my advice based on my experience with one truly crappy sleeping baby and one so-so sleeping baby, I’d say this: You can’t make your baby sleep. Some kids are just slower to figure the sleep thing out than others. My life got much, much better when I realized this, and stopped working so hard to change how my baby was and started working on solving the problems that it caused in my life- like sleep deprivation.

    I’m no super Zen master on this front- I have melted down about sleep issues as recently as two weeks ago, when my 2 year old decided to stay up until 11 p.m. one night. But I am in much better shape now than I was back in the dark days of 2007-2008.

    Good luck!


    • SquintMom
      Feb 07, 2012 @ 18:38:47

      Thank you for your words of encouragement. I’ll take a look at your posts. Do you have any advice on what Chris suggested (earlier comment) about just going ahead and weaning?


      • Cloud
        Feb 07, 2012 @ 19:17:30

        For us, the weaning and the sleeping aren’t so linked- i.e., nightweaning did not mean we were suddenly sleeping through the night. Nor, interestingly, does it mean that the second baby will accept my husband in the middle of the night- she still wants me, even though she never asks to nurse then.

        For some babies, weaning=better sleep. Not for mine. I have no idea how to tell ahead of time!

        However, when we first partially nightweaned (got down to one feeding per night), our sleep got a lot better. We could not get rid of that last feeding at that point, though- this was at a little over a year. So maybe you could consider reducing the amount of night nursing without completely eliminating it? I don’t know. We weren’t cosleeping with her at that point, and my second baby (with whom we were cosleeping at a year) just did this reduction on her own. So I don’t have any useful ideas for how to accomplish this.

        One possibility on the nursing driving you nuts sometimes thing is that it could be hormonal. I found that for the day or two around the start of my period, I’d struggle a bit with nursing- I wanted to crawl out of my skin. For me, overall, I still wanted to continue nursing, so just knowing WHY I was feeling crazy about it sometimes helped. I weaned my first at 23 months and my second is pretty much done weaning herself now (at about 28 months).

        Here is a post I found that summarizes the changes in my attitude about sleep. It also links to some of the key earlier posts, so it might be helpful:

  3. Jem
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 18:43:37

    What you’re experiencing is normal. The lack of sleep, the ambivalence to feeding etc. <- always important to remember 🙂

    I won't try to give you advice, because I think my experience of 1 means bugger all in the grand scheme of things, but I'll talk through some of the things that happened here…

    Isabel was always a dreadful sleeper. Hourly wakings at times. The worst was at 14-15 months when she was waking as frequently as every 40 minutes – 1 hour all night long. Admittedly she was stool withholding so was in pain, but the important lesson I took from this was that I COULD COPE. I was working again by that point, and yet I did not need the 12 hours of sleep that society seems to insist we achieve by 6 months old. Sure I felt like crap, and could not thrive on that over a long period, but for a month or so? Fine.

    I hold that experience with me today and use it as a guiding light through shit nights.

    Anyway, I say Isabel WAS a dreadful sleeper – past tense. She started sleeping longer periods at around 18 months. Of her own accord, no weaning or "training". She didn't need forcing, didn't need leaving to cry, didn't need removing from the family bed (where she remains even now at ~27 months). I remember this one when people roll their eyes at me and tell me children need teaching how to sleep.

    So there we go.. sleep sorted itself out.

    Feeding – at about 12 months I started encouraging nursing manners/boundaries and that included waiting to feed if it was not convenient for me. I still offered when it was, because not offering is a weaning method and I wasn't ready to wean, but my comfort was also important by that stage. I saw/see no harm in a 1yr old having to wait a minute. Isabel adjusted fine with minimal fuss.

    Anyway… with the feeding, I spent the last 8 months of Izz's feeds in some degree of pain due to her wonky latch and anticipating the day she weaned, only to find that when she did just shy of her 2nd birthday I was *gutted*. It has taken a couple of months to really 'get over' that. Don't underestimate your attachment to that 🙂

    So I guess I share my experience so you know that it doesn't have to be a) cry it out or b) suffer eternally. Ultimately, the way forward is up to you and your family, but there's always a happy medium and for me that was waiting things out.

    All the best 🙂


  4. Caroline
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 19:40:35

    I don’t know if I can offer any advice that is of use to you, but I wanted to share our experience.
    I weaned my oldest at 12 months, and have always regretted it. It did not change his sleeping pattern and it did not make him eat more during the day. If anything, it just made us worry more when he wouldn’t touch his food, because it’s not like he’d be making up for it by nursing more. So therefore we’d be more tempted to use control in making him eat.
    I remember feeling the need to get my body back to myself again, and being annoyed with the wining for nursing, but looking back now (he’s 4 years old now) I really can’t imagine it. He was still so little. 1 year olds are really still babies and nothing they do is to manipulate us, even when looks like it to us.

    This understanding only came to me though when our second one was born. She still nurses occasionally with me now at 2.5 years old, although there is no milk anymore due to pregnancy. At every step of her development I think back to the expectations we had of our oldest at the same age, and am amazed with the difference. I feel very sorry to him that we didn’t let him be a baby for as long as he needed to be, and especially that we didn’t follow his directions.

    I really have come to believe we can completely trust our children and let them guide us to what they need. Especially if we start off with that attitude, and stick to it. Putting any control on them as infants and toddlers when it comes to eating or sleeping only confuses their natural instincts.

    As for sleeping – even though my son sleeps through the night now, he’s much more fussy about having a certain routine before bed time and insists on having a night light etc.
    My second one didn’t sleep through the night until she was 2 and 1 month, but started doing so all by herself. What’s more, after another month she declared to my husband and I that she wanted to fall asleep by herself. We could hardly believe it, but 6 months later she still does and has no issues about sleeping. She tells us when she’s tired, goes to sleep, and then wakes up whenever she’s slept enough. This goes for the night time and nap time. We would have never believed anyone telling us this day would come, even right before it happened.

    Sorry I’m not being very scientific here. For science I would definitely recommend “Why love matters” by Sue Gerhardt. I’ve found that moms never let their kids cry it out after reading this book.

    Good luck!


  5. Melissa
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 21:09:08

    Hi, I found you through Alice (Science of Mom), I just posted on sleep today too. I have dubbed myself the accidental co-sleeper as I never intended to either (I’m a pediatrician). My firstborn (son) has always been a high needs sleeper. He sounds similar to your babe. I too, felt utterly exhausted. He never slept in a crib but what I was able to do was wean him from the mattress in our room to one in his own room. It was gradual but soon he could sleep at least half(if not more) of the night there. And bonus? If he needed me, I could just crash in there since it was a queen mattress. Anyway, it worked for us. Was never my ideal situation but it worked and it was what he needed. BTW, my second child? An absolutely.fantastic.sleeper!!! Thank the heavens!! I didn’t do anything different either.
    I’m wishing you much luck and sleep soon. The more we discuss and hear other stories, the better chance of us finding our own solutions. I have written about this quite a bit on my blog if you’re interested 🙂


  6. Alice Callahan
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 21:11:02

    Oh Kirsten, so much pressure! I wish I knew the secret, but it goes without saying that the secret is different for each child. For some you could probably do things a hundred different ways and they would sleep well, and for others, no matter what you do they will still struggle. The problem with the sleep experts is that none of them are experts on YOUR baby – only you and your husband are.

    Lest you get too excited about my upcoming posts, I can give you a synopsis: Sleep is important, there are risks and there are benefits to “sleep training” (as in everything we do), and only you know the answer for your child. I know, not too exciting. My main focus is to give an honest interpretation of the science out there. I probably wouldn’t have bothered doing all this research on this topic if I wasn’t seeing such poor, biased representations of the science.

    I have also been struggling with nursing lately. Until a few weeks ago, I was still loving nursing BabyC. She’s almost 15 months now, and it has suddenly become less enjoyable. She is SO active during nursing, and that makes her latch a little more rough, and our nursing sessions less enjoyable. Like W, she really loves having the ability to ask for something that she wants and get it, and her “asking” is starting to feel quite demanding at times! She is so interested in asserting her independence, but I honestly don’t think she gets that I am a separate person with my own needs and wants yet. I think she thinks that my boobs belong to her:) In an effort to find a balance that works for both of us, I have started to establish some boundaries. We nurse when she wakes up in the morning and before naps and bedtime. When she asks for milk outside of those times, I tell her that we aren’t going to have milk right now, would she like a snack instead? Calm but firm. (I am definitely willing to make an exception if she needs special comfort for some reason.) This consistency has dramatically reduced the whining. I know many moms feel strongly that nursing should always be “on-demand,” but I feel comfortable with this compromise and think that it will help us enjoy being a nursing team longer. Now I just have to work on her nursing manners:)


    • SquintMom
      Feb 07, 2012 @ 21:42:23

      Alice, no worries. I know there’s no “secret” and I’ve looked at the research enough to have an idea of what you’ll find, but I’m still curious to see what your read will be!

      I think some boundaries regarding nursing are probably the way to go for me; I don’t think (if I’m really honest with myself) that I want to give it up entirely. I like the idea of asking for good nursing “manners” and restricting it to mornings/naps/bedtime (plus if she’s sick/scared/hurt). I’ve been offering lots more snacks, and that’s helped; it turns out (I’ve realized in the last few days) that she uses the nurse sign to mean hungry and tired (it’s just kind of a general indication of neediness), so I can often get away without nursing her by identifying and meeting the underlying need.


      • Ariane
        Feb 11, 2012 @ 20:11:19

        Wow! I think it’s brilliant that her asking to nurse might actually be an underlying need for sleep or food.

      • Ariane
        Feb 11, 2012 @ 20:14:53

        Oops! I meant it was brilliant of you to figure it out. She’s brilliant in her own way 🙂

  7. Cloud
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 05:53:43

    OK, I’m back to write a “real” comment, now that I’m not at work and the kids are in bed.

    Your baby W sounds a lot like my Pumpkin, my first child. She is almost 5 now, and as I said above, sleeps through the night in her own bed, and has done since she was about 2. She goes to sleep on her own- when she was about 3, we broke the habit of her needing one of us to stay with her until she fell asleep. (I wrote up how we did that here, but this method only has any hope of working with an older kid like she was: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2010/05/there-is-no-way-it-was-really-that-easy.html)

    All of this was done fairly gently, because she was the type of baby/toddler who worked herself up crying. I.e., I never thought she was a good candidate for CIO methods. As I said over at Alice’s place, the one time she was left to cry (because I was home alone and in the bathroom), she worked herself up enough to throw up. Which pretty much sealed the deal for me on the CIO- I hate cleaning up vomit.

    But- full disclosure- I am also a poor candidate for CIO methods. I cannot stand to hear my kids cry, especially when they were babies. I can be a little more hardhearted with a preschooler who is crying because she’s been told “no” about something! CIO would almost certainly have worked on Petunia, my second baby, and we never did it.

    You write about W being up 4-5 times a night. That was us, too. We weren’t cosleeping, so I was out of bed and in her room that often. My husband took the first waking with a bottle of pumped milk, and I took the rest. It sucked. I was working almost fulltime through this (I had a 35 hour work week, which I used to take every other Friday off).

    So, how did we get from there to where we are now? I think mostly, we just waited. But we did do a few things to try to make life better:

    1. We tried the Pantley method. You can read about our modest results here: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2007/12/great-sleep-experiment-20-day-results.html

    2. We partially nightweaned at about 10 months. This was much more effective that the Pantley methods we tried- but, we also tried it at a better time (more on that later). We used the “increase the amount of time until first feeding” method, and it worked really well for us. You can read about that here: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2008/01/nightweaning.html

    We did not get her to drop that last feeding until much, much later, though. We dropped that last night feeding almost a year later. I wrote about that, and how our method was to start partial night co-sleeping, here: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2009/01/confessions-of-accidental-co-sleeper.html

    3. I changed my attitude. This probably made the biggest difference. I realized that I was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken- Pumpkin was getting plenty of sleep. MY sleep was the problem. So we started problem-solving around how to get me more sleep, and that helped a lot. My husband took long weekend walks with Pumpkin so that I could nap. He got up with her on weekend mornings so that I could sleep in. He did the dishes so that I could go to bed ridiculously early and increase my chances of getting 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep (my minimum for sanity). I know how hard it is to stop trying to “fix” your baby’s sleep- everyone is so sure they know what you’re doing wrong, and that if you just did X (almost always something you’ve tried), your baby would magically sleep well. But if you can change your mindset and spend your problem-solving energy on the problem of getting you more sleep even if your baby won’t change how she sleeps you might find that things get easier to handle.

    For your specific situation, I have two pieces of advice:

    1. Read the book Bedtiming, by Isabella Granic and Mark Lewis. They are developmental psychologists, and the book will help you pick a good time to try to make changes. I think I cracked and we tried the Pantley method in the midst of the big separation anxiety, which is usually at about 8-9 months. Pumpkin hit it on the early side. This may be part of why it didn’t do much for us. We tried nightweaning when she was past the worst of the separation anxiety, and it went much better.

    2. If you decide to try nightweaning: Do you have another place you can sleep? A guest room, or even a sofa? I’d suggest that you spend the first part of the night somewhere else, sleeping- use earplugs or music or a white noise machine or something to try to block out the crying that will likely occur. Have your husband use any means necessary to get baby W to postpone that first feeding. For us, it was a combination of bouncing and rocking, and he had to spend some serious time in her room. I felt guilty until I remembered that I’d been taking the brunt of the sleep issues for months. And he never complained about doing this. Agree on how long you’re going to postpone ahead of time, and the first time she wakes up after the agreed on time, you go in and join them in bed. I should emphasize that I haven’t tried this directly- Pumpkin was still “sleeping” in her crib when we first nightweaned, and Petunia never pushed me to the point where I wanted to bother nightweaning, and eventually she nightweaned herself sometime after 18 months. I did spend some partial nights on the sofa, though.

    Good luck, and email me if you have any specific questions that you think I can answer!


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  9. May Smith
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 21:42:41

    Most women stop nursing their babies before they become toddlers.


    • SquintMom
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 01:18:56

      Actually, in the U.S., most women don’t even nurse to three months of age, which is unfortunate, because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for AT LEAST a year (and yes, they do use the words “at least”), and the World Health Organization recommends nursing for AT LEAST two years. Point being, yes, I could stop nursing W…but since I’m able to nurse and since both the AAP and WHO think I should keep nursing her (she’s still just shy of a year), I do not think that it’s in her best interest to quit at this time.


      • Ariane
        Feb 11, 2012 @ 20:16:00

        Does the WHO say how frequently to nurse between 1-2 yrs? I meant to wean at 1 yr but am still doing 2-3 times each day.

      • SquintMom
        Feb 11, 2012 @ 23:17:47

        No, I don’t believe they specify. Also, WHO’s suggestions are probably a little more relevant in less developed nations than in the US; I don’t know of any scientific evidence (in fact, I’ll go so far as to say to my knowledge, there is no scientific evidence) that suggests there’s any problem with weaning any time after a year. I think it’s pretty normal for babies who are still allowed to nurse between one and two years to do so a few times a day (especially when going to sleep/nap), but increasingly, solids will take the place of daytime nursings. I think it’s AWESOME that you’re still nursing him, btw!

  10. Hannah
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 19:33:15

    Been there done that! 🙂 My son is now 28 months and still nursing. He’s down to 1 nursing session a night though so it’s totally manageable. As another person commented – when I think back to those nights of every 40 minutes for days at a time, this is not bad at all! We’re still quasi co-sleeping, in that my husband and son sleep in our bed and I come in and out. I’m a light sleeper and this seems to improve my sleep quality and reduce T’s wakings. Everyone is different but I’m glad to still be breastfeeding. This was NOT something we planned but it’s been right for us. And while we went through some rough patches, those moments of calm and cuddles now are so precious. I think you’re right on the money about her asking for nay-nays to be her code for a variety of needs. Mine did the same thing at that age. It really meant “I’m thirsty/hungry/sleepy/want some mommy time” and not necessarily that he needed to nurse to be satisfied. As they get older they get better about differentiating those needs and articulating them, but I think they still do it some because they’re saying “hey! This is my favorite thing and would be ideal” but when it’s not a real need, they’re willing to consider alternatives.


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