Sleep Training and Night Weaning a Breastfed, Co-Sleeping Toddler — Part 1

We have sleep problems, as I’ve mentioned before. I’ve been sitting on the fence about sleep training for quite a while, and have been reading Alice’s posts on the topic (like this one) over at Science of Mom. I’m totally convinced that there are good reasons to sleep train W, which include (but are not limited to) these:

1) I have not gotten a full night’s sleep since W was born. There was one night back when she was 5 months old that she actually slept all night long, but it freaked me out so much I spent the night waking every 20 minutes to make sure she was still breathing.

2) She really has no “self-soothing” skills, and she’s old enough now, at nearly 14 months, that I think they might begin to come in handy.

3) I’m sure that the frustration of dealing with our sleep troubles (sometimes we spend 4 hours trying to get 40 minutes worth of nap, and sometimes it takes 3 hours to put her to bed) is affecting how much fun I am the rest of the time.

4) I have to work, so once we take mama’s work time out of the day, and then subtract the “mama and W are fighting about sleep” time, there’s not much day left. And that sucks for both of us, because she is SUCH a fun little toddler.

I read the book Bedtiming, by Drs. Marc D. Lewis and Isabela Granic, and thought it was AMAZING. The book’s bottom line is that it doesn’t matter so much how you sleep train, as when. There are certain developmental windows, they assert (and back up with solid evidence), that lend themselves better to sleep training. Lo and behold, we’re in one of those windows. W is past the first bout of separation anxiety, and is an emotionally stable little trooper for the time being. We have a solid bond. I have no concerns that sleep training her at this point will “damage” her in any way. So yesterday afternoon, I set up a cozy bed for her, nursed her, explained the bed, and told her that mama would sit with her while she went to sleep. She cried. I patted her back, ran my fingers through her hair…she cried. After about an hour, it was clear that she wasn’t going to sleep with me there, so I left. I came back and checked on her periodically. She cried a LOT, but I felt ok about it. It was clear she was mad, not scared, and that made all the difference to me. Long story short, it took us 2.5 hours of crying to achieve a 30-minute nap. Sigh.

Today, I nursed her before nap and once again explained the bed. I put her in, and she started crying. I left for 5 minutes. When I came back to check on her {still crying}, I spoke to her softly and helped her lie back down. I stroked her hair. She sighed, curled up with her bear. Closed her eyes. I stroked her hair for a minute longer. If I’d stayed, stroking and whispering to her, she probably would have gone to sleep. However, I decided that wasn’t going to help us too much, since she’d just wake again 30 minutes later, and would find me gone…and that would be the end of nap. I reasoned that she needed to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I told her I loved her, and left. She started crying. Her crying escalated. I didn’t respond. Finally, she pulled out the big guns: “Mama! Mama! MAMA!” she yelled, sobbing.

That was it for me. I came running, scooped her up, cuddled her. She snuggled against me, sniffling. I sat down on my bed — our bed — the bed she’s slept in with me since she was two days old, and held her. She fell asleep against my chest. SO much harder to sleep train someone who can talk!

So I’m writing this now while she naps in our bed, curled up against my leg. We failed at sleep training for today. Funny thing, though; I don’t feel like a failure. The one previous attempt I made at sleep training (when she was about 10 months old) ended with us both in tears. I felt like a terrible mother for putting her through that. I felt like a terrible mother for failing to stick with it. I worried I’d damaged our relationship. I don’t think any of those things right now. Sure, this afternoon’s nap turned out differently than I’d hoped. And yes, I made a choice that caused my baby to cry — to cry out for me — and I am sad that she was sad. But I know I didn’t damage her.

Do enough reading or surfing the Internet, and you hear really bad things about sleep training. Like that it causes changes in a child’s brain, leads to fear, threatens attachment. None of this is supported by science. In fact, I wonder whether the ones who are most affected by sleep training…are us. The parents. See, if I’d left her in her crib this afternoon, she’d have gone to sleep eventually. She did yesterday, after all. And she would have woken up happy and ready to play, just as she did yesterday. And she would have forgotten the entire thing, just like yesterday.

But I wouldn’t have.

I would have put it out of my mind for the afternoon, and then tonight, while I was trying to go to sleep, I would have replayed it over…and over…and over. Despite knowing I’d done her no harm, and that she was completely fine, I would have heard her cry in my mind hour after hour as the night dragged on. Just like yesterday.

I didn’t pick her up because of her. I picked her up because of me. Because I was done with sleep training for the day. Because while she may be in a “developmentally appropriate” sleep-training window, clearly I’m not quite ready yet.


Have a sleep story to share?




19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. InBabyAttachmode
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 16:59:03

    I don’t have much advice since my baby is only 9 months, but I’ve also never slept more than maybe five hours in a row since he was born. Sometimes I find this very tough but most of the time I can handle it well. I think that’s because my husband and I decided not to discuss it anymore because I found that the daily argument about how to get baby to sleep became more exhausting than baby not sleeping well. So now I nurse him to sleep and lay with him as long as necessary and meanwhile I read blogs on my phone (I’m nursing a sleeping baby as we speak). When he doesn’t want to nap in the day but is obviously tired I put him in a wrap on my back so that I can still do something. I find that this is the path of the least resistant which to me is the easiest (and least tiring) way.


    • SquintMom
      Apr 05, 2012 @ 18:04:39

      This sounds like what I did when W was younger! Wraps were my best friend. Now, though, that doesn’t work for us b/c she doesn’t want to be in a carrier unless we’re out hiking or something, and I can’t use wraps at all (which were best for naps) b/c of my shoulder. 😦


  2. Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 19:41:46

    When T was 9 months he slept from 9-5 for the first time while we were visiting family over Christmas. He continued to do so while we were on vacation. When we came home, I was sure he was able to do all night, and I was ready for it too. I took the same kind of approach: nurse, lay down, soothe, leave, and come back, if needed. It only took a few days before he starting going to sleep on his own with no crying at all. Also, I could tell when he did cry it was more that he was mad at me than hungry, scared, etc. At 12 months there are still times he needs to be rocked completely to sleep, but for the most part he goes down on his own after our nursing routine. He even got to the point at night where he would wave bye-bye to me when he finished nursing. I was totally against CIO when he was young (months old), but I waited until I felt we were both ready. Any chance Bedtiming mentions a window at 9 months?


    • Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
      Apr 05, 2012 @ 19:47:19

      I should clarify that rocking completely to sleep only happens for daytime naps. T is always ready for sleep at night.


    • SquintMom
      Apr 05, 2012 @ 21:19:14

      Well, they say 8-11 mos is generally bad…but they also say that the older the baby, the more variation. 8-11 is generally bad b/c that’s when babies go through their first period of separation anxiety. If T was a little late, you could have caught the tail end of the 5-8 month window, which is supposed to be the absolute BEST.


      • Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
        Apr 05, 2012 @ 21:33:59

        Makes sense. We saw separation anxiety after 10 months.

      • Megyn @ Minimalist Mommi
        Apr 05, 2012 @ 22:09:58

        We got N in his crib (in our room) at about 6 months, and K in his crib (in a separate room) at about 9 months. The process for us was pretty painless. We did do CIO, and it worked in the long run for us. I think what helped is that we did naps in the crib/pack’n’play almost from birth, so they were already familiar with this place being a sleeping place. I also have to admit that once both boys were in their own sleeping space at night, the night wakings decreased significantly. N was sleeping through the night (12 hours) at about 10 months and K around 14 months. In my opinion, I say stay strong! It was painful to hear them cry, but has been the best decision I’ve made (other than early potty training…I can not recommend that enough). What helped me is to go outside in the backyard, so my heart rate and BP didn’t spike from the stress of listening to the crying. Good luck! It’s one of the hardest things!

  3. Jem
    Apr 06, 2012 @ 00:36:04

    14-15 months was the absolute worst for us, after which Isabel started sleeping all by herself (in case that gives you ANY hope).

    I have to admit that I think this obsession with self-soothing is such… well, bollocks. Never even heard of the concept til I started associating with other parents online, despite having helped raise 2 younger brothers, a younger sister, niece, nephew etc. Where did it come from? I’m one of 6 and my mum says she never left us to cry.

    I panicked about “self settling” / “self soothing” with Isabel when she was < 12 months because I knew that I had to go back to work and she would have to go into nursery (daycare) having only ever been boobed to sleep. Some wise ladies told me not to worry. (I carried on worrying but ultimately did nothing about it.) That first day at nursery she got tired, and what did she do? Walked to a baby bouncer clutching her chosen blanket, climbed in, pulled the blanket over herself and went to sleep.

    I’m not an expert on sleep – I certainly don’t think babysitting a few littlies and having one child gives me much footing to pretend I am – but I still think there are better approaches to helping the transition to independent sleep and I really wish forced crying were the last resort, rather than the first. 😦


    • SquintMom
      Apr 09, 2012 @ 14:14:09

      I suspect for many mothers, “forced crying” IS the last resort. I certainly know it is/will be in my case.

      Also, W cries IN MY ARMS for sometimes as much as an hour before going to sleep. If letting her cry for an hour or two for a few days ends the crying (and as an update, it appears to be doing so), isn’t that ultimately better for everyone than holding her while she sobs and screams for an hour Every. Single. Night?


      • Jem
        Apr 15, 2012 @ 13:10:27

        Was that question rhetorical? ‘Cause at the end of the day, only you – in your situation, with your baby – can answer it. I can preach about not leaving my bab[y/ies] to cry and tell you what I did, what we went through, but you’re not me and I’m not you. You have to work with your situation.

      • SquintMom
        Apr 15, 2012 @ 13:28:01

        Yes, it was a rhetorical question. Since no mother can know another mother’s situation (or child), I have a tough time with how commonly women cast aspersions upon the sleep training methods (or lack thereof) used by other women. I don’t think anyone wants to hear their baby cry. Even a mom who sleep trains early doesn’t do it because she is thinking to herself, “Gosh, there’s nothing I’d like better right now than to hear my baby scream.” As such, while “last resort” means different things to different people, and has a different threshold for different mothers, I believe “forced” (don’t like that term) crying IS a last resort…for everyone who uses it.

        Anyway, the point I was trying to make with the rhetorical question was that “forced” is a very relative term, with regard to crying. If a baby cries regardless (in arms or in crib), is it really “forced” crying to put her in her crib?

      • Jem
        Apr 16, 2012 @ 00:24:15

        The stories I’ve read on parenting forums about CIO done on babies as young as 24 hours old don’t tally with what you’re saying – but I like to think that these children, these parents, are in the minority.

        Certainly, irrelevant on whether or not we agree that all parents choose CIO as a last resort, there is a world of difference between leaving a newborn to cry until it vomits all over itself (oh, that means the baby is “manipulating” mum/dad btw) and leaving a 12+ month old for 5 minutes at a time.

      • SquintMom
        Apr 16, 2012 @ 07:04:30

        Totally agree that it’s critical to respond to a newborn’s cries. As to the moms who leave newborns crying, though (or who use CIO as their first strategy for sleep training), I guess I believe (maybe naively?) that they are convinced by others and/or books that they HAVE to. That if they don’t, the baby won’t ever sleep well, etc. In that sense, it’s a first AND last resort. But maybe I have too much faith in the world. 😉

  4. theadequatemother
    Apr 08, 2012 @ 17:29:35

    I agree with your premise that sleep training is harder on us than it is on our kids!

    I trained mine at about 4 months for naps…out of desperation cos nothing was working anymore. Not rocking. Not nursing. Not cuddling. Not singing. Not car rides. Not the stroller. Not the carrier. He’d just eventually pass out from sheer exhaustion.

    The first week was the hardest…but there was some struggle for about a month (mostly on my end). This is what I learned:

    1) It became my impression that sleep and self-soothing are learned behaviours. Gradually, my kid started to associated being tired and being placed in his crib, after our little pre-nap ritual, with falling asleep. Now if he’s super tired he cries until I lay him down…then he relaxes and sinks himself into the mattress. But it took us a few months to get to this place.

    2) Because I did it early and my son didn’t have a sleep debt, there wasn’t that much crying. If I got him in his crib in line with his circadian rhythms when he was tired (the “wave” of sleepiness) he would fall asleep in a few minutes. There seems to be an association in some people’s minds with sleep training and long long long crying spells. I had some long crying spells – but they were my own fault for trying to put him down undertired or overtired. When I got it right, he’d be asleep in 5-10 minutes. It was actually a bit of work and a bit of sacrifice to do that – lots of staying at home and watching for sleepy signs and a really steep learning curve. Did I mention I stayed at home a lot?

    I can only imagine that sleep training a toddler will be more difficult…but maybe not more difficult than anything else you will have to teach her. You are already making progress…she fell asleep by herself, in her own bed. That’s great!

    Some days you will feel like allowing more crying, other days not…that’s okay. You’re working towards a goal and teaching a skill and the journey needs to be sort of pleasant. Don’t turn yourself inside out and don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll get there. Remember, you’re learning too…you are learning to sleep train while she is learning to sleep. You’re allowed to have a few false starts, some modification of technique and periodic re-evaluations.


  5. Chris
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:47:53

    It took us forever to get our little girl on a regular schedule. She had some issues with being collically and the doctor told us that was the cause.


  6. Catherine V
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 09:04:39

    Just this week, we are working on night-weaning our 11-month old. She slept in a co-sleeper then transitioned to a pack n play in our room — right when she started teething. The night-wakings became unbearable, so we brought her to bed. She’s been co-sleeping with us since she was 8 months. She’s always been a rather poor sleeper, and it’s only gotten worse, as she still wants to nurse every 1.5-2 hours with a lazy latch (ie painful breasts by morning). It was exhausting, but I also can’t do the CIO. Starting this past Tuesday night, we basically went cold-turkey of no night nursing. I’d previously tried stretching out the amount of time between nursings, but that seemed really confusing to her, so I decided that no nursing at all was pretty cut and dried. It does make me a little sad, as I wouldn’t mind nursing a bit at night, just not every darn hour or two. 😦 So, we’ve survived three nights so far, and she is still waking up every two hours. Most of the time, we can just let her roll around and fuss and she goes back to sleep until two hours later. Last night, she fussed for an hour and I finally caved and nursed her at 2a. Anyhow, it’s helpful to see what other mothers are struggling with and what solutions seem to end up working for them — or at least to just know that I’m not alone and than my sweet babe will someday give me more than 1.5-hours of sleep at a time. I can count on one hand the number of 4-hr stretches we have gotten to sleep since she was born. yawn.


    • SquintMom
      Jun 01, 2012 @ 10:50:30

      Hang in there, mama. And you’re right…sometimes just knowing you’re not alone helps you get through another night.


  7. Buzz
    Oct 20, 2012 @ 03:35:30

    I feel somewhat better after reading all the Momma posts out there about sleep for both momma and baby, but I’m still beating myself up about what to do. I’ve been co-sleeping with my little one since she was about 3 months old. I thought CIO sounded terrible and I’m still not 100% about it since I tried it for nap and she cried for 45 minutes till I picked her up and then she passed out. Then tried at night and she cried for 3 hours (as i sang to her..basically did everything…) Finally I thought this isn’t right for her…obviously, since she cried for 3 hours! So i told her we’re not nursing and put her in my bed. Fussed for two minutes and passed out. This is a child who has nursed to sleep since birth and she’s now almost 17 months old. Don’t get me wrong I’m a firm believer in nursing and co-sleeping, but now I’m all confused about what to do. Will she ever sleep alone? Am I confusing her by letting her CIO and then picking her up? I can’t go back to nursing throughout the night because I have to go back to work in 3 months and need a full nights sleep!
    I’m the kind of person who freaks out when they don’t get immediate results, so I’m so lost with this whole sleep training thing. HELP!
    Also, I’m generally a happy person. I’m not so happy right now. This sleep training pressure is making me resentful towards my own daughter. I’m a terrible mother 😦


    • SquintMom
      Oct 20, 2012 @ 07:30:08

      Oh, my. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I completely understand the dueling desires to get some real sleep (so you let your daughter CIO) and to respond to her cries (so you pick her up). I have only two pieces of advice, for what they’re worth. First, let go of the notion that you’ll get immediate results with sleep training (or, really, with anything parenting-related). Building a human is a work in progress, whether with regard to physical development or emotional/mental development. Second, read the book “The No-Cry Sleep Solution.” It has some good ideas in it, and it really helps to solidify the notion that sleep is a work in progress. Out of curiosity, what are you ultimate sleep goals (for right now)? Do you want her out of your bed? In your bed but not nursing? How often does she nurse at night?


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