Sleep Training and Night Weaning a Breastfed, Co-Sleeping Toddler — Part 2

If it's called "co-sleeping," why isn't there room for anyone else in this bed?

Recently, I’ve blogged about my experience beginning sleep training with W. It’s been a week, and we’ve had both ups and downs, so I thought I’d post on our progress thus far.

After the totally failed attempt to get W to sleep in her crib (in honesty, it’s a pack ‘n’ play) last Thursday afternoon, I didn’t even try on Thursday night. Instead, I cuddled her in bed, and then lay her down next to me. She couldn’t seem to settle, though, so eventually I got up and put her in her crib and rubbed her back. Very few tears, very little fuss. She went to sleep and stayed that way until about 2 am, at which point she woke and I brought her into bed with me, where she slept until 5 and asked to nurse…but I made her wait until 6.

We were visiting relatives over the weekend, and she categorically refused to sleep in the pack ‘n’ play that I brought from home, so we took a giant step backward.

Consequently, Monday nap was really rough; lots of crying and carrying on. I took her out of the crib and tried to get her to nap in bed, but she just crawled around all over the place and wouldn’t settle. The fact that naps (or at least, getting naps started) can drag out into an hours-long process that is emotionally exhausting (for both of us) and that I don’t have time for is one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to get her moved into a crib for nap. I don’t care whether she sleeps in a crib at night or not — I am happy to have her in bed with me — I just need naps to be enforceable. Anyway, after totally failing to get her to sleep in our bed for Monday’s nap, I put her back in the crib and left the room for five minutes. She cried, of course. When I came back, I helped her lie down and rubbed her back, and she went right to sleep.

While she was sleeping, I did a little thinking about my goals with sleep training and how to achieve them. I decided my major goals are:

  • To get her to go down for a nap — or at least quiet time — by herself (that is to say, without me having to hold her the entire time) and in a relatively timely fashion each day
  • To night wean her (no nursing from the time she goes to bed until 6 am)
  • To make sure that none of this ever seems punitive to her

With that in mind, I realized that the business (as on Monday) of taking her out of the crib, bringing her into bed, and then putting her back in the crib would have to stop. No matter how I try to hide it, I suspect she can feel my frustration in this situation, and I don’t want her to think she’s being put in the crib as a punishment. Therefore, I decided that New Rule #1 is that she goes down for a nap in her crib every day. If she wakes up partway through her nap and it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get her back down, I will go ahead and lay down with her in our bed, but she starts the nap — that is to say, falls asleep — in her crib.

To help reinforce the idea that the crib is her personal sleep area, I decided that New Rule #2 is that she starts each night in the crib. If (when) she wakes partway through the night, I will bring her into bed with me, but she starts the night on her own.

I want to make things as easy as possible on her (and me) emotionally, so New Rule #3 is that after we do our pre-nap or pre-bed routine (nurse, cuddle, and so forth), I lay her down in the crib and sit in a chair next to it, rubbing her back. The last few days, this has been sufficient to get her to sleep about 50% of the time for nap, and 100% of the time for bed.

On the days that rubbing her back for 10-15 minutes doesn’t work to get her down for nap (she’s too wound up, despite being tired, or she keeps standing up), I have been leaving the room for five minutes. This is not done in a punitive way; I basically say something like Sweetie, it seems like you’re having a hard time relaxing. I’m going to leave for a while and let you get settled. I’ll be back in five minutes. Leaving BEFORE I get frustrated keeps the frustration out of my voice. She cries when I leave, but with only one exception, as soon as I’ve come back in the room, she’s let me help her lay down and she’s gone right to sleep. It makes me wonder if some days, she just needs the emotional release of crying.*

*I know there will be those of you who wonder whether she couldn’t just cry with me in the room if she does, in fact, need the release of crying, so as to avoid the “trauma” of me leaving. First off, I’m simply not convinced that walking out of the room for five minutes is traumatic to a 14-month-old. Second, though, I’ve tried that. When I’m in the room, she’ll sob for an hour or more on the days she’s having trouble sleeping. If I leave for five minutes, she cries for five minutes, but then settles AS SOON as I come back in. I’m sorry, but I just can’t be made to believe that an hour of sobbing with me present (and comforting her with words and back rubbing, but refusing to pick her up despite her pleas) is superior to five minutes of her crying with me out of the room, followed by complete relaxation and SLEEP.

The one time leaving the room for five minutes didn’t work and she still couldn’t settle, I picked her up and rocked her for a while, then lay her back down…and she was fine. So New Rule #4 is that there are no hard and fast rules about HOW she goes to sleep, only about WHERE she goes to sleep. If she needs to get out of the crib and cuddle more, that’s ok. If she needs more back rubbing one day, and none the next, that’s ok. This rule has been the most important one so far, because it makes sure I’m consistent about getting her to sleep in her crib, but allows me to use different techniques to help ease her into sleep, so it’s reduced emotional trauma (for both of us) while encouraging continued progression with our sleep training.

For the last few days, this has been going pretty well. It seems like the night weaning is almost taking care of itself; she’s been sleeping until about 2 am in her crib, which has completely eliminated the requests to nurse between bedtime and 2. When she wakes at 2, she finds it so relaxing to snuggle next to me in bed that even though she’ll ask to nurse, she falls asleep easily without actually nursing. She’s been waking at around 5 asking to nurse, but I’ve been making her wait until 6, and I’m hoping that she’ll get that figured out eventually.


Any comments, questions, or suggestions?




13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alice Callahan
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 10:19:08

    It’s great to hear what this process actually looks like in your family and how you’ve defined your priorities. I think it’s brilliant. I think it is really helpful to set some rules for yourself so that you can remain consistent, because that is probably the #1 thing you can do to make the process easier for W. But it is awesome that you made your own rules and did that thoughtfully, based on your child, your experience, your goals, rather than trying to follow someone else’s rules and then cursing sleep training when it doesn’t work for you. Your plan sounds totally reasonable and I agree with you that leaving for a few minutes can really help release tension around the nap. I don’t have a good explanation for it, but we have had the EXACT same experience. If I was determined to stay in the room with her, she wouldnt settle at all, but if I left for 5 and then returned to soothe her, she was suddenly ready to sleep. And gosh, that sleep is so valuable for everyone. We are in a good groove now, 2-3 hour naps with no crying, and it feels so healthy*. You’re on your way to seeing big improvements, I’m positive, and I hope you keep sharing your progress! (*What’s really ironic is that BabyC has been nursing to sleep for naps lately, something we never used to do. Honestly, I really enjoy it now, but I think it works for her now because she knows how to sleep alone. She may wake a little when I set her down, but she snuggles down in her bed and happy nap commences:)


  2. theadequatemother
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 10:28:57

    I think you’re bang on too! Parents have to set rules and limits for their kids and sleep is no exception. It sounds like your rules fit your goals and family and your emotions around sleep training (no internal conflict) which will allow you to be consistent and that will allow W to learn faster.

    Good luck!


    • SquintMom
      Apr 14, 2012 @ 16:15:05

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. Feeling really bummed right at this particular moment; we had a terrible time getting nap started this afternoon, and now she’s sleeping, but sniffling to herself in her sleep. Sigh.


  3. Cal
    Apr 14, 2012 @ 19:17:21

    I am right there with you! Swap boy for girl, 15 month for 14 month and we are in the same boat. No tips, just kind of trying to tackle each day at a time. But I do sympathize!


  4. Annie
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 16:49:05

    You just commented on my blog as I was about to comment on yours! The hardest part for me dealing with a troubled sleeper toddler is that is seems like all the other moms are so far past this while I’m still struggling to get a decent five hours at night. But we are not alone! I think you are right that consistency is key. And some kids just aren’t cut out for the no-cry approach. BELIEVE ME – I have seriously, seriously tried. It’s hard emotionally though, so like I said in my post, I needed a friend who I could talk to about it every single day and who would hold me to my goals. Without that, I’m a big pile of mush and am never successful.


    • SquintMom
      Apr 15, 2012 @ 19:25:36

      Yeah, I think I probably need a sleep buddy! As I write this, I’m doing my first night of “real” Ferber(ish) sleep teaching. If I try to stay with her, she just cries and cries…so I’m doing a 3, 5, 10 interval approach. It sucks.

      However, I had a total “aha” moment while reading an article earlier today. There really *isn’t* a way to do absolute no-cry sleep teaching (I like that word better than training) with a toddler. W really likes being rocked, patted, held while she falls asleep. As that stops, she will experience a loss. She will grieve that loss. She will cry. I wish I could shield her from the grief, from the loss, but I can’t. Learning to sleep on one’s own is one of life’s developmental steps. No matter when she learns to sleep on her own, she will experience growth, but she will ALSO experience loss. It is inevitable. I can’t (and shouldn’t) try to keep her from grieving. I can, however, connect with empathy and help her grieve.

      Put more simply, it’s not my job to SHIELD her. It is my job to HELP her. And that’s what I’m trying to do tonight. Thanks for commenting. I loved your blog, by the way. Will be doing much more reading on it in coming days!


      • Annie
        Apr 17, 2012 @ 07:47:20

        Oh I so wish I had you to rain down your wisdom on me when I was going through sleep training. You are so right that learning to do anything for a child can be hard and frustrating, but that doesn’t keep us from helping them do it. It’s not like I gave up letting him learn to walk every time he fell on his head and cried. It’s a process and we just do whatever we can to offer them comfort as they make their way through it. And thanks for reading my blog!!

  5. Jem
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 09:18:05

    How’s it going? Had a crap night’s sleep last night and chuckled as I thought of you 🙂


  6. Sarah
    Aug 03, 2012 @ 09:40:15

    Would love to hear the update for how your efforts turned out. We’re in the exact same position now with our 13.5 month old daughter, and I’m dreading sleep teaching her, but at the same time feeling we’ve reached a breaking point where it’s necessary for everyone’s sanity.


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