The Big Sleep Post, part 2.

February 27, 2017

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If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, I insist you go back and start at the beginning.

When we left off, I had transitioned Joan from baby-wearing, to napping in a bed without me. We were also feeding a lot less during the day. Everything was going really well, but we still needed to address the night stuff.

NIGHT WEANING

Offering Joan breastmilk when she woke overnight had been an easy and effective way to keep us all happy and well-rested. Until it wasn’t. Somewhere around the 10th month of her life, Joan began waking more and more, and by the time she was 13 months, she was sometimes waking every hour. And it was different to when she woke due to developmental leaps or teething, she appeared to be waking out of habit. We were exhausted, and I knew that Joan needed better rest, too, so I spoke to friends who were going through (or had already gone through) similar things, which is how I came across Dr Jay Gordon’s recommendations for night weaning babies over the age of 1 (side note: this guy is pro co-sleeping, which is rad, but he’s also anti some vaccinations, which is not how I feel). I showed the article to Ben and we agreed to try it in December, when Joan would be just over 15 months old. I insisted that Ben take some time off work or work from home, as I expected we would be up for hours in the middle of the night, and I didn’t want him driving into work excessively tired. I also didn’t want to do it alone, and assumed he would need to take over the role of comforter, as I worried Joan may not be able to separate me from milk. You can read more about the process Dr Jay Gordon recommends via this link, but essentially you select a 7hour period where you won’t offer milk (we chose 10pm-5am), and either side of that you feed as much as you want. Over 10 days, you gradually do different things when bubba wakes. For the first three nights, you still feed them when they wake, however you remove the breast before they nod off completely, so that they begin to get used to falling asleep without it. After that, you don’t offer them milk when they wake, instead you pick them up/rock them if they need comfort. Three days after that change, you don’t get out of bed when they wake, you just pat their back or verbally tell them it’s time to sleep. Eventually, they start waking less (what’s the point without milk, right?!) and when they do wake, they are used to falling asleep without the breast. There’s a reason Dr Jay Gordon suggest waiting until babies are older and ready, as they are very secure and it is easier to comfort them in other ways. As he says, they may be upset and annoyed when you don’t give them milk, but they’re not distressed. They just need some time to learn the new routine. I still worried, however, that Joan would be distressed if I refused milk, and I knew in my gut that if she was, I would give it to her and wait a couple of months before trying again.

When the first evening of “no milk when they wake” arrived, I fed Joan to sleep as usual and then cried in Ben’s arms. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding, but I also really wanted to stop. My gut was telling me two things, and I just had to accept my dichotomous feelings and go with what felt most right, which was to transition. It was hard. And when Joan woke and I said “no milk now bubba, it’s time to sleep”, she cried. But it wasn’t how I feared it would be. She wasn’t wailing for me and desperately screaming “MUUUUMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”, it was more of a grizzle, like she was pissed of with us in an “Oh, come ON?!” kind of way. Ben picked her up straight away, and she instantly fell asleep in his arms. Joan woke a number of times that night, and Ben rocked her back to sleep every time with ease. The following night she woke around midnight and we did the same thing, but after that she only woke once more before 5am (her golden hour to drink milk and hang out on the boob as long as she wanted). The next night, we didn’t even get out of bed to rock Joan, we just patted her back and she fell asleep. Each night, we went to sleep anticipating a lot of tears, but they just didn’t come. Though there was certainly grizzling, and on a few occasions Joan cried loud and hard, which hurt my heart. This happened when we had been awake for some time, attempting to sing Joan back to sleep while patting her back. Bubba would get close to falling asleep, but not quite there. She was frustrated and tired and lost it. The thing that stopped her tears was Ben offering to pick her up. As soon as we said, “Joan, sweetheart, did you want Daddy to rock you to sleep?”, she climbed into my arms and settled. Joan loves Ben, clearly, but there’s nothing like mumma magic to comfort her at night, and the thought of Ben taking her away from me was enough to make her content with being in my arms, and we would fall asleep snuggling. Day by day, Joan started waking less. Ben and I don’t have particularly good singing voices and she wasn’t having milk, so she started sleeping for longer blocks, which meant that we were, too. We never got to the sleeping-through-the-night stage, because Joan is a normal human who wakes for various reasons throughout the night. These days she will wake anywhere from 2 to 5 times, twice if it’s a normal night, more if she’s going through something developmentally or is unwell. But now, when bubba wakes, she generally won’t need us to do anything. Sometimes we may say, “It’s still night time, Bubba”, and she’ll go back to sleep, and if she grizzles, I may need to bring her to me and snuggle, but that’s cool. I’m savouring the cuddles before we transition Joan to her own bed in her own room, which I expect we’ll do at some point in the next 6 months. We bought a single bed frame from IKEA and have cut the legs off so it’s close to the ground, so that if she wakes and rolls, she won’t go far (and we’ll put the bed rail up, too). We will start with day naps in her big bed (update: we had our first one yesterday! She was so excited, squealing, “Beddy!!!!”), before tackling the night transition. And because I hope to fall pregnant in the future and don’t fancy 4 people in my bed (at least not in the beginning when bubba is small), if Joan wakes up and needs one of us, rather than bring her into our bed, one of us will go to her (and snuggle all night long if we have to). That’s the plan. I’m not quite ready for this stage to end, though. Lately, when Joan wakes during the night she will call out for me, “Mumma?!”. “I’m here, sweetheart”, I reply, and she’ll fall back to sleep. Hearing my voice is all she needs. It is the sweetest thing and I will miss it dearly.

CUTTING THE MORNING FEED

For our family, sleep and breastfeeding went hand in hand, so I cannot end this post without finishing our weaning story. At this stage Joan was 16 months old, and for a few weeks had been feeding just twice a day – first thing in the morning (at 5 or 6am) and before bed. I ummed and ahhhed about whether to cut the morning or evening feed first. Joan was loving her morning breastmilk, yet in the evening she would constantly pull away while feeding, shaking her head before going back on, only to stop and shake her head again. It was weird. I wondered whether the hormonal shift I was sensing could be altering my breastmilk…perhaps Joan wasn’t digging the new flavour? I asked friends whether they had experienced something similar, and some had. One smart girlfriend told me to taste it (duh!) and indeed the milk did taste different from the early days (have you ever tasted breastmilk? It is so SWEET). Whatever the reason, I decided that even though she wasn’t loving the night feed, we would cut the morning feed first. Ben was about to travel for work and I didn’t fancy removing the magic sleep balm that is breastfeeding. It was still Joan’s primary sleep association at a time of day when I am generally tired and want an easy fix to get her to sleep, so I decided to make it easier on myself. Sometimes my gut tells me to put myself first, and I’m cool with that. I knew I would need to gear up for this transition, as bubba would certainly be hungry and thirsty when she woke. Joan was used to blissing out while drinking milk and snoozing for another hour in a dreamy, milked-up daze. And so, in the hope of making the transition as pleasant as possible, I purchased her favourite yoghurt and a box of our beloved Medjool dates. If not milk, she’d have the next best thing. I also cooked a big batch of banana pancakes the weekend before we started, in case she wanted something more substantial. The night before we were stopping the morning feed, I made sure to go to bed early, anticipating that I would need to be on my game at 5am, and indeed, Joan woke around that time wanting milk. Over the previous days, I had explained what would be happening, but naturally she was tired and thirsty and wanted milk because that’s what we did. So she cried. It was hard. Ben darted to the kitchen and came back with food, which thankfully stopped the tears. Joan ate yoghurt and sipped water in bed, and appeared to find the whole exercise rather amusing, looking back and forth between us with a smile that said, “Ha! This is funny and delicious.” Oh, and we only turned the gentle salt lamps on, in an effort to remind her that it was still night-time. When she had eaten enough, however, she remembered that she was still tired and not snoozing on the boob, so she cried. I tried to get her to go back to sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen, so we got up and ate pancakes, followed by an early nap. The next day was harder. Joan woke just after 4am wanting milk, and kept crying for it. We always have water by the bed but she wasn’t interested, and yoghurt had lost its appeal. Thankfully she was thrilled to eat a date and eventually had some water, and was happy cuddling in bed while I sang. But Bubba couldn’t fall back to sleep – she was out of routine and confused, and so the tears returned. It was 5am at this point, so I strapped her into the ergo carrier and headed outside. Thirty minutes in, she fell asleep peacefully, and I enjoyed a long walk in the dawn light, while listening to podcasts and dreaming of coffee. The same thing happened over the next 3 days: a 4/4:30am wake up, followed by a snack in bed and an attempt at falling back to sleep, before eventually heading out for a long, early morning walk so bubba could continue sleeping. I did a lot of walking and drank a lot of coffee that week. But then Joan started falling back to sleep after her 4am snack…and then the 4am snack became a 5am snack…and then she stopped waking for a snack at all, and would sleep until 6-6:30ish, which is her usual wake-up time. That’s where we are now. Occasional Joan will wake for water throughout the night or around 5ish, but she’ll generally go back to sleep.

The entire morning transition took just over a week, and the first half was probably the hardest part of this whole sleep/weaning process. Around this time, Joan had started having the odd meltdown. Typical toddler stuff, like when we had to close the fridge because we’d finished packing away the shopping but she wanted to keep playing. I knew that having and expressing intense feelings was normal, but I also knew it could be a result of weaning (it was a big change for bubba), and so a few days into the morning weaning process, while talking to my mum in the middle of a school fete, I had a mini meltdown myself. I was worried that by removing her comfort and refusing to give her milk, I was damaging her sense of trust in the world. I was exhausted and conflicted. But, I’m a talker (clearly), and speaking with my mum helped me clear my head and see that Joan didn’t act this way when I cut the midday feed, and that this toddler behaviour was already starting to happen before we weaned. And even if this change was causing her to have these feelings, Joan was very secure and knew she was loved, and I needed to allow her time to adjust to this transition without projecting my fears onto the situation. So I gave myself grace and reminded myself that Joan being cranky at 4am is not surprising, and she was likely overtired in general. Then, in terms of the toddler feelings stuff, I re-listened to a bunch of Janet Lansbury, which always makes me feel confident in how to communicate with Joan and practice empathy. Because growing a brain is a big deal.

Ooomf. Feelings.

BYE-BYE

Cutting the night feed was easier. About a week and a half after I stopped giving Joan breastmilk in the morning, Ben and I attended a wedding. My parents looked after Joan at our home, and she fell asleep without milk (while mum and dad drove around the neighbourhood), and so I decided to continue from that point. I felt it would be easier on Joan AND my breasts to not offer it again. I’ll quickly notes that in term of how my breasts adjusted, it was a mixed bag. The left one was totally fine, even though that was the one I had a mild case of mastitis with during my initial attempt to space out feeds last year. The right one, however, became very engorged. I’m not an expert, so please contact the ABA for personalised advice, but I managed this by lots of hot showers and massaging my breasts. I also expressed tiny amounts when I really needed to relieve some of the pressure. I was still quite full 6 days after stopping, which concerned me, but then, almost suddenly, it got better, and now they’re back to normal. Well, that’s not true. They’re tiny. Boy, do our bodies changes when we have babies. Our body shape, our weight, sagging skin, stretch marks… even our insides are different. And of course they are! Growing a baby, giving birth and feeding a baby with your body is no joke. More than ever, I am proud of my body and appreciate what it can do.

Some people say you don’t know when your last breastfeed will happen, that you will suddenly realise your last feed was in fact your last one after it has already passed…but I knew. It was a bittersweet moment that will be forever burned in my heart. The act of feeding your baby to sleep is so often discouraged, however watching my baby drift off to sleep in this way, feeling so safe and content, turned out to be one of my favourite parts of mothering a small child. I had explained to Joan, while we were playing on the floor the morning after the wedding, that we weren’t going to be having “milk from mumma” anymore. I said that we would be saying “Bye-bye” to the boobies and having special things like smoothies instead, plus lots of cuddles and songs (p.s. I never planned on calling breasts “boobies” in front of Joan, as to me it sounds as though I’m a giggling, 12-year-old boy, but Joan started saying “boobies” and she sounded so darn cute that we now totally encourage it). In the afternoon I mentioned once more that we wouldn’t be having mumma’s milk anymore and Joan looked at my chest and said “Bye-bye”. At bedtime, I made her a smoothie and explained that we would be having this instead of my milk (read the start of this post for more info on Joan’s drink and what cup/straw we use). We brought the smoothie into our bedroom and sat on the bed, drinking and reading books. While sipping, Joan said “Bye-bye” to my chest a couple of times without prompting, which gave me hope that she would be ok. She was also hugging her toy fox that I had brought out earlier in the day during one of my toy rotations. It had been months since she’d seen Foxey, and all day she hadn’t let him out of her sight. Previously no toy, blanket or shirt was of comfort to Joan at bedtime, but now that she was transitioning away from me as her sole comforter, I thought Foxey might be the perfect sleeping pal. After a few books, bubba was sleepy and told me she wanted to lie down (Joan makes a “shhhh” symbol with her finger to tell us she wants to sleep. She started doing this suddenly around 14 months, after I went “Shhhh” while reading a book that had a sleeping baby in it). We put the smoothie and books away, and lay out heads down on the bed. I sung songs and patted her back and hoped the shit wasn’t about to hit the fan. Joan wriggled around and occasionally sat up, and I’d just lay her back down and keep singing or start a new song. After fifteen minutes, bubba was moving around less and her eyes grew heavier. I kept singing and patting her back, and soon after, she fell asleep with Foxy in her arms. She didn’t reach for my chest once. I walked into the kitchen and cried in Ben’s arms, feeling overwhelmingly grateful that Joan seemed to be ok with saying goodbye to breastfeeding. I think we got lucky with how that played out.

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Smoothie before bed. Living the good life, baby girl.

 

The second night took longer. I had to sing a bunch of different songs for almost an hour and at one point, Joan grizzled and reached for my chest. I said, “No more milk, bubba. Would you like some smoothie?”, but she shook her head and moved into a different position, so I kept on singing, and eventually she fell asleep. And now, smoothies and books and songs are our new normal. Joan reached for milk perhaps one other time that week out of a reflex, but I remained consistent and loving and it wasn’t a big deal. What IS a big deal, is my serious lack of songs. Joan is a tough critic, and I’m honestly struggling to find songs that effectively lull her to sleep (unless she’s SUPER ready to konk out, then she’ll take anything). Mid-song, Joan will often tell me “No!”, and I change it up, or she’ll ask me to incorporate her loved ones names by saying “Harvey” or “KK”, and I end up singing the most random songs to help her tune out her busy mind. Lately I’ve been singing the alphabet in German, but last night she wasn’t into it. This will all change, I am sure, as we transition Joan into her bed. Over time she will need less and less assistance. But compared to how things used to be, gee whiz, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Before we weaned, I was worried about losing my breastfeeding bond with Joan. During our final feed, I quietly cried while cuddling my babe, and told her through song how lovely and special it had been, assuring her (myself, really) that we would do many lovely and special things together in the future. But, to my surprise, it’s been fine. We just don’t have breastmilk anymore. Now I savour new moments, like how Joan sits on my lap to drink her smoothie and read books before bed…and how most nights, she falls asleep with her arm around my neck… and how in the morning, bubba will search for me, wrap her arm around my neck again and nuzzle into my pillow with our heads touching. There will be more changes in our future, as Joan grows and life happens and our family also grows. There will be new moments to savour and no doubt new sleep challenges. We haven’t reach any end point, Joan hasn’t “learnt” to sleep through the night because it doesn’t seem to be in her makeup to do so at the moment. Maybe when she moves into her own bed, she will. Or maybe she will wake more. Whatever happens, I know that we have built a safe and loving foundation for Joan, and I am proud of that. Next time, I won’t worry about encouraging “bad habits”. I will surrender to my baby’s needs with patience, respect and empathy, and I will call on loved ones for support and strong coffee when I need it. And I will unabashedly follow my intuition, because that, I have learnt, is the way to keep our family content.

 

Heidi xo

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21 Comments

  • Reply Lauretta February 27, 2017 at 10:16 am

    So beautiful Heidi, Joan is just so lucky to have such a wise, loving and intuitive mum and dad. I’m lying here feeding with tears in my eyes, well done for all that you gave of yourself to be and so what your little one needs and needed, thank you so much for sharing, as always you bring so much positivity and light in an area that is so full of questions and uncertainty, I’ve come to learn that as you said trust your intuition and what your baby needs, that’s the only ‘book’ you need. Xx

    • Reply Heidi February 27, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Thank you so much, Lauretta. What beautiful, kind words. Much love to you and your lucky babe x

  • Reply Marian Wiltshire February 27, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Oh Heidi- so beautifully put. It is hard not to feel like something is drastically wrong when your baby doesn’t sleep through the night. I know I felt that at times when our girls wouldn’t sleep independently. Didn’t help when people like my mother would say things like “you never slept in my bed”. Yikes. But neither Rob and I were going to put our twin girls down when they were upset and needed us as comfort. A lot of your early and later sleep experiences are very familiar!! Buy you know what, everyone’s story is different. Our babies’ cries broke my heart during our 4 month NICU stay. I can remember sobbing, with my head pressed against the plastic of their humidcrib, my hand through one of the little doors laying on their backs (prem babies like constant pressure rather than stroking), as they would still cry (loudly too for such a small baby). I can only imagine how strange their environment was, and no doubt they were probably in some pain and/or discomfort with all the intervention needed to keep them alive. I remember feeling like a terrible failure as a new Mother, as I couldn’t comfort them. When they finally came home, and breastfeeding and snuggling soothed them to sleep, of course we were going to keep doing that! My god we were tired. Although not having to work was ok for me! The long term waking up cycles were a bit harder once we had weaned, and we still co-sleep. One day they won’t need us to comfort them, or just be there for security. But now isn’t the time. As long as we are all getting some sleep than that is all that matters.
    Thank you again for writing this, as a new mother such as myself would love to read that not all babies are going to happily sleep in their cot or bed!

    • Reply Heidi March 19, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      Oh Marian, I cannot even begin to imagine how hard the NICU days were. Thank you for your beautiful, thoughtful comment x

  • Reply Ros February 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing your journey with sleep and feeding. It makes me think a lot about my own. Everyone is so different but I think so long as we trust our gut we can’t go wrong. I think at the start it’s all about the primal needs of being fed and being close to mum. Given that, I think that advice given to you early on was not particularly helpul at that stage (though it could for some people who needed to return to work quickly) so it’s great that you trusted your gut and went with what worked for you. Honestly, I don’t actually know of any babies who just went down in the cot and would fall asleep especially not within the first 4 to 5 months. As newborns mine always needed comfort and preferred sleeping on me, feeding to sleep or being rocked to sleep while walking in the pram or by being worn in the sling. And different times of the day were different. Some mornings they would stay asleep in the pram when I stopped but afternoons were impossible unless they were in the sling or in my arms. So that’s what I did and fortunately I could.

    In my experience good sleep habits are like eating and walking, they need to be learned and practiced and we can definitely help our bubbas in that regard like having a good night routine and sleep cues. I knew that that co-sleeping wasn’t for us (due to work and personal preference) so I preferred to take a more structured approach to independent sleeping once they were past newborn stage and thankfully they both responded well to sleeping in their own space. There have since been times when miss age 2 now has woken up through that night and I’ve picked her up for a quick cuddle and as I’m there gazing at her cherishing the moment she has opened her eyes and said “cot” because she wants me to put her back down in her own space to sleep lol

    I was too was bittersweet about the last feed with my second bub. With the first I didnt really think about it. He reached 12 months and I thought ok, we’ll finish the morning feed now and that was it, he forgot about it pretty quick. With my second I was way more emotional and she loved feeding too. We were only doing a morning feed by 12 months but it was the best part of our day so we continued to 18 months and I knew then it was just a bonding and routine experience rather than actual nutrition so decided to stop and bond in other ways. Now at 2 she will still occasional ask for it when she’s upset, clearly the memory of a female 🙂

    Anyway, great post and great job mumma! You are clearly a loving and dedicated mum and what a lucky bubba Joan is to have you. Thanks for sharing so much about your experience x

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful comment, Ros. You’re so right about trusting your gut. It sounds like you knew what you needed to keep everyone happy, which is wonderful. And yesssss the feeding thing can be so emotional!! x

  • Reply Jing February 27, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you again for such a refreshing post on baby sleep.
    I’m writing this as bubs is using my belly as her pillow. But I’m her pillow and not her bed like I was a fortnight ago…or her walking cradle like I was many months ago. Reading about your experience gives me hope we’re inching our way to independent (ok..I’ll settle for less dependent) sleep!

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Little by little, Jing!! Much love to you x

      • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

        ps “walking cradle” – ha! you’re amazing.

  • Reply Cara February 27, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    You are such a beautiful mum! Loved reading your journey honey, as you know I was super keen to learn about other mum’s experiences of gently weaning at night. Thank you so much for sharing this precious time in your lives to inspire, empower and uplift others – Joan is one incredibly lucky little girl x

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

      Thank you so much, lovely Cara x

  • Reply Jasmine February 27, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    I teared up reading about the last feed. I remember that feeling so well, 4 days after my bubba turned 18 months. Like you, I was keen to expand our family but it wasn’t happening while I was feeding, even just once a day (who ARE these women who can get pregnant while breastfeeding around the clock!?).

    Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that 6 weeks after our last feed I was expecting another little bubba, who is about to turn 1.

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Right?! I would have loved to be one of those women. Alas, I’m not. Maybe next time, we’ll see! x

  • Reply Kate February 28, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Beautiful posts Heidi. I’ve been through a very different sleep journey with our little one, but it’s wonderful to read about your thoughts and experience and approach nonetheless. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Thank you, Kate! x

  • Reply Siri March 2, 2017 at 12:13 am

    My goodness, I just finished reading these two posts and, while my journey has been a little difference, this has still felt like an enormously reassuring hug. I found your account on Instagram a little after Joan was born, and I was struck by your incredible positivity in the face of the brace she had to wear. I remember thinking that something like that would have undone me. My son is a few months older than Joan, he’s 21 months now, and has also not been an easy sleeper.
    Thank you for making your feelings along the way so clear. Sometimes it’s the crazy voices in our heads that drive us mad, rather than actual reality, isn’t it? I’ve definitely found that.

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:44 am

      So true, the critical voice can get to us when you’re vulnerable and tired! It can be hard to recognise how you truly feel. Our gut knows best! x

  • Reply Noam March 15, 2017 at 7:15 am

    so beautiful. thank you so much for sharing, i always find your words very inspiring! xxx you are doing a great job!

    • Reply Heidi March 20, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Thank you, Noam 🙂 x

  • Reply Happenings 19.3.17 – Apples Under My Bed March 19, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    […] I’m taking a moment to write. This past month, we moved Joan into her own bed for naps (see this post for more details), and while she falls asleep happily (her very own “Beddy!” is still a […]

  • Reply Chloe April 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Heidi, I just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts on sleep. Your informative yet honest approach to writing is so refreshing. I must admit though that after reading the second post left me in tears reflecting on how hard it’s going to be to wean my little one of the breast! He is 9 months old and I am returning to work part time soon – and the thought of weaning is too much to bear right now. I am sure we will find our groove. I loved your view that every family is different and there really is no right or wrong. Intuition really is key. Thanks again for a beautiful post.

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