It’s been over a week so I feel confident saying that I’ve successfully night-weaned my toddler. I know there are those of you who aren’t impressed that it took 27 months to accomplish this task, but I’m quite proud that it was accomplished gently, slowly and without tears. It ended up taking three phases.
1. Separate nursing from falling asleep. We changed our bedtime routine to: change into pajamas, brush teeth, read stories, nurse, have a drink of water, turn out the lights, and “talk about doin’ ‘morrow.” We discuss the events scheduled for the next day and snuggle until my daughter falls asleep. Yes, that’s a new sleep association. I don’t mind that she needs me to stay with her until she falls asleep. I don’t begrudge her those five minutes. I enjoy them! We quickly saw some progress and that encouraged me to continue.
2. Separate the night-nursings from falling back asleep. We tried having my husband settle my daughter in the night but she held out for nursing (I don’t blame her!) That wasn’t fun for any of us — she wasn’t getting what she wanted, I couldn’t stand listening to the two of them struggle and my husband couldn’t stand it when I eventually couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that I would be the one to settle her back to sleep again at night. I think she was comforted knowing that I was still available to her even if we weren’t going to nurse.
At naptime, I nursed her almost to sleep but worked on getting her to settle in those last moments on her own. That’s where the toddler swaddle helped.
3. Truly night-weaning. Over a week ago on a Saturday night, I had a talk with my toddler. I told her that she could have all the “mum-mum” she wanted before bed. She should fill up her tummy because the “mum-mums” were going to sleep and wouldn’t wake up again until the sun came up. I reinforced this concept with her a few times throughout our bedtime routine. I told her that if she woke in the night she should go right back to sleep because it feels so good to sleep, and we weren’t going to have mum-mum again until morning. If she needed help in the night, Daddy would help her.
That night she woke twice and went right back to sleep with a simple reminder from my husband that I was sleeping and she could nurse again when the sun came up. It was as simple as that.
After the sun came up, my daughter giggled when I told her she could nurse. She got a belly full of milk and fell back asleep for another two hours! While I had woken briefly a few times in the night out of habit, I felt refreshed in the morning and got up to do a few things around the house before my girls woke up for good.
It’s gone well ever since that time. Sometimes my daughter wants to snuggle me in the night, but she understands that we don’t nurse until the sun comes up. She always settles back to sleep in under a minute.
My four-year-old is doing well too. She decided she didn’t want to co-sleep with her little sister anymore. We pulled apart the two twin mattresses and set up a twin bed for the four-year-old and moved my toddler’s mattress into the master bedroom. As part of the deal, my four-year-old agreed to fall asleep on her own (no more snuggling to sleep) as long as we agreed to check on her in five minutes. She’s kept to the deal and I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of all of us!