Night weaning. Ugh. I have been dreading this since my health began to decline and it was obvious that night weaning was really the best way to support the long road of healing i had ahead of me. At that time Veda was 9 or 10 months old, and not only was i uneasy with the idea of intervening with her natural process and denying her needs, i simply knew she was not ready. As my health continued to be a problem and her frequent wakings were chipping away at my physical health as well as my sanity, my family began to look at me side ways not understanding why i was waylaying something that could help me. It was a struggle to have my health pitted up against her well being in such a stark way, and i know many people did not agree with my choice, but i chose to wait until i felt my daughter was ready to handle such a hard boundary. I believe that very small children/babies need their mothers for sleeping until they are old enough to understand the process of learning to fall asleep without the aid of a boobie, as it so happens to be in our case.
While my health was a burden on my family and it was a stress to me too, i just couldn’t sacrifice her for me. Now my daughter is 15 months and i finally feel that she is ready for this hardship. I know it will be hard for her to handle the change of not being nursed to sleep after any and every waking, but i also know that she is well-attached enough and emotionally sturdy enough to weather the frustration that will come with this process.
To be clear, we aren’t actually beginning with night weaning. Night weaning will be part of phase 2 and will likely come many weeks later. Right now we are going to teach Veda to go to sleep without nursing. This will entail a lot of cuddling, compassion, and sweet talking. The reason this is the first step, aside from being gentle and gradual which is always the preferred mode of operation, is because once she masters the skill of putting herself to sleep without any elaborate aids she will be able to apply that skill to the times at night when she transitions from deep to light states of sleep and thereby will no longer need me to nurse her through every slight awakening.
I was planning on waiting a few more nights, until my husband would be able to join the night weaning process, but tonight as she awoke just 45 minutes after she went down i felt the time had come.Waking up 45 minutes after being nursed to sleep for the night is common. A common night might look like this. 6:30 bedtime, 7:20 waking (nursed back to sleep), a waking anywhere between 9:30 and 11, and then the rest of the night is a blur because we all share a bed and while some nights are remarkably less restful then others, i don’t keep track of when she nurses.
Tonight at 7ish i went in there and instead of nursing her for a couple minutes to get her back down, i just laid down next to her and told her that mama’s boobies were sleeping and that i was going to help her fall back to sleep a new way. To my surprise, she wasn’t angry. Because Veda can be fiery, insistent and intense, i thought for sure she would lash out in her frustration, but she didn’t. She went through waves of sadness and disappointment, then sleepiness came over her, then she would very sweetly and gently try for my shirt and i would tell her again, “i am so sorry, my love, but mama’s boobies are sleeping. I know, you are so sad. This is hard. You love mama’s boobies and they bring you so much comfort, but now they are sleeping and they will be here for you in the morning. I promise.” I would then continue to comfort her by stroking her hair, brushing her face and rubbing her back. We held hands, she cried in my arms for a minute here and a minute there. We looked at one another face to face, nose to nose in the darkness as she wrestled with these new terms. It was actually kind of amazing. I just supported her through the upset and because she wasn’t distraught, it felt very bonding. I validated her feelings and loved her through this confusing change of pace. She has been nursed to sleep, nursed on demand day or night, since she was born. This is a real halt on the flow of her reality, what she expects and needs when it comes to settling down into sleep. After about 20 minutes of sporadic cries, snuggling, talking, staring at each other, dozing off and whining protest, she fell asleep and i left the room. 5 minutes later she was up and i went right back in there and did it all over again for another 20 minutes or so. The most remarkable part of this for me is that she wasn’t that up in arms about it. She was upset, for sure. She was sad, but not distraught or confused. We’ve been talking about this for days. I’ve been acting this whole scene out with her dolls and letting her know that they can nurse as much as they like during the day, but that at night mama’s boobies would be going to sleep. She likes to bring me her dolls and signals for me to nurse them, and each time i would tell her that it was okay because it was daytime, but that at night… Even though i will continue to night nurse her for a while longer. Right now we are just learning to fall asleep without the boobie so that she has a small and managable opportunity to learn how to do so without having to give up everything all at once.
You never know how much a 15 month old is retaining or comprehending, though we are constantly amazed by what she does know and get. While she protested a tiny bit, it was not nearly what i was expecting for the first night! There seemed also to be an understanding, an acceptance, a readiness on her part. This has moved me deeply, both because i feel affirmed in my choice to wait until i knew she was ready to handle this without it being traumatic, and because though it is sad to see your angel upset and crying (especially while refusing them of a part of yourself which you both love to share together), i never once felt wretched inside. As much as i would have loved not to have to night wean her at all, being there beside her as she cried or was fitful i never once felt a denial of or struggle against my own biology. It all felt right. She didn’t seem anguished, just disappointed/annoyed. Disappointment is a healthy part of life. And healthy and wholesome is always the goal.
At 11pm i got into bed to go to sleep. She was restless and i could tell she might wake up so i kissed her goodnight so that if she needed to be nursed i could do it before i winded down myself. I noticed that she had pooped her diaper. She never poops at night. My heart sank. Poop is a signal of stress. When small children are stressed they might pee, poop or even vomit. I felt so sad when i saw this because she handled the transition so gracefully and this poop was informing me that she was indeed stressed by it. And while of course i knew the shift was of course stressful to her to some degree, it really hurt my heart to see the stress poop. Still does a day later.. But i also know that acclimating to stress in a controlled and loving environment is a great way to build resilience against stress. Stress is a part of life and i believe that the stress Veda felt was perfectly digestible for her. And no, that is not intended as a poop pun.
She awoke once more in the night to nurse and was delighted to see my boobies in the morning. She kept pointing them out over and over again so as to say, “Hooray! They’re still here and available to me!”
*I do not recommend any form of sleep intervention before the age of 1 year old.