The attachment parents (AP) always cop it hard on this one: night waking.
We don’t let our kids ‘cry it out’, we wear them, we co-sleep, we breastfeed on demand, and some of us even take our babies to the toilet (called elimination communication), and yet it happens to almost all of us… the constant night waking. The little newborns start off great, they sleep for 3,4, 5, maybe even 6 hour stretches at night. You start getting really giddy around 2 months, thinking that your baby is going to start sleeping through the night and then sometime around five months old BAM: constant night waking.
Constant night waking can leave you feeling quit exasperating, especially when everyone is already giving you flack for practicing all the usual attachment parenting philosophies, like feeding on demand and letting your baby sleep in your room or bed, etc. After all, so and so’s little Johnny is on a feeding schedule, sleeps in his own room, does cry it out… and he’s sleeping through the night! But, your little Susie is 2 years old and wakes up ten times a night screaming ‘BOOOOOOBIES!!!!’ Yes, it’s enough to drive you mad if you’re unsure of how to handle it, or if you don’t understand why it’s happening.
I’ve only night weaned one child… She’s three now. The little one is 7 months old, no where near ready to be night weaned in my opinion. We all sleep in the same room, and both are still breastfed. Of course, I don’t have the answer to stop night time waking, and if anyone told you they have the ‘secret’ to getting your baby to sleep through the night, I would be extremely wary of what they are trying to sell to you…. But, here are some of the things I’ve experienced with night waking and night weaning. It’s not all a nightmare, I promise 🙂
Some Legitimate Reasons for Waking Up
Tiny people have tiny bodies and lots of needs. I always crack up when my 80 year old grandmother asks me if my baby is sleeping 12 hours through the night! As if!!! In fact, a friend of mine, who is nearly 70, asked me a similar question about my baby sleeping through the night. I told her that many of the doctors now recommend waking with a baby and feeding on demand… She said, ‘Oh, that’s nice, we were told to just chuck them in their crib and let them cry‘.
- Babies are NOT designed to sleep through the night. It’s a good thing when they don’t sleep deeply for too long. Part of the reason that the recent recommendations to put babies on their backs to sleep is so that babies won’t sleep as deeply and thus have a reduced occurrence of SIDS. (This is not to say that you should be paranoid about a baby sleeping on their tummy, but still….). I wrote a post all about night waking in our culture here.
- The obvious… they could be hungry or thirsty (especially very young babies with very small tummies), cold, hot or wet.
- Do they have to eliminate (in other words, pee or poo). This one really gets most people, because most people in the western world don’t practice EC (elimination communication). I find that about 50% or more of the night wakings are NOT because of boobies, but more so that they either have to pee, or have a wet diaper. In fact, just before writing this, Goldie squawked, I tried to stick boob in her mouth so she would go back to bed. She refused and was still complaining. So, I took her to pee, and then she fell asleep instantly, didn’t even want the boobs. BUT, she is very used to me taking her to pee since since birth, it may work differently with a baby who has never done EC. More on EC here.
- Where’s that warm body! When a baby stirs or rolls around at night, and they don’t flop on something warm (like a person, mom or dad), they often wake up. Ever wonder why your baby wakes up twenty times before you jump in bed with them? There is a reason why many AP advocates say to go to bed when your children go to bed. This is great in theory, but I know that, even I, sometimes need a break from being super mommy, especially when we don’t live in close proximity to family who might be around to help out during the day, etc. I don’t expect my kids to stay asleep for long without me.
- Pent up Stress and Milestones. Babies and toddlers can get overstimulated very easily! Babies and toddlers also tend to wake more when they are about to hit a milestone like rolling, crawling or even talking. If you think that they have had a big day, and you’re sure all the other needs have been met, like been fed, changed, etc. I would be inclined to do something called ‘cry in arms‘. Very different to ‘cry it out’. I use the cry in arms method frequently, and since I’ve been doing it with baby #2 from birth, I notice a dramatic difference in the way she sleeps. I also started cry in arms with my older daughter when she was 5 months and the night waking dramatically decreased as well. Basically, if baby is waking up every hour and seeming to want boobs, that is when I think to myself, ‘ok, that’s enough, you’re not that hungry, what’s going on?’ and I would let the crying happen for a bit (while holding in arms, of course).
When is the Right Age to Night Wean
Nobody can tell you what age is the right age to night wean your toddler. Obviously, you don’t want to go night weaning a little baby. They are still tanking up on good nutrition at night. I night weaned Margo when she was about 20 months old. I was just a few weeks pregnant and I wanted to give it LOTS of time before the new baby arrived.
Before even considering night weaning, you have to ask yourself, ‘are the night feeds even bothering you in the first place?’ If you’re going to bed at a reasonable time and don’t have to work, then maybe it’s not such a big issue? Or are you tired from staying up too late on facebook 😉 Maybe the only reason you have thought about night weaning is because everyone is raising their eyebrows when you tell them that, Sally-Three-Year-Old is waking all night for boobs. For me, I know, this second time around, I’m hardly even bothered by night time waking… I think it’s sort of cute. (However, my little ones wakes up far less than her older sister did at this age). Of course, right now, I’m not working. When I was at work, I only openly complained about Margo waking all night long for boobies to my other female co-workers once or twice, until I got the hint that they thought I was beyond crazy to be ALLOWING my toddler to be waking up at night (um… sorry, I can’t control that one).
So, the age you want to wean, is really a very personal decision And, you may think about it and find that there is no real reason to night wean at all! (I promise, they won’t be going to uni and still waking up for boobies).
When to Night Wean
Night wean when it feels reasonably right for you. This could mean, when you have had more than enough of the night waking and you’re going bonkers… Or, like it was for me, one spontaneous night, I just decided to try it and it worked! My daughter was old enough to understand when I told her that ‘Mommy’s boobies go to bed at night and they wake up in the morning‘. I said, ‘Do you understand?’. Can you believe that she actually slept through the night?! Like, FIRST NIGHT OF SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT EVER! I was completely overjoyed! Lucky me… It’s probably best NOT to night wean when I child is sick, or going through something major, like a house move, etc.
How to Night Wean
I’m not saying that if you’re totally spontaneous and living in the moment, it will work so easily. There are numerous techniques to go about the night weaning process. You can just say ‘NO‘. You may have lots of tears, but either you or your partner can hold them, and let them know that you’re there for them, etc. Make sure to offer them water (they might actually be thirsty… I know I get thirsty at night). You may want to remove yourself from the room for a few nights and let your partner sort it out (although, I would feel better about them crying in my arms… but just another option). You also may want to do night weaning gradually. I noticed I’m already doing gradual night weaning with my 7 month old. Like, pulling out the boob before I know that she’s asleep… less liquid, means less peeing at night, means less waking… Also, you may want to say ‘No‘ to a few of the feeds, but maybe not cut out all night feeds. There are many ways to do it… I’m am not a pro at this one, because my daughter night weaned so easily. I would say to also explain to your child what is going on. Little toddlers can understand way more than most adults would think.
Dr. Sears has a great link on ways to night wean or how to deal with constant night wakers: here.
And Then It All Changes!
There are lots of variables to consider when it comes to night weaning and night waking. Every family has a unique scenario and every child/parent combo has their own relationship quirkiness. Something might work for a while and then all of a sudden it changes. For example, Margo was night weaned for over a year and as soon as Goldie was about 3 months old, Margo was waking up 3 times a night SCREAMING for boobies! (I usually said no though… stubborn me…). She has since stopped doing that, but it really did surprise me because here I had thought her night weaning was done and dusted!
The main thing to consider, when it comes to any annoyance accompanied with a baby or toddler, like night waking (and I can attest, there are a few annoyances, for sure), is to remember that all of this will pass… and it will pass soon! Think about how old your child will be in another year or two, how different things will be. They won’t be waking up all night, every night, shouting for boobs. One day, when you’re old and gray and senile and can’t sleep anyway, you’ll be wishing there was someone to wake up all night with you.
I better go jump in bed with my little babies, they will be looking for that warm body 🙂