Night weaning deserves a quiet night

Pip’s sleeping has, I think, been pretty average on the whole: he seems to fit somewhere in between the “good sleepers” and “bad sleepers” of our acquaintance, although it is hard to compare as most babies his age seem to be at least combination fed these days. Being an optimist by nature, I have lost count of the evenings I have gone to bed thinking tonight would be the night he would sleep through, only to be inevitably dragged out of bed in the small hours (repeated disappointment is one side effect Pollyanna never mentioned). We went through a golden spell of him only waking once in 11-12 hours, but since January, things seemed to have gone backwards and we decided it was time to try and do something about it. By the way, when I say sleep through, I mean going down at 7pm and sleeping until 6-7am – none of this five hours business, I aim high!

sleeping like a baby

Both Mr Cath and I find Pip’s crying very upsetting so traditional sleep training was out of the question. The key, we agreed, was night weaning, that is, teaching Pip that he did not need to breastfeed any more at night. When he fed it was only for a few minutes and it was clearly a comfort rather than a nutrition thing. What would happen if and when night weaning was successful was something we could deal with later! In February we briefly tried a couple of nights of Mr Cath going in and comforting Pip but it was a disaster: we did not anticipate the crying that would result, and more often than not I ended up feeding him anyway which made the whole thing pointless and frustrating. Then Mr Cath was ill (which may or may not have been related to his recent night traumas), then Pip was ill, then one thing led to another and it was March and I was still waking a few times every night to breastfeed Pip.

Time to try again.

We thought it through a bit more carefully this time and decided that the only purpose would be to night wean. Poor Mr Cath still had to be the one to go in Pip’s room, as Pip to this day will root on my chest if he needs comforting and we wanted to remove the association completely. But he could comfort, cuddle and rock Pip as much as he wanted and only lay him back down when he was sound asleep if he wanted (none of this awful “pick up put down” or “shush pat” business – so-called Baby Whisperer techniques. Ha! The irony: it was more like Baby Wailer or Baby Screamer after we very briefly attempted those with Pip. I HATE sleep training!) We braced ourselves for a few bad nights and Mr Cath prepared himself for an increased coffee intake at work. Quite frankly, after eight months of multiple night wakeups, I had absolutely no qualms about handing over the reins for a few nights! We started on a Wednesday which was pretty random but in retrospect meant Mr Cath only had two days of being tired at work before the weekend arrived, so I’d definitely choose midweek again.

We went with instinct rather than imposing an alleged expert’s set of rules – I’d read quite a few things about sleep training (mostly squinting at websites such as Babycentre during the night) but in the end we basically copied what my brother-in-law and sister-in-law did.

Reader, it worked.

Night 1

Bedtime at 7pm. Pip woke up for his usual “dream” feed at about 10pm (a dream feed is feeding the baby at your own bedtime, theoretically so they will sleep longer. The idea is that they don’t wake up during the feed. I have tried this a few times in the past but it never seemed to make much difference. Lately Pip had been waking up anyway of his own accord). I fed him, put him back to bed and then that was it for the night: no more milk! We had decided to continue the evening feeds for as long as he woke up for them, and they would ideally be the last to go. Pip then woke twice more in the night. Mr Cath went in and each time took about 45 minutes to settle him down back to sleep.

Nights 2 and 3

More of the same.

Night 4

I had been worried about Night 4, Saturday night, because we had friends coming over in the evening and I was anticipating interruptions as well as general tiredness and dreading the night to follow. In the end, it was fine. Pip woke just after our friends left at 11:30pm (which was extremely late for us), we decided it was too late for a feed so over to Mr Cath. It took him TWO HOURS to settle Pip down this time though as every time he put him down asleep he woke himself up and cried. After that he slept till morning and that was the first stretch of 12 hours with no milk. Pip wasn’t even hungry on Sunday morning: despite the bad night he woke up happy and alert. That’s when we knew for sure that he did not need milk at night.

Night 5

Slept 7pm to 6:30am. (Alas, I woke up at around 4am and had to pump. I’d been ok on Saturday night, but Pip hadn’t fed much during the day on Sunday so they were already a bit full…)

Now

Since then, more often than not Pip has slept for 11-12 hours at night. He still occasionally wakes up needing us, maybe once a week or so, and Mr Cath goes in to comfort him which usually takes 30-45 minutes. He also calls out once in a while but then seems to just go straight back to sleep.

I think the difference this time was that Pip was ready. I don’t believe there is much point trying to change a baby’s habits unless they are willing to go along with it too (unless you have a high threshold for screaming of course). Pip’s crying was minimal: his initial disappointment that it was Daddy not Mummy lasted a few minutes at the most, then he realised he actually didn’t mind being cuddled and rocked back to sleep. Unlike the time before as well, I expect he could somehow sense the determination and resolve from his parents: Mr Cath was not prepared to cave and bring him in to me, so settled himself in for the long haul which no doubt translated into much more confident body language.

As you can imagine, Pip’s sleeping has made a huge difference to our lives. I can think straight. We no longer start to panic when it gets to 9:30pm so can have proper, longer evenings again. Pip himself seems more alert during the day too and his napping has greatly improved. Having said that, though, I would never say “oh I wish we’d done it earlier”: we tried it earlier, but nobody was ready. I know it’s easy for me to say now that I’m no longer so exhausted all the time but I genuinely believe that the timing was right and that was the main reason the night weaning worked. We were also very lucky that after he learned that Mummy wasn’t coming in any more, Pip just couldn’t be bothered to keep waking up.

I’m sure we will have many a broken night again, especially with the spectres of teething and separation anxiety looming over us, but the difference is that we can now meet them head on with hopefully a few good nights’ sleep already in the bank. After eight hours in a row I feel like I can cope with just about anything.

No way would I ever even begin to feel nostalgic about those 3am feeds – Pip and I have enough “special time” during the day thank you very much. However, but there is one thing I do slightly miss… the Daily Mail app is not nearly as entertaining when it’s light outside!

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