If you've been following along in the lives of the 'Burgher Tots, you know that we've struggled more with sleep than any other parenting issue. If you haven't read the previous posts on sleep, you can find them listed here.
I probably shouldn't say this because I'm very, very pro-breastfeeding, but after going through this crappy sleep drama a third time, I'm certain our sleep problems are nursing related. I'm sure they're also mostly my fault for letting the nursling nurse to sleep and cosleeping, etc. Breastfeeding is wonderful, and in my opinion, the absolute best way to feed a baby. Any mother who is able (and the percentage of those who are truly unable is extremely small...) should breastfeed her baby. The issue for me arises when I've been breastfeeding nearly constantly for five years and I'm tired of being up all night long. There must be a compromise that works for us. I must set some limits or I will go insane. I'm not a good mother when I'm exhausted. I'm a snippy, mean, snarly mother. I'm so much more patient and loving when I'm not so tired that a whole pot of coffee won't open my eyelids.
As with Ian and Aaron, Lauren has reached toddlerhood without sleeping through the night. The problem is, she is far worse about waking in the night than either of them ever was. She wakes night after night, every hour or two, shrieking like someone is stabbing her. She isn't having night terrors. I know because she's not inconsolable after/during waking, she just wants me. If I pick her up, she stops. If I bring her to our bed, she nurses and then sleeps soundly, only waking to quietly nurse again. That might work for some cosleeping families, but for me? I can't sleep when there's a toddler in the bed...especially one who nurses at will and pinches and kicks and turns and turns and turns. At Christmastime, I decided enough was enough with the night nursing and we were done. It took a month for her to stop pinching and scratching me in the night when I told her "nunnies are sleeping." Finally though, she stopped asking to nurse at night and she did start sleeping a bit better...a bit. She was programmed to wake often in the night. She she did.
About a month ago I decided I had to stop bringing her into our bed at night. (She has always started the night in her crib and then usually around the first waking I would bring her to our bed because I was too tired to trek across the hall a dozen times a night.) So I started rocking her in her room and putting her back to bed... a little protest from her at first... then after a few nights she was fine with that method. But she was still waking up all night long.
The next step was to stop picking her up. Either Roger or I (mostly me) would go to her when she cried out and sooth her in her crib without picking her up. Amazingly, this worked very well. She rarely protested at all and usually went right back to sleep. But she still was waking up all night long.
So, it seems, I had to do something else. I had to completely separate nursing from sleeping. Both at bedtime and naptime. So this past Monday I started a new bedtime routine with her. She nurses and gets her snack in the living room at the same time as the boys (while Aaron does his nebulizer). Then she goes to her room and reads stories in the chair with me, then lights out and rocking in her room for a couple minutes and into bed with her binky, blankie, and water cup. Pat Pat on the back. And mama leaves the room.
It is so crazy. Would you believe she has gone to bed like that, without one single tear, this entire week? Last night she didn't even want to read stories. When we got to her room, she asked to go to her bed.
Who is this toddler?
The best part is she has also stopped waking all night long. I think there were three nights when she woke half way though, but the rest of the nights, she slept until five or six in the morning before she woke the first time. Unreal. Like a fairy tale.
There are a couple points I'd like to make for moms of toddlers who suck at sleeping:
1. You have to keep trying and you have to stay firm. Once you decide you're going to change something up, you have to stick with it long enough for it to take... this means if it doesn't work the first night you need to try it again the next night. Keep trying it until you are sure it isn't going to work. One night is almost never long enough to tell if a new routine is going to work.
2. Cry-it-Out does work, but not on all toddlers. Ian and Aaron both cried it out and it worked magically. And it was necessary. Lauren cried it out and it didn't work. It didn't work and we tried it over and over again for almost a year. There really are some times that you can teach your child to sleep through the night without crying. I truly, absolutely, 100% believe this. I also know that there are toddlers who you cannot teach to sleep through the night without a little (or a lot) of crying. But it's my honest opinion that all the no-cry methods should be exhausted before the crying ones start. Also, I specifically said toddlers because I am a firm believer that babies do not cry at night because they're taking advantage of you. I believe babies cry at night because they need you. I would never let a baby cry at night. Once they're 16-18-20 months (and beyond) old and they are calling to you by name and turning on the "fake-wail" just to get you to haul your buns out of bed for the 15th time that night? Yeah, those kids are old enough to learn to sleep all night.
3. Most importantly, you are not alone. There are mamas across the globe who are up many times a night tending to their sleepless tots. We mothers who have struggled with sucky sleep kids are out there and you just need to know that we are. It does get better. And yes, going through your days exhausted sucks, but it does get better. (And if it doesn't get better on its own, it's time for you to do something to make it better.)
And finally, just because I feel like I need to note it, Lauren isn't weaned. She is welcome to nurse during the day. She usually nurses first thing in the morning and then again mid-morning. Sometimes after nap. Usually before we go to read stories at bedtime. She's just weaned at night... It's a good compromise.