Adventures in Night Weaning (Part 3)

A kind and gentle Grandma is the greatest gift on earth. For both mommies and babies. We are extremely lucky because we have two of them. Without their love and support through this entire mothering journey, I would have been lost. All of my love goes out to them, this and everyday. 

E nursing himself back to sleep during a nap
E nursing himself back to sleep during a nap

October is my hubby and I’s anniversary month. I will never forget the brisk, cool day of our wedding. Surrounded by our friends and family, we exchanged traditional vows, in a garden, in a ceremony led by our friend (and minister for a day) Jesse. We danced and partied all night, and woke up the next day to drive to New Hampshire, our favorite fall getaway. Since that night four years ago, we have always celebrated our anniversary in either New Hampshire, or Vermont. Except for last year, everything (especially night-time getaways) halted last year, when our son was born.

But this year we decided a getaway was possible! With a little help from night weaning, and grandma. E had been prepped for several days (see part 1 and part 2), night nursing had pretty much ceased (except for the faithful 5 am wake up), and it has been months since he has needed to nurse during the day (at least when I am not around). He doesn’t take bottles, or drink any other kind of milk, but he does eat lots of solid food. Grandma has been E’s second mother since the day he was born, watching him on days that I work, and even using practices such as babywearing and co-sleeping to help E nap and get to bed. We were totally confident in leaving E with Grandma for the weekend, and she was confident that all would be well.

Grandma usually watches E on Fridays, so the Friday we were leaving she was at our house in the afternoon. When hubby got home from work, we spent some time with E, eating a snack and making sure he had everything he needed for the weekend. Grandma loaded him into her car, and after many hugs and kisses they rode off into the sunset together. Hubby and I packed up our car, and hit the road. We drove about 10 minutes, when I realized I had forgotten one very important thing, my pump. UHHHHG, my pump. Yes, I would definitely need it on a weekend away.

We got to our destination in Smuggler’s Notch Vermont, our new favorite autumn getaway spot, late that night. We hadn’t heard from Grandma so we decided everything must be well, and we went to sleep. Correction: I pumped first, and then went to sleep, excited for a full night of rest, and maybe even some sleeping in!

I awoke at 5am. Totally engorged, and in pain. I wandered out of bed into the kitchen, and out came the pump, and I begrudgingly set up the pump next to the bed I was supposed to still be asleep in, sat up and emptied my full breasts, cursing my ever abundant milk supply. (which I am actually quite thankful for because is has allowed me to donate milk to several mamas and babies in need, but at 5am I was not happy)

At 9am I called to check in with Grandma. E had slept well, once she got him to sleep. He took quite a bit of rocking and soothing to settle down. Perhaps because he missed me, or maybe just because he was excited about a sleepover at Grandma’s but didn’t actually want to sleep during it. He woke only once or twice that night, and after a bit of cuddling and some pats on the back, easily drifted back to sleep. Grandma stayed with him, cosleeping in a big full-sized bed, just like we do at home. Relieved, we went about enjoying our vacation. My only complaint was the discomfort of my full breasts, and of my belly after I ate a half loaf of cinnamon raison bread with maple ganache, but in the end it was all worth it.

Hubby and I ready for a night out on the town!
Hubby and I ready for a night out on the town!

For night number 2 we decided to go out on the town (small town). We had dinner and even went to a bar for drinks and dancing (oh my!). Upon our arrival home (er… to our condo) I pumped and prayed that the session would last me through the night.

5am, breasts are full. Luckily the pump was set up right next to the bed, ready. I sat up, quickly emptied and then rolled over to keep sleeping. Just like being home, although this time I cuddled up to my sleeping husband, who required no “shhing” or pats on the back to stay asleep.

We didn’t bother checking in with Grandma just yet, figuring no news was good news, and realizing after yesterday’s call that E was doing better not thinking (or hearing from) mommy at all, as opposed to phone check ins. We gathered our belongings and went for a hike, then we started the long drive home, enjoying open road, and glimmering sunshine on the last of fall’s colored leaves. There was even a bit of snow on our hike. White crystals holding tight to deep evergreen branches. It was all quite magical.

Our drive finished, destination Grandma’s house to pick up E. As soon as he saw my he put up both of his little hands, and signed to nurse, with adamant expression. “Must nurse now!” We sat together in a rocker, mama and baby happy to be reunited. He snuggled in satisfied by mama’s milk, and my breasts final felt normal again. Thank goodness.

The second night had been even more of a success than the first. E fell to sleep easily, he stayed asleep all night except for one quick wake up. He did wake early, just after 5:30 am, and was a bit sad to have no nursies to wake up to, but Grandma distracted him quickly with food and Thomas the Train. Night weaning was deemed a success!

……

It’s been several weeks since this getaway. Several weeks of continued effort in night weaning. Most nights are good. My husband and I are alternating night duties. We take turns waking up, comforting, and cosleeping with E. He still reliably wakes up by 5am, sometimes a few minutes before of after, and at a few other instances (11, 1, 3am) but during these times he is easily comforted with back pats or gentle bouncing. We nurse at the 5am wake up, and generally sleep for a few more hours (until 6:30/7). Sometimes he nurses straight through from 5am-7am, and I have to deal with a toddler climbing all over my chest, kicking me in the side, or face, and clumsily grabbing and pulling my hair. But overall, I’m getting more sleep. My mood has improved. My body feels stronger. Night weaning has made me feel mostly human again.

I knew in my heart at 15 months, we were ready. Ready to move out of the infant phase of waking, nursing, and struggling for sleep. We were ready because we all needed better rest. We were ready physically (E was eating plenty of food, and drinking water) and emotionally (I was a crazy mess, and E was suffering from my lack of rest). But night weaning has left me with the feeling that E is no longer a baby. He is in full on toddlerhood, and growing more independent everyday. He still needs me, yes. I still need him, yes. We are still very much bonded and connected to each other, yes. But someday, nursing (even in the daylight) will be over for us. I’m not sure when that will be. I only think I’m ready some days. But it’s in the back of my mind, that this relationship is changing. E will always be my baby, my son, but he will not always be my nursling. For now, he is my nursling during the day, and at night the nursies are finally getting some sleep.

big boy bed

Adventures in Night Weaning (Part 2)

As I sit down to write this, I have to tell you, that last night was a rough night. I was exhausted and looking forward to a good night’s sleep, it was my night to co-sleep with E. At 10:30 I comforted him back to sleep before settling in myself, sometime around 1:30 (I never know when this really occurs) I went into his room when he stirred and whined, and at 3:30am he kicked and squirmed and crawled on top of my body rooting for my breast. I tried to pat his back, and gently “shhh” him, mentioning that it was still night-time and the nursies were sleeping, that he could nurse when the sun rose. He was not having it for some reason, and got very upset. We spent a few minutes bouncing, soothing. I called my husband in for reinforcement with water and to see if E would allow him to soothe. Maybe being so close to the nursies makes it harder to understand that they are sleeping? After 20 minutes or so E gave in to sleep. He woke again around 5am, and we nursed, but he was restless, pulling my hair, kicking. We went into daddy, into the big bed, and nursed again. Eventually I begged my husband to take him because I had reached the point of tiredness, where exhaustion turns to anger. Hubby thankfully swooped in, and got up with E. I slept, and now I am a functioning, less bitchy mother for it. 

E napping in is big bed
E napping in is big bed

 

As you can see, from the story above, night weaning is not for the faint of heart. My biggest piece of advise for those who are considering it, is to make sure everyone involved is ready, and on board for the ups and downs. As much as it is a physical process, it is an emotional one. Like any part of parenting with intention, there are joyful moments of celebration when things go as you had hoped, and moments of anxiety, questioning, and feelings of guilt when they don’t. Be ready, have help, stay strong if you are doing this for a purpose that is ultimately to benefit the health and happiness of your family. Now back to my story….

About a week into night weaning, where my hubby had taken over all of the night wake ups, he leaves. I am left to take on the role of comforting, without the most useful tool I have ever used up until now to comfort. I grounded myself in determination, and hoped for the best. I stuck to our nightly routines of bath time, stories, nursing, and singing songs to sleep. This part was a breeze. I even went to bed in my own empty, large and lonely bed, just waiting for E to wake up so that I could go join him. And of course he did.

E has always had a pretty predictable sleep cycle, and always woken at the same times (within about a half hour or so). 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 5:00. So you can see why nursing him at each of these wake ups was leaving me utterly exhausted and depressed. Now that we have gotten through to the other side of night weaning, he still wakes or at least stirs at these hours, but is typically comforted back to sleep with a simple pat on the back, or snuggle. However during this second week of night weaning, with me left to my own now limited devices, these wake ups were tough.

E would wake. I would snuggle him and offer him water if he began to cry. I would rub his back and sing softly. If he got very upset, we would get up out of bed and go bounce on our ball, or rock in our chair. Within 5-10 minutes he would give in to sleep and we would get back in bed together, until the next wake up. The first two nights I was actually quite proud of how we did. I stayed strong in my reserve not to nurse until 5am, and he accepted my determination without too much of a protest. Then we went to visit a friend….

My friend is a dear mama that I met when E was 3 months old, at a breastfeeding group. Her son is just a few weeks older than E, and as she was able to stay home with him for his first year, we spent much of our time together. She and her son struggled with weight gain and milk supply, and I (along with many other beautiful mamas) was able to donate some of my milk to help him grow. So he and E are milk brothers, and mama H and I are like sisters. Now she is back to work, and they are having their own struggles with sleep. E and I went to visit and stay with C while his daycare was closed. We had a wonderful time living, playing, and parenting together. We got a little taste of what life in a village might really be like. They listened to my story of night weaning, and became inspired to start the process in their own way. I soaked in this mama’s kind and gentle mannerisms toward her family, and came home a kinder, gentler mama myself. But I will admit, night weaning, when you’re sleeping in a new place, is not ideal. For three nights I tried as best as possible to keep the same routine. But by the third night, I was utterly exhausted, and gave into to a bit of nursing to get us through the night without having to get up and bounce.

In this way, night weaning has ebbed and flowed for us. It has been as close to a gentle process as we could make it, without letting boundaries slip, or giving in. It has been a good lesson in the solidarity, and strength of heart that we will need to establish boundaries with E in future parenting. We are a family that believes in letting children have their freedom, their opinions and expressiveness, the ability to learn about right and wrong through trial and error, but we are also a family that believes in making conscious decisions. Night weaning perhaps was the first of many of those decisions.

When we returned home daddy tried to take over night-time duties once again. But after so many nights with me, we found that E was not ready to easily accept daddy as comforter again. So we started to take turns with wake ups. We noted that we were making progress. Each wake up was a little easier to deal with, less crying, a quicker return to sleep. We began to get more rest ourselves, and began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But before we would get there, daddy and I were scheduled to go on a trip, for two nights. It was our first ever trip away from our baby together. And so the job of night comforting was being transferred yet again, to the ever willing, ever helpful grandma….

(stay tuned for part 3!)