After Isaac’s second birthday we decided to wean him from the night feedings which had him waking every hour or two all through the night. To say we were nervous would be a vast understatement.
We’d tried to wean him at twelve and eighteen months of age, an age when other parents are saying is the last chance before a child becomes self-identified as breast-fed. Those two attempts were miserable. He cried and cried, and we gave up after an hour or so. We knew it would be better for Rose to sleep through the night, and probably better for Isaac too, but nothing was worth all this unhappiness. Later, we thought, when he understands what’s going on.
, two months ago, we constructed a huge family bed with the three single mattresses in our room, laid side by side on the floor. We noticed that Isaac slept for long stretches, as long as four hours at a time, something he hadn’t done since he was nine months old. Rose and I talked about it, deciding that perhaps it was the separate mattress dampening the movements of us turning in our sleep. When we returned
we put his child-size mattress next to our queen mattress, to see whether we could replicate the experience. It didn’t work very well. His first period of sleep might stretch to three or four hours, but thereafter it would never be longer than ninety minutes, and sometimes as short as ten or fifteen minutes, especially towards morning.
We’ve been telling Isaac that big boys don’t drink mama’s milk at night; he seems okay with repeating this. He’s been enthused with being a “big boy”, asking to “walk like a big boy” (not in a stroller or in anyone’s arms), referring to what used to be the “baby backpack” as the “big boy backpack”, and so on. He’s very much into having “Isaac do it”, be it helping to cook “bunny noodles” or brush his teeth.
Today we had a very long after-dinner walk through the , followed by a long, warm shower/bath. Then I took him to the bedroom, where I put on the traditional diaper and sleeper, followed by a few books. (His favorites these days are “Goodnight Gorilla”, “Goodnight Moon”, “My Bedtime Story”, “Billy the Blue Cab”, and “The Mother Goose Reader”.)
Then, three nights ago, Rose decided “this is the night”. When Isaac was asleep (via breast-feeding, the way we’ve done it for two years, she bade me to turn the living room futon into a bed. After I dragged out the pillows and comforter I returned to the kitchen to prepare a “sippy cup” of water and another of milk. I took the water into the bedroom; the milk stayed in the ‘fridge. When Isaac woke he cried out for Rose, and I explained that it was night (“look at the skylight; it’s dark now”).
He cried on and off for an hour, as I told him it was time to sleep until morning. He went through a mental inventory of all things interesting and distracting, asking for toys, food, people, places, books, and mama. For each item I’d gently say “yes, we’ll have that in the morning, now it’s time to sleep with the papa in the bedroom”. He figured out very quickly that Rose was in the living room, and asked for her, and I replied that she was “sleeping, making mama’s milk for Isaac to have in the morning”. When he asked for “moo-moo milk” I took him in my arms, walked into the kitchen, warned him about the bright light (at which time he’d bury his face in my neck and hug), and pick up the milk cup. (The second time he wanted me to pour from the container, which we did.) After an hour he got very tired, and I cradled his head in my hand and hummed some tunes I knew but that weren’t songs he knew, to sooth him rather than engage him. He fell asleep and I moved him to his mattress. I think it was between nine and eleven o’clock.
He woke a few hours later, and after a short time of crying and asking for things and people, he had some milk and fell asleep to my repeated chant of “moo-moo milk now, mama’s milk in the morning”.
He woke only once more, at five or six in the morning. All I had to say was “one more nap and it’ll be morning” and he rolled over and fell asleep.
We spent the afternoon at Rose’s parents, and missed the walk part of our ritual. We kissed mama goodnight and headed into the shower. This evening, at Rose’s suggestion, I diluted the milk with water. He took a few sips and started fussing as I was reading from one of his books.. “Isaac,” I said, “you have to be in papa’s lap or on the bed.” “Bed”, he replied. I thought this was his entreé to get away from me and try to get to Rose, but I put him down on the mattress, and he surprised me by rolling over and becoming still. I thought he was playing at being asleep, but he fell asleep in those few seconds.
He woke twice tonight, but each time he fell asleep within twenty seconds. Once we had a bit of cryng, and a stroll to the kitchen, but within seconds of touching the milk he rolled out of my arms and fell back to sleep. I was shocked. I wonder whether my quick response is actually lengthening his period of wakefullness. I’ll give him a few seconds next time and see what happens.
At his next rousing Isaac jostled back and forth and put himself to sleep in less than ten seconds. I never expected it to be this easy.
At seven o’clock he woke himself with a loud fart and I could see that he was past being lulled back to sleep. So we went to the living room to greet mama (still asleep).
We started the process a bit earlier this evening, again after a day at the grandparents. No walk, but a shower and playing in the bath with toys, and brushing teeth. Mama had been kissed, and as we went into the shower Isaac said “mama sleep in the living room, papa and Isaac sleep in the bedroom, mama sleeping.” So he’s internalized the new state of things. We read a bit, and as I was moving him from my lap to the mattress he started fussing. I thought I was in for some sort of relapse. Isaac told me he wanted to read “Goodnight Gorilla” once before sleeping, so I answered that this was the last book we’d read tonight. The book reading went well, with lots of eye-rubbing and yawning. When done I put him on the mattress and he rolled over and fell asleep. Again I wasn’t sure he really was down, and so I told him the story of the book we’d just read in a very quiet, calm voice. It wasn’t necessary; he was down.
He woke up twice during the night, and put himself back to sleep as quickly as he had fallen asleep.
At eight-thirty we awoke and made our journey to the living room.
We got out of the shower at a quarter of ten, and after putting on the sleeper and reading several books Isaac started squirming, so I put him on his side of the family bed. He wasn’t as tired as Sunday, so he had enough energy to resist falling asleep (rolling around, climbing on top of pillows, and asking for things). We got a sippy cup of watered-down milk, and got back to bed to drink. Back in his part of the bed, it wasn’t long before Isaac was asleep at ten-twenty.
He’s been a bit gassy this evening, and it’s disturbing his sleep. He lulls himself back to sleep, but with a bit of difficulty. Just before midnight Isaac rolled from his side of the bed onto my mattress, over and over, until he came up to my leg. Now he’s back to sleep.
Just as it was terribly difficult (and perhaps cruel) to try to wean Isaac at twelve and eighteen months, it was appropriate and easy to wean at two years. (We probably could have weaned him earlier, but I hadn’t read the books about it (“Helping Your Child to Sleep”) at the right time. So it goes.) We had to move Rose out of the bedroom, and I’ll update this page when we figure out how to move her back in (probably in a week or two). I hope some of this is of help to you.
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