Sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep. We coslept with Mae from birth, with a mesh toddler bed rail on the side of the bed and her between me and the rail. We short sheeted our bed and followed the safe sleep guidelines. This worked great for us and we slept so well for months. We started noticing she’d wake up when we came to bed so we moved her to a bassinet to start the night out at around 4 months. It’s actually an Arm’s Reach Mini CoSleeper with the side up as the bassinet option. I’d nurse her to sleep or almost to sleep and lay her down in that, then do a dream feed around 11 when we went to bed, then bring her into bed with us whenever she woke up- sometimes only two hours later, sometimes not until 4 or 5 am. She’d nurse for awhile, I’d drift back to sleep, and she’d unlatch herself when she was done and we’d sleep together until morning. When she started pulling up to sitting, we moved her to a pack n’play at the end of our bed instead of the bassinet and kept with the same routine. This was great for us until around 12 months or so when she started waking less than an hour after we went to bed and wanting to be latched constantly until morning. I would switch sides back and forth because my milk would be gone after the first 30 minutes of constant nursing. My back was bothering me a lot from the constant leaning over and sleeping on just the one side, neither of us was sleeping well, and her daytime sleep was declining as well. Something had to change.
At 13 months we decided to begin the night weaning process. I found Dr. Jay Gordon’s Method and liked a lot of what he had to say about gently making the transition out of the family bed. Mae was a great talker and when we decided to go for it (sometime that fall) we were confident she could understand us fairly well and we knew it would be better for the whole family.
We followed Dr. Gordon’s steps very slowly. We began with nursing her to sleep each time she woke but having Daddy put her back into her play pen instead of having her in our bed. We did this for several weeks until she went quickly back to sleep in her bed after nursing for awhile. She’d wake anywhere from 1-4 times a night (sometimes more) and I’d sit up in bed and nurse on both sides until she was asleep and would hand her to him. If she woke when he laid her down, he’d try to settle her- she loved having her back rubbed- or I would nurse her again for a few minutes more.
The next step was not nursing to sleep. We’d follow the same protocol but nurse until drowsy and unlatch her and give her to David. This step seemed to last forever. We had to be intentional about going to bed early because we knew we’d be up a lot. It’s hard to remember but at some point during this step we decided that she needed to fall asleep before nursing again. So if she nursed until drowsy, then started fussing when David tried to lay her down, she couldn’t nurse again. She was very sad about that. We paid close attention to her cries and never let her cry if her cry was one of fear. We acknowledged her sadness and told her she could nurse again in awhile. It helped if I had a high necked shirt on when I held her.
We continued on with that step until she would fall asleep fairly easily once drowsy from nursing. Next was no more nursing. I would still do a dream feed before I went to sleep- picking her up and nursing her one last time before bed without fully waking her. After that, we wouldn’t nurse until after 6am. When she woke, we would give her a sip of water and a snuggle and would hold her until she was drowsy. We each spent many nights laying across the end of our bed rubbing her back until she was asleep. Within a few weeks she got used to relaxing as soon as we picked her up and we would only hold her for a minute or so before putting her back down. This made the next transition fairly straightforward.
The next step was picking her up for a quick love and putting her back down to relax. We’d say, “It’s time for sleep, can I rub your back?” and would sing and rub her back until she was asleep. This step went well and she’d say “back” when she woke up because she knew she couldn’t nurse. We were all feeling much better rested and her wakings dwindled gradually until she was consistently waking once a night around 3 or so. We were also waking her up when we came to bed so we decided it was time to move her to her own room.
We considered moving the play pen to her room in case the crib and a new room were too much at one time but she was already napping in her crib so we went ahead and put her in there. I had hoped she would be down to zero wakings per night before she was in her own room but we were both willing to take turns going in there and rubbing her back when she woke. The first night we talked about it a lot before bedtime and put a new fun owl sheet on the crib to help with the transition. We told her we would come when she called and that we would be close by all night. She woke up once and went back to sleep with one song and some back rubbing. The next night, she slept straight from 8pm to 7:30am, and did so with very little waking from that point forward. It was amazing how that last 3am waking dropped so quickly in her own room. It was the reassurance we needed that it was the right move and that she was truly sleeping better.
She’d sometimes have a hard time falling asleep at night, but we set up a limit of one song and then would leave after singing one short song and would wait a few minutes before returning to sing another. This helped her a lot because when we’d stay in there until she fell asleep, it’d take her much longer.
Dr. Gordon’s method was a good guideline to start with- another tool in our toolbox on parenting- and we adapted it to what was best for our daughter. I would have never imagined a sleep training method that could be done with such minimal crying and zero fear, zero loneliness. I’m so grateful for a supportive husband who was willing to make the gradual steps with me to a better night’s sleep for the whole family.