Although I didn’t wean her completely until she was 25 months old, Bee was night-weaned at 18 months. What that means is that, for 18 months, I rolled over and nursed my child every 2-3 hours. Every. Single. Night. By the time she was a year and a half, it was clear that Bee was simply using me as a pacifier, and I was quite sure that she was demanding her comfort nurse so often simply because I was so available. So a decision was made. Actually, a decision had been made over two months earlier, but then I stewed and fretted (and didn’t sleep) for another 10 weeks before I decided that I – that we – could do it.
Bee would be ok; I would be ok. I would get some sleep. We all would. It was a struggle for me to come to this decision, despite the fact that I had returned to work full-time almost six months earlier, and for the first time since Bee was born, the sleep deprivation was starting to get to me. Call me a martyr if you want (or don’t, because I can get cranky when someone calls me that), but I had always said that my decision to reduce breastfeeding or wean altogether would not be based solely on my own comfort, but on the needs of my child, whether they were physical, emotional or biological.
The thing is, I was pretty sure that the reason we were still nursing so frequently at night was based on the guilt I was feeling surrounding my return to work. Once I sorted that out (ha!) and felt reassured that Bee’s physical, emotional and biological needs were being met, I realized that we were, in fact, still night nursing for me, not her. So I picked a weekend, fortified myself, and went to sleep…
…And woke up two hours later when Bee started grunting and pulling at my shirt, looking for her fix. Through a gentle blend of distraction and comfort, we made it through the night. It was a bit rough – tears (mine and hers) and pacing and bouncing and talking and singing through Bee’s protests, but eventually, we all went to sleep.
The next night, Bee woke up twice wanting to nurse, and I simply whispered that it wasn’t time for that, it was time for sleeping, and as I patted her back, she closed her eyes.
The third night, Bee slept.
I felt like a total chump. This was way too easy. True, it would take another year before Bee actually ever slept in her own bed and/or through the night, but night-weaning was nothing even close to the torture I had been expecting.
I was pregnant with my second child two months later, and declared to my husband that this next baby would be night-weaned and in her own bed by 15 months.
Guess how old Dove is?
Guess what I haven’t done yet?
I thought it would be so easy this time around – me, more experienced, second baby, more resilient. But Dove is a juxtaposition of a child, really – hearty and robust in so many ways, but still such a baby in so many others. Not yet a toddler, no not yet, regardless of Chris’ insistence that, now she toddles, and is therefore a toddler.
But she has only just started toddling, arms up, legs unbent, back down on her chubby bum at the first sign of wobble. Dove is also going through some massive teething right now, bottom and top molars and eyeteeth disrupting my normally cheerful baby’s disposition. Hyland’s has helped a little, but we’ve moved on to Baby Tylenol at night, something we never had to do with Bee. Even still, Dove wakes up crying, stuffing her fists as far into her mouth as possible, hoping to stifle the pain. Nursing is the only thing that soothes her, gets the tears to stop. How can I take that away now?
Bee was running by 12 months, and had all of her one-year molars by 13 months. And still I waited five additional months before night weaning; growing pains left far behind.
I try so hard to parent by staying attuned to the needs of my children. I believe there are very natural and obvious cues offered when they are ready to move to the next stage of development, and that it is my job to respond to those cues, guiding development. I just don’t see them yet in regards to Dove’s night weaning. And Dove is my last baby. I won’t nurse any babies after her. I don’t want to rush this, for either of our sakes.
I’m going away for two nights at the end of April, the first time I will ever be leaving Bee with someone other than Chris for the night, and the first time I will be leaving Dove for the night, period. When I made these plans, I thought night nursing would be long behind us. Dove was not yet walking or going through this massive period of growth and teething. I thought night weaning would be even smoother, easier than it was the first time ‘round.
Why I thought that I’m not sure. I mean, I assumed the same thing of labour and delivery, and look how that turned out.
The only thing I’m sure of, at this point, as I worry and Dove wakes, is that there are, without a doubt, sleepless nights ahead.