In the ninth circle of sleep hell
April 14, 2015 2:51 AM   Subscribe

I desperately need some perspective on my toddler's multiple sleep issues. Hope me???

Toddler McCatburglar is 20 months old. I've nursed him to sleep since he was born (in hindsight, BIG MISTAKE). We coslept for the first year, but Mr. McCatburglar is a very light sleeper, not to mention the person who goes out to work every day, so when Toddler McC was a year old we decided to move him out of our room and onto a twin mattress on the floor of his own room. Fantastic! He loves it.

Except that he still wakes up multiple times during the night (4+ between 8pm and 8am), so we've come to a point where I go to bed in my own bed about 11:00, and between midnight and one o'clock he wakes up, whereupon I go to his bedroom and sleep with him the rest of the night. I very much believe that you do whatever you have to do to achieve maximum sleep for maximum family members, but I HATE IT. I hate sleeping in his bed. I want to go back to my bed, alone (well, with Mr. McCatburglar). I want to sleep more than four hours in a row for the first time in 20 months. I don't want to nurse at night anymore. I have had it up to here (imagine my hand in the stratosphere).

Ok, so sleep train him, you say. Totally would have agreed, best solution all around, until we actually tried it this weekend. After 45 minutes of my husband and I going back in at increasing intervals, patting and shushing while he screamed and cried, we gave up and I lay down to nurse him, but by that time he was so worked up that it took two hours of screaming and crying and rocking and singing before he finally fell asleep.

The next day I read this illuminating Ask Moxie post about tension increasers and tension releasers, and was like, Ohhhh, he's a tension increaser. Got it.

So where do we go from here? If my kid increases tension by crying, that precludes any kind of traditional sleep training, right? In fact, it seems like it rules out anything that will make him cry, which is anything except nursing to sleep. From where I stand this looks like me sucking it up and waiting it out. Some day he will stop needing to nurse to sleep, right? RIGHT??

I feel like there are so many issues to address here, and I don't know how to seperate them out. We have:
-the nursing-to-sleep issue,
-the multiple wake-ups issue,
-the fact that I don't want to sleep with him anymore, except that he wakes up a lot less when I do

Plus other confounding factors like:
-we have downstairs neighbors that we want to keep on good terms with (i.e. not wake them up many times every night with crying)
-Toddler McC started preschool in February and has been sick on and off ever since
-and he's got four teeth coming in right now

Where do I even go from here? Please tell me if you've had a similar problem with your toddler (especially if they were a tension increaser), and how you resolved it (or if it resolved itself). Please tell me that I haven't broken my child by nursing him to sleep (all the other babies I know were weaned at 6 months and have sleep through the night since then, the little bastards). Please?

I'm not quite at the end of my rope yet, but I can certainly see it from here.
posted by lollymccatburglar to Human Relations (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You've got to make a decision if you are comfortable letting him cry it out.

If you are comfortable making that decision you just need to bite the bullet and do it for several nights.

The sleep tensioner article is from someone explicitly against cry-it-out. That's fine, a personal choice. We did cry it out and it worked for us but I can't speak to other methods.

But if you aren't opposed to cry-it-out maybe push it a bit harder.
posted by JPD at 3:06 AM on April 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not opposed to cry-it-out, but even if I felt like the method was more likely to help my kid, what do I do about the neighbors? I can't let him cry for an hour at 8pm, an hour at midnight, an hour at 4 am. A couple of days in a row. And I'm being optimistic with the number of wakings and hours, here.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 3:44 AM on April 14, 2015

If he's waking repeatedly and always being nursed back to sleep, then the problem is that he doesn't know how to fall asleep without nursing. So when he wakes up in the night he needs you. Some people decide to solve this with cry it out methods and what happens is the kid cries until he figures out how to put himself to sleep. If that doesn't work for you for psychological or logistical reasons, then the thing to do is to slowly change habits. Instead of nursing him to sleep, nurse him in the evening and then have your husband put him to bed with a bottle of milk and a song/routine. Then in a couple days make it a bottle of water and a song. Then see if it can just be the routine.

If you can break his habit of feeling like he needs to be sucking/eating to fall asleep, then he can wake up in the night, turn over and fall back asleep without help from you.
posted by feets at 3:51 AM on April 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

A complicating factor in all this is the nursing. It's probably time to ween him anyway right? (4 teeth? Ouch!) Could help him feel more independent, which is what it's all about. Good luck!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:52 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, I know plenty of babies, and most of the non-breastfeeding babies still give their parents plenty of sleep disturbance. So I wouldn't imagine it's about you doing something wrong. :)
posted by feets at 3:55 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

We've had all sorts of sleep drama with our kid, so I really feel your pain. We aren't the best to give advice, but I can say what we've learned! Our big mistake was inconsistency. If you're going to cry it out, cry it out and DO NOT GIVE IN. If you aren't up for that (and that's okay!!) then don't, just nurse or send your husband in with a bottle. We did it halfway for a while, and it just meant more tears and anger and frustration on everyone's part for no reason, and I wish we'd either just gone with it, or abandoned it entirely. We liked the Sleep Lady's book, but YMMV.

Neighbors understand if you tell them in advance (I once called the cops on our neighbors because their kid was screaming for three hours and I thought something was severely wrong, only to learn later it was sleep training!) In advance, bring them a present (a cake?) and earplugs and explain the whole situation to them. It's really only a few days and will probably mean peace for a long, long time. They might hear your son crying now, anyway, and this will make it quieter for everyone in the long run.
posted by EtTuHealy at 4:10 AM on April 14, 2015 [13 favorites]

With the neighbours, are you on good enough terms to tell them upfront that you are going to try sleep training and it may be noisy for a few nights? This is well within normal bounds of "things that happen with small children", so while I can't say for sure that they'll react well, I would guess most people would appreciate you telling them, and then just buy some earplugs or expect a bit of night-time noise. You can always buy them flowers or muffins once it's done, and I really don't think you should let this worry stop you if you need to change your child's sleep habits.
posted by crocomancer at 4:14 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

beaten to the punch!
posted by crocomancer at 4:15 AM on April 14, 2015

Time to start teaching him alternative methods of self soothing.

How do you comfort him and make him relaxed and cozy during the day time, or are nipple and warm MommyMcCatBurglar proximity his only comfort then too?

To figure out what comforts him your powers of observation come into play. Does music make him restless and cranky or does it make him zen, flopped out on the couch? Does he appreciate certain textures, such as fuzzy? Does a massage make him go all gallipoli (limp like over-cooked pasta)? Is there anything he likes to suck or chew? Is there a family dog who might be selflessly volunteered to replace the warm body of his mother? Can DaddyMcCatBurglar replace the warm body of his mother even if his nipples are barren? Can he be hypnotized with blinking lights? What about white noise such as a recording of the ocean surf?

Do not attempt to coax him back to sleep with any of these things at night as a first step or he will learn to loathe them as they will be associated with abandonment. Make sure you have taught him to happily snuggle in the living room with whatever self calming method works for him, while you continue to putter in the kitchen before you introduce him to the concept of settling down alone at night.

A nursing bottle of water that he can get and drink from himself might be a good transition object. He could be thirsty not hungry and used to getting a drink. Again, he has to learn to use it happily in the day time before you offer it as an alternative to your breast at night.

The family dog or his slightly older sibling in the same room are often the best methods of convincing a baby that he is not abandoned or incarcerated, he is merely in bed. He needs to associate his room with the place where he gets privacy from you, not the place where you get privacy from him.

You may want to try disrupting the sleep arrangement so that he gets out of the habit of assuming that there will always be a twin bed mattress on his floor at night and you will be on it. A possible transition would be to move the mattress onto the living room floor transiently so that he breaks the habit of expecting you to be in his room when he wakes up. You could go back to sleep with him on the living room floor and then flip the mattress up against the wall in day time. Or haul him out of his room onto the couch with you for a couple of weeks, if the mattress idea isn't going to work. However this could lead to him coming to your room and getting into bed with you because he learns that if he wants you at night it's time to leave his room, so use caution in changing sleep arrangements.

Some kids like tight swaddling. He might like a heavy bolster pillow stuffed with old clothing as an alternative to Mommy. If you buy the pillow it will be light and fluffy so you need to stuff it yourself with something heavier than fluffed up polyester fibre fill. He might also like to learn to swaddle himself by rolling up in a foam mattress or wrapping himself up in a comforter.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:17 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I very much believe that you do whatever you have to do to achieve maximum sleep for maximum family members

I think you should really focus on the truth or lack of truth of this belief first.

Work on yourselves first to solve this. You can't do cry-it-out any other way.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:52 AM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

My son (now almost 4), sleeps through the night (hallelujah!). We never did CIO (we made one attempt and we both conceded we were too wimpy for it). It was hell at several points, he was not a good sleeper. I wasn't breast-feeding at 20 months but we would give him bottle(s) at night and it took forever to get him off of them (finally around 2.5 we did it and it was nearly painless - gave him water instead of milk and told him it was happening and he started sleeping through the night), but it at least meant I got a break sometimes.

I have to say, the times when you really want to sleep train (not sleeping well, teething, sick), are probably the worst times to try. For me whenever my son was sleeping well enough I'd forget about making changes and then the next bad time would hit and I'd lose my mind again. So maybe tough things out until it's a calmer phase and see how it goes then.

For survival right now, can you go to bed at 9pm? You'd get a few solid hours of restorative sleep and it might make it bearable for now if you don't do CIO. You don't have to wean completely to make changes to the routine, some moms nurse in the morning and afternoon, before bed. Some babies can nurse to sleep but not expect the boob at night, my son was not like that haha. You could try going down to nursing before bed, and nursing once during the night, toughing out the rest of the wake-ups by taking turns and see if he starts sleeping longer stretches.
posted by lafemma at 4:59 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can dad start doing bedtime and 5-10 minutes of soothing for one wake up per night? At bedtime, can you get out of the house for a little while? For us, it was really important to get nursing totally out of the bedtime equation so that the kiddo knew it was optional. My husband would give him some warm milk but not as the last thing. At that age we also laid down with him until he went to sleep (not with boob) and eventually did the Shuffle mentioned upthread.

(We had the same cry it out experience. It was the most complete failure possible. Crying still ramps him up rather than down.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:03 AM on April 14, 2015

Could you try breaking it down into two stages - first stage, night weaning while staying with him, and then second stage, getting back to your own bed after he's no longer feeding at night? I know a lot of people use Jay Gordon's night weaning technique while co-sleeping, and lots of them seem to have had success with it. I don't imagine it'll mean zero crying, but probably less crying than trying to do it all at once.

Please tell me that I haven't broken my child by nursing him to sleep

Nah. Or if you have, then so have the 99.999% of parents who live(d) in times and cultures where nursing to sleep was totally normal, and yet they all seem to have done fine without any massive population-level sleep problems. My last job involved reading a lot of historical parenting advice manuals, and even in the last few centuries where bossy parenting advice manuals have been a thing, 'nursing to sleep is bad' is a relatively recent idea. Don't stress it.
posted by Catseye at 5:14 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

My daughter didn't sleep through the night until she was 26 months old. Literally the second night after I completely weaned her from nursing (as in completely no milk from me during day or night) she started sleeping through the night. It was hard to let go of the nursing because I enjoyed that connection with her but it was glorious to sleep through an entire night.
posted by teamnap at 5:37 AM on April 14, 2015

I think you should work on night weaning first - baby absolutely does not need to nurse during the night at 20 months for nourishment, it is just comfort. Which I get - comfort is wonderful! But he'll be even more comforted if he sleeps well through the night and learns to put himself back to sleep.

Do you literally nurse him to sleep, or does he go to sleep awake/drowsy? I read a theory somewhere that the problem with nursing babies to sleep is that when they wake up at night they freak out because they don't remember how they got in the crib or where you went; if you put them in the crib awake, then it isn't strange to them to wake up alone. It could be crap, and likely is, but I swear that once we started putting my son down awake at nighttime he did seem to simultaneously stop waking up at night so much. Correlation isn't always causation, but that's some baby anecdata for you.

Once my son got used to going to bed awake, his desire to nurse immediately before bed quickly dissapated, and we soon stopped nursing at bedtime altogether. It was a lot easier to accomplish that transition with my husband taking over as the one who puts him to bed at night.
posted by gatorae at 5:53 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

18-23 months was a rough time for us. Apparently that is common. Have you read "Your one-year-old"? It's a quick read and may give you context on this time in your kids life. I found at 24 months suddenly some balance was restored. So just know that this period of time is typically chaotic and likely a better phase is coming.

We did some sleep training at age 2. Mostly weaning her from the bottle (I didn't breastfeed after 3 months). We phased it out over a week after telling her that bottle was for little babies and it was time to let it go. Every night we reduced it by an ounce. She seemed to accept this (miracle!) and then we worked on going to sleep without it.

We also were transitioning her away from the crib. She got a bed but also a sleep area on the floor of my room. So, she'd wake up and I'd send her to sleep on the floor. It wasn't always smooth. It took awhile and actually we went back to the crib when I started to think she just wasn't ready. Somewhere at 2-1/2, we did the "big girl" bed again and it went much better.

I think you're in a rough spot for your kid. I think you might be rushing full-on into the storm here and need to think creatively. What if you turned your focus on to you?

You need 6 hours in a row. Minimum. What can you and your partner do to get that? Let's start with that as a goal in itself and whatever supports that (not breastfeeding on demand through the night) might be your tactic in the near future. See what that nets you, re-group when you're ready and go from there.
posted by amanda at 5:56 AM on April 14, 2015

Yes, I agree with the other posters that the first step is to stop nursing.

Have your husband take over bedtime duty so the possibility to nurse is gone. Let your husband do whatever he needs to in getting your child to sleep, and be supportive, but be absent from where ever the child is sleeping.

I think your child will end up falling asleep in bed with your husband, and after a week you can take over this task as long as there's no nursing.

When you get to this point, you can now get him to sleep, get into your own bed, and sleep as long as the kid sleeps, which will improve. If he wakes in the night you might have to lay with him again or maybe just sit near him. You can progressively be farther away.

For my family, CIO would have been incredibly cruel to our child. I don't ever want to communicate to my child that I will abandon her while she is in distress, especially at a time she should feel comfortable (before sleep). We attempted many hours of it against our better judgement and it failed. Go the route of comfort and love, not abandonment.
posted by littlewater at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2015

Most of the popular sleep training methods out there are useful and parents need to choose what works best for them and their family. Many methods will suggest something like "put your baby down to sleep when they are drowsy, but awake and not over-tired." The most important thing is consistency. "I've nursed him to sleep since he was born (in hindsight, BIG MISTAKE)." So far you have been extremely consistent in your bedtime routine since birth (and consistency is a good thing), but it's clear that this arrangement is not working for you anymore, so you should definitely honor that insight, start prioritizing your own health, and begin making some changes.

Best book on this subject: Bed Timing: The 'When-to' Guide to Helping Your Child to Sleep by Dr. Marc D. Lewis and Dr. Isabela Granic. The authors say the age of 20-months is not a developmentally ideal time to sleep-train-- 22-27 months would be the next appropriate developmental window for sleep-training using any of the popular methods (Ferber, Weissbluth, etc), and that window closes again from 28 months to 3 years. YMMV.
posted by hush at 5:58 AM on April 14, 2015

It's time to go shopping! There are these super cute light up turtles that beam stars onto the ceiling. They even make noise. Get him one of those. Let him play with it during the day for a bit and then put it up, with him screaming and crying for it for a moment, and distract him with something else (do this when he is not sleepy or hungry). When it's time for bed, let him have it again. When he wakes up, go to his room, turn the thing on, kiss him on the forehead, tell him you will be back in a few minutes, and then go away. Do go back in a few minutes, kiss him again, and excuse yourself again. If he gets fussy, tell him Mr. Turtle can't play with him when he fusses and ask him to give Mr. Turtle a hug to apologize. Make it all about keeping Mr. Turtle happy.

If Mr. Turtle isn't a win, try something else. At two, my son decided a small can of tomato paste was what he desperately needed to help him sleep. It was weird but it worked for 3 weeks!

You could also try white noise machines or playing music for him, so he doesn't realize he is alone while sleeping.

Filling his bead with stuffed animals or a body pillow might help, once again, so he doesn't feel alone when he wakes up.

Teething is a tough time for babies. Find him something to gnaw on that he can keep in his bed.

You are not alone in this. Kids are awful for our sleep and it sounds like you are doing everything right. I don't think children should cry themselves to sleep. I have three kids, ages 8, 11, and 17 and they all manage just fine now. My son never sleeps with canned food anymore. You will get through this.
posted by myselfasme at 6:18 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just want to say, my 20 month old just got done with two weeks of extra-clingy-waking stuff. (With a little carry over last night, too). I think they are going through a developmental thing at this age. (Big comprehension in words! So many new words and sentences just in the past week where there were hardly any a month ago.)

I still nurse him at night, too.

I think the best advice is to think "this too shall pass" and remember that kids are growing and learning so fast at this age that they might need extra (infuriating, at times!) comfort at night while they work through it all.
posted by jillithd at 7:37 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ours also was used to my wife nursing him to sleep, and we started by doing the mom-to-dad switch. (But at about 10-12 months, I think?) There was still some vigorous protest, but at least he had *someone* there with him. (I don't know if that was more of a comfort to him or to us.) I think he took 20-40 minutes to calm down completely at first? He fell asleep in my arms and then after a while I (very gingerly!) put him in bed. I'd have to look back at my notes but I think it got much better after the first 3 nights or so (despite my giving up on the second night.--so I guess the occasional inconsistency isn't the end of the world), then the crying ended completely soon after that.

After maybe a couple weeks I started putting him down before he was asleep and staying with him and shushing, then very gradually moved myself towards the door over another week or so, then still had a long period when I'd close the door but sit just outside reading and making shushing noises, before I finally started just closing the door and walking away. There wasn't crying during any of that. Once that was established my wife started taking over occasionally. Anyway, could be different for you, especially with an older kid, but that's our story.

Might be easier at first to work on just the bedtime routine and keep doing whatever you need to for subsequent wakeups. Should be less stressful, and miminize the late-night noise. And people say the nighttime wakeups usually clear up on their own once they learn to go to sleep on their own.

I'm a fan of figuring out how to do things one small step at a time.
posted by bfields at 8:03 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

1) If you're reaching the end of your rope, and you think teething may be playing a part in this, just give the kid some ibuprofen at bedtime for a few nights and see if it helps.

2) Agreed with others that you need to night wean at all costs. Probably before you move on to all-out sleep training. We did not have much trouble replacing the bedtime nursing with a sippy cup of water. Micropanda took the cup of water to bed with him until he toilet trained; Nanopanda phased out of it quickly and we just do bedtime routine now (toothbrush, pajamas, story, snuggle with lights out, plop sleepy baby in crib). Similarly, I'd offer water at the night time wakeups.

3) Once you're night weaned, THEN you can move on to sleep training. Note that check and console does not work for all babies. It makes some babies (see: Nanopanda) feel like you're just taunting them. On the occasions that we let her cry it out, it has to be total extinction. You might consider trying this for a couple of nights - a couple of nights is not going to break your kid - but if you just can't, or a few nights in and nothing is improving, consider other methods.
posted by telepanda at 8:12 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

This might sound simplistic and others have given you more interesting (and some totally opposite!) things to try, but here's what worked for us: sometime around your son's age, when I was done with night nursing but not invested in weaning entirely, I told my daughter during the day and at bedtime that we were going to nurse at bedtime and in the morning, but not at nighttime. When she woke at night in her separate room, my husband or I would go in and rub her back and quietly tell her it was nighttime, time to get cozy and sleep, and that we would nurse in the morning, using as few words as possible and not lingering. There was some crying involved (and I did subscribe to the notion that she was a tension-increaser), but dad or I would just go in and do the same thing at longer intervals, again keeping the talk to a minimum.
posted by Leona at 8:18 AM on April 14, 2015

My daughter was very similar.

At 18 months, we started putting her to bed on her own mattress on the floor in her bedroom. It took some time, but she eventually only woke up in the middle of the night. So we let her sleep with us the second half of the night. We did this til she was about two. Once she was two, we put her in her bed, and my husband would intercept her before she reached our door. He'd give her a cup of milk, hugs and kisses, and put her back to bed. That lasted a good long while, but we knew if she got to me, that'd end with her sleeping in the bed.

She's three now, and if she wakes up, it's usually from a nightmare or other typical toddler ailments.

You don't necessarily have to use cry it out, which would not have worked for us at all. We basically managed her expectations til she didn't have the expectation of nursing to sleep or sleeping in our bed with us. It worked well, though not without its sleep associated challenges.
posted by zizzle at 9:07 AM on April 14, 2015

Reading this was so reassuring when we were in a similar place. It helped me make simple changes without questioning my own intuition, which was important for my sleep-deprived-attachmentish-mama brain. Good luck!
posted by deadcrow at 9:29 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about going into his room and sitting next to the bed rather than getting into the bed. And then moving a bit further from the bed each night thereafter until you are sitting outside his door. He probably will not like this and will cry a lot at the beginning but at least he won't be by himself as he learns to put himself back to sleep. I saw this technique on supernanny and it worked for my daughter. Expect it to be a tough road for a while but remain strong and expect sleepless nights for a while.
posted by waving at 9:48 AM on April 14, 2015

When my first was 10months my milk supply dried up (I was pregnant- hormones) and he sort of just lost interest in nursing over about a months time. He seemed to generally sleep better after weaning (less wake ups), and I know I slept better.

If you're ready to night or full wean, you could try that.

It was painless for us, though I realize the situations are pretty different - I didn't nurse him to sleep typically, and my milk just tapered off so I never really had to say no.

He's also a tension increased though so I feel you there.
posted by pennypiper at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2015

Wow, lots going on here.

First step is to wean the night nursing. At 20mos, it's not about needing the nutrition at night, like they do when they're newborns; this is a comfort issue. When I was still night nursing at 18mos some moms in the know told me that my LO was getting "too much reward" for waking at night because I would come in to nurse him. So, I cut down our sessions by a minute or two each night until we got to about 4 minutes, when it really wasn't worth waking for either or us.

Then one night before bed I sat him down and explained to him that if he woke up, I would bring him a bottle of water but that I would not take him out of his crib, and that because it was nighttime and not yet wakeup time he would have to lay down and go back to sleep. The first night or two he took some of the water while I stood next to the crib and patted his back but didn't pick him up. The next couple of nights he refused the water and cried a bit for me to pick him up but I reminded him that it was still sleeping time and that he would have to lay down until it was wakeup time. Yes, he did whimper for a few minutes. This is where you have to be firm in your belief that learning to go back to sleep on his own is a difficulty for him in the shortterm but benefits the entire family in the longterm. It's tough, to be sure, but you have to have resolve to get through it.

Next, I suggest you should eliminate nursing while lying in bed. Like, today. So when you do nurse, you both get up and go sit in a chair, or on the couch, or somewhere else that is not associated with sleeping. Don't turn on any lights. Don't talk to your LO. Just nurse, then take him back to bed.

I know, you are going to be exhausted for a few days. Maybe try to call in some help so you can nap. Plan your week such that there is nothing else that needs to get done. This is your most important task that needs to be accomplished over the next week or two. Frame it for yourself and your hubby that nothing is more important for the next couple of weeks than getting this thing done.

Third, we found as we were doing CIO that doing check-ins actually made our LO more upset. So we quit doing them, although I did have a video monitor and watched him the whole time. The important thing to know about sleep training is the difference between distress and protest. You have been coming in to comfort him for a long time. No one handles change well and so it's natural that your LO will protest. You have to talk to him about it during the day, prepare his expectations that this is the way we do things now. Again, it will be tough for a week or two, but so much better for all of you in the long run. Your LO is definitely old enough to understand what you are saying to him, even if his own spoken vocabulary isn't that sophisticated yet.

I don't know what method or book you may be following, but we used Sleep Easy Solution. The bonus is that it comes on video (look for it at your local library, or try to borrow a copy from friends). So much easier to parse their recommendations via the video than trying to read a book when you are sleep deprived.
posted by vignettist at 9:58 AM on April 14, 2015

Our son was exactly this bad with sleeping, and the way we fixed it was to completely stop nursing him at night. That meant that I (the non-nursing mom) got up with him and bounced him and rocked him and sang to him when he woke up, so it wasn't cry-it-out, it was just no-boobs-it-out.

It worked very quickly; he was sleeping through the night in maybe a week or two (can't remember exactly). Once he knew he wasn't getting comforting boobies at night, he stopped waking up enough to yell for us. I know your husband has to work during the day, but I think he's basically just got to get up with the kiddo for a while and learn how to get him back to sleep without boobs. It's going to be hard, but I think it's less hard than CIO.
posted by hought20 at 10:00 AM on April 14, 2015

Studies showing that infant mental health is directly tied to parental mental health are numerous and robust. Your toddler needs you happy, healthy, and well-rested. Handle your own oxygen mask first! If that eventually means CIO if/when you see a need for it, then so be it. Candidly, I know a lot of parents for whom night waking and miserable cosleeping and no private time alone together in bed at night for the parents and the resulting marital stress lasted well into the preschool or elementary school years. No. It doesn't necessarily pass, particularly if you keep reinforcing it. My answer would be vastly different here if you'd said you love cosleeping and it was actually making all of you feel well-rested and awesome in your marriage -- which is certainly the case for some families.
posted by hush at 10:02 AM on April 14, 2015

We did the Sleep Lady Shuffle with our daughter when she was about 1 year old. The most important keys to our success: dad, not mom, puts the kid to bed and goes to soothe him/her (no more nursing to sleep); and earplugs for both parents. It takes the edge off of the crying; you can still hear and respond, but it doesn't drive you as crazy.
posted by mogget at 11:03 AM on April 14, 2015

If baby goes to sleep at 8pm, you need to go to sleep at 8pm. Going to sleep at 11pm only to be woken a few hours later sounds like total insanity. I can imagine you and your spouse want to spend time together, but you need some triage sleep help right now, and if you can get 5 solid hours between 8pm and 1am, why aren't you doing it?! At least crash out at 9pm. You must be so tired.

Next, I'm also a CIO person. I've read Ask Moxie for years, and as she'll admit herself, she's not an expert in anything. She's just a mom, with theories based on hearing from lots of people but mostly her own experience.

Just as another "datapoint" as she'd say, I had one "easy" kid who I was able to sleep train at 5 mo, and one "tough" kid who was very physically connected to me (basically forced me to attachment parent against my will). I was able to sleep train the "tough" kid down to one nursing session a night at maybe 7 months. I would get up and nurse him for the first cry (usually around 1-2am) and then that kid had to tough it out for 5 whole hours until 5:30am which I deemed the earliest possible moment which I could be summoned from my bed. No pediatrician is going to tell you that a kid will go hungry or insane during 5 hours in their bed alone at night if they are otherwise well loved and cared for.

I think the CIO opponents are totally FOS. I can tell you my son would have loved to be in my bed, on my boob, all night, but there lies insanity, at least for me. I'm as connected to him physically as I'm able to be (hugs and kisses all day, lots of lap time, "I love you" maybe 20x a day), and he is a healthy happy 4yo now, who not only sleeps through the night (as he has since maybe age 1.5) but also gets himself up to go pee--flushes, turns off the light and closes the door to the bathroom, and puts himself back to bed!!! This is a recent victory.

It sounds like your child is very physically attached to you. Good luck! I applaud your interest in taking care of your own physical and mental health as well as your baby.
posted by tk at 5:02 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

We never did CIO and I nursed until my daughter was nearly three - for the last six months it was mostly only on wakeup and as part of the bedtime routine. But NOT to sleep - we stopped that around 18 months I think? When she could walk, she was still in our room, and could get up and come to our bed for cuddles or whatever, and sometimes nursing, but once she stopped nursing to sleep she stopped nursing as much through the night (caveat: illness and stress affected this a lot so when she was sick she nursed more, and over stressful periods). She was also a child who would throw up if she cried for longer than five minutes so CIO was never something we wanted to do either practically, emotionally, or as part of our parenting strategy.

I stopped nursing to sleep at first with the Pantley Pull Off thing - just as she was dropping down, no longer actively feeding but still suckling, I'd break the latch and pull myself free but keep her in that position. Then it was a shorter and shorter feed, stopping further along the sleep-wake continuum, but keeping her in my lap. Then we switched things so it was feed then song/story. Then it was at the start of the routine. Then we focused on putting her in her bed before she was asleep. Then she just sort of stopped feeding (I went on a holiday without her which assisted). We still hang out with her while she goes to sleep - valuable dicking about on our phone or on the ipad time - but she can go to sleep without us and does when we're away. When she has a stressful period with nightmares things change a little as well, but she is fairly consistent about sleeping through and preferring her bed and bedroom since she was about 4?

Thus far we have less of the really aggressive problems with sleep some of our relatives have, even if they look down on our routines we're pretty happy.

(my neighbours do CIO and thus far it's been a month where I consistently wake up with their children and depending on how confused I am, will go and try and tend to my deeply deeply asleep child) (they are lovely, we all hang out, but I want my fucking sleep back SO BADLY but it doesn't seem to be ending)
posted by geek anachronism at 9:47 PM on April 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone. There is some really fantastic advice here. All of your comments have really helped me to think about the issue in a rational manner. I think that first we will work on changing his habits, as many of you suggested, and move on to some variant of CIO if that doesn't work. But most important of all, you've given me hope! Thank you all again.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:11 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

PM me if you are interested in hiring a sleep coach. Ours was amazing. Changed my life for sure.
posted by mrfuga0 at 8:44 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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