Since I had reasonably successfully gotten both my older two boys to fall asleep in their own beds on their own around 16 months, I had been waiting for the baby to reach an age at which I felt ready to "sleep train" him as well. He is still sleeping in our bed, and he has been sleeping very poorly, nursing often through the night, and I'm sick of it. I'm ready for him to be out, in his own bed, sleeping better.
He hit 15 months, and I hit a breaking point. He had shown some signs that said to me that maybe he was ready. First of all, he occasionally sleeps two or three hours by himself in our bed before I go to bed. Secondly, the other night, I sent him downstairs with my husband so I could get a little sleep, and he had no trouble sleeping without me nearby. Finally, I have witnessed him, on occasion, wake slightly, roll over, and go back to sleep without needing me. I thought, surely he is ready.
I want to take the "sleep training" in slow, steady steps. The first step, I had planned, was to get him to fall asleep on his own in his crib, instead of nursing in my bed. I felt I had established a fairly strong routine at this point (which is really the very first step), and he knows it's dinner, then bath, then get in PJ's and nurse to sleep. I thought, we'll do everything, except I won't let him fall asleep at the breast. I'll nurse him to almost-asleep, then tell him he needs to sleep in his own bed and lay him down in his crib, then do a Ferber-style controlled crying. He'll be asleep in no time, surely!
I was wrong. So, so wrong. At first, he was a little confused about being placed in his crib awake. I said good night, told him to lie down, and left. He didn't cry. He decided to try to climb out of the crib, instead. Now, for lack of a better place to put it at the moment, the crib is right next to my bed. It's been there since he was about three months old. I had left the mattress at the highest setting, because it would be easier to lift him in and out, and it was safe since it was between my bed and the wall, and if he did climb out, he'd just end up on my bed.
After I returned, laid him down, and told him once again to go to sleep, and he realized I intended to leave him there, he started crying.
When I went back in three minutes later, he clung to me for dear life, as if he thought I'd never return, despite never giving him reason to think that was so. I unhooked him from around my neck, laid him down gently again, and told him again to go to sleep.
He started crying hysterically.
When I went back in five minutes later, he was sitting in the middle of my bed crying, red-faced, and signing "nurse" for all he was worth.
How can a mother do such a thing to her child? Only one who is desperate for sleep, I guess. I steeled myself, hugged him, calmed him as best I could, put him back in the crib, and told him to go to sleep. He promptly climbed back out. I put him back in, told him again to go to sleep, and left. I went to my computer to do a puzzle so that the seven minutes would pass more easily. The four-year-old came to me and told me that the baby doesn't know how to fall asleep in his bed, and he needs me to nurse him to sleep. He told me he is sitting on my bed and crying and needs me to come.
From the mouths of babes, eh?
I told my four-year-old gently that the baby needed to learn to fall asleep without nursing and that he would be okay. And then I heard the unmistakable sound of a baby about to vomit. I rushed to him and let him vomit his dinner and before-sleep milk all over both of us. And then I wiped us off with his bath towel and hugged him and told him that he could nurse, but I was just going to change his pajamas.
And then I nursed him quietly to sleep, which took a lot longer than it would have if I had just done so in the first place.
I don't know how anyone has the strength to watch their baby suffer like that, especially when it is unnecessary. My baby needed me. He didn't understand why I would just leave him like that, and he couldn't fathom a world where Mommy wasn't there for him.
Sure, one day he'll learn that I can't always be there, but why does he have to learn it at 15 months? Instead, I'd rather he learn that Mommy is there for him, that he can be secure in knowing that I love him, that I will always return, and that when he calls me, I'll come.
I think I'll change the first step of my slow sleep-change process. I'll wait until he has a twin bed in a room with his brothers, which will hopefully be in a month or two. Then I'll nurse him to sleep in his own bed. I'll worry about getting him to fall asleep without nursing sometime after that. It seems far less cruel that way, and should involve considerably less crying.
In the meantime, I guess I'm stuck with my cuddly, sweet boy in my bed. And is that really so bad?
More from parenting