When Sam was younger, our bedtime routine would drag on for hours. At a certain point we’d close the lights but we’d continue talking about her day, reliving every step, conversation, joke and song. While I wanted my day to be over (since I was with Sam when she went through the actual live experience), I’d just want her to lie down and sleep (so that the rest of my day could go on). On the contrary, my husband who would only catch a glimpse of our day at this point, would enjoy it and want it to go on forever. He also said that it helped Sam exercise the memory cells in her brain (I don’t know if there is any scientific truth to that – he just believed it. And maybe it did help, because Sam has an excellent memory to date).
That part of the routine changed when Jamie was born, since Sam now had to learn to be quiet and lie still when the lights went out. Somehow we gradually moved that part of our evening to dinner time or during bath time, which worked well too since Dad had to pitch in a lot more while I nursed Jamie to no end.
I realized as I tried to merge their evening routines, I was always racing against time to get the lights out. I wanted Sam to have enough nighttime sleep because she’d started to drop her nap; and Jamie at that point in the day was also already overstimulated and overtired, so we needed to get everyone down and fast! I nursed Jamie to sleep. Admittedly it was the easiest (and most efficient) way to complete the routine. We’d gotten used to lights out, prayer and then silence (as much as possible).
I’ve recently started the process of weaning Jamie after almost two years of breastfeeding, and I had difficulty dissociating the nursing from the falling asleep part. The more I think about it, that’s all she’s known for the last twenty-three months, it’s second-nature to her already. My husband isn’t much help in this area — he can’t stand Jamie crying for “Mommy’s milk!”, and impatiently tells me to just give in already. “She’ll do it eventually.” I honestly don’t believe it will happen that simply — much less miraculously — unless I take conscious steps to change it. Small baby steps of course.
A couple of nights ago I consulted my ever reliable doula KK and she pointed me to Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Sleep Solution (For Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers). I am taking notes as I go and forming a plan in my head but in the meantime, I’ve made some haphazard attempts towards the weaning process.
KK told me that I could start with the naps and thankfully that was relatively painless (Whew!). She also said that the first step was to make a clear distinction between the time for breastfeeding and the time for lying down to sleep. She also assured me that of course there would be crying. It’s inevitable — introducing a change will encounter protest, but a loving approach can minimize that and remove any potential trauma to both mother and child.
We currently don’t have a chair in our bedroom that will fit a nursing Jamie and myself comfortably (other than the girls’ playroom chairs – but I don’t fit there to begin with), so I started by just propping myself on pillows and sitting up on the bed. That killed my back after a few tries and so we were back to nursing and lying down.
In the past, Jamie would go back and forth on each side until she fell asleep, but I had enough willpower to limit her feeds to one time for each side and cut it short there. In the first few days she shrieked her head off until she fell asleep (note: I would hug and reassure her the entire time that she was a big girl and didn’t need my milk anymore…), but I knew I had to get her to stop crying faster (since it stresses my husband out as you know).
Then I realized that Jamie would unlatch herself willingly if she wanted to say something to me. And so when I’d feel the let-down slow, I began to prompt her with questions. Eventually she didn’t notice that she’d stop nursing to talk to me and from there we would listen to music and fall asleep. By the time we start talking, the lights would’ve been out for a while as Sam (and oftentimes, her dad) would’ve had a head start into snooze-land.
In the dark under our Ladybug stars night lite, it would feel like just Jamie and me. She would climb directly on top of me and answer my questions about her day or listen to me whisper stories and facts in her ear. We’d talk about her friends, her books (The Gruffalo is a favorite these days) or the songs she learned. Most nights, I’d “teach” Jamie different facts like shape descriptions, or the colors and the numbers in Spanish. Sometimes it’s a new song, or the basic addition table or the phonetic spelling of words. I think she absorbs it because on random occasions she can answer me when I ask her a question, and that’s encouraging. I get her to stop crying AND she learns new things along the way!
Lately I’ve considered it as one of the highlights of my day. It’s also because, alone time with Jamie is rare when I’m home with both girls. And I’d also been feeling some mom-guilt about not being able to teach her as much and as regularly as I did with Sam. I don’t mean to compare the girls, but they do have the same mother, and I was hoping to give them the same opportunities to be fair (Then again, life isn’t fair, is it?). I feel better that my nightly pillow conversations with Jamie have eased that guilt somehow.
Jamie isn’t fully weaned yet (when she wakes up in the wee hours of the morning, she still nurses), but it is a step in the right direction. I’ll take what I can at this point. And I am slowly beginning to discover what consistently works in calming her down.
After a typically long and exhausting day, I like those quiet moments in bed. It’s a like a slumber party with my best friend only she’s two years old. It’s both relaxing and tiring (try staying awake while putting someone to sleep!) but I can’t deny that I like the extra snuggle time I get with my little girl. In reality she’s not-so-little anymore. I’m in no hurry to make that go away anytime soon.