Please watch my video on weaning and child sleep struggles.
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To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
Are you trying to wean your baby from the breast and get them to stay in their crib at night? You’ve got your hands full, literally, but we might be able to make it go more smoothly for you and your child.
This week’s questions comes from Michelle, who asks:
“I have a 17-month-old that I’m working on weaning from the breast as well as getting him to sleep in his crib all night. He won’t go to sleep unless he’s rocked or nursed. I’ve tried to leave him in his crib on his own but he screams. I just can’t deal with that as it makes me feel terrible. How do I teach him to self-sooth and sleep in his own crib all night?”
Let’s set the weaning issue aside for the time being and instead focus on bedtime. If Michelle would like to nurse at bedtime, that’s okay. It’s also alright if she wants to get rid of it altogether. Either way, she’ll have to change the way she does it to stop her baby from falling asleep at the breast.
It’s important that there is a nice, clear bedtime routine. She doesn’t mention what time her son goes to bed at night, so I’m going to suggest a bedtime of around 7:00.
At about 6:30 p.m. I would start his routine with a bath. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bath, but for this example he’ll have a bath at 6:30 and then get on his pajamas.
If you’ve decided to keep a feed in his routine, do that at this point while you sit up in a chair in his room, not lying in bed with him. Leave the lights on and don’t allow him to close his eyes while he’s feeding. Each time he does, give him a little poke or call out his name. If he’s trying to get to sleep while on the breast, you might even need to end the session a little earlier than normal.
A benefit of doing it this way is that once you break the connection the baby has between nursing and sleeping, the easier it will be to wean him. It becomes very difficult to wean if you’ve got a child who really associates sleep with feed.
It’s almost like you then have two problems instead of one. How do you stop him from nursing and how do you get him to sleep without nursing? It really becomes a problem, that’s why I suggest you go ahead with the feed if you feel that’s best. Just be sure that they don’t fall asleep there or even get a little drowsy, because you’re going right to the crib with him while he’s wide awake.
Now that he’s in his crib, you can turn off the lights but now you or your husband will stay in the room with him. Taking turns with your husband at this point of the routine is a great way for him to help. Nine times out of ten when fathers are the ones that stay in the room, it goes a lot smoother for everyone. And that’s wonderful for the fathers. A lot of dads feel helpless when their children are having sleep problems because it often involves mom and the breast and let’s face it; dads are out of the loop there. If your husband wants to help but isn’t sure how, this is a great time for him to jump into the bedtime routine.
Now, you or your husband is in the baby’s room, staying there until he’s asleep. Bring a chair into the room and sit right beside the crib. As outlined in the Sleep Sense Program, you’re going to sit beside the crib and if the baby stands up, try laying him down a few times. If that’s not working, go ahead and let him stand up. You’re going to keep repeating your key phrase “It’s sleepy time” or “It’s nighty night.”
If it makes the baby calmer, you can do a little bit of touching like rubbing his back or holding his hand, but be really cautious with this. We don’t want to actually loll him to sleep with anything, like your touch. Make your touches intermittent; offer, withdraw, offer, withdraw is the best way.
These ideas will get you through the first three nights, which are often the roughest nights during the transition.
Then on the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth nights you’re going to back yourself and the chair out of the room. By the end of ten nights, he’ll be falling asleep on his own without you or your husband’s assistance.
Because the baby is used to sleeping with you, he’s probably going to have some night wakings. He’ll sort of be holding out the hope that you’ll bring him to back your bed. It’s important that night wakings be handled in the same way though. You’ll have to go back in his room, sit in the chair, and say your key phrases, doing exactly like you did at bedtime, until he falls asleep.
I can’t say that the baby won’t cry; he probably will. Making changes to anyone’s sleep environment or sleep habits is always going to be met with some protest. Children and adults are very habitual about our sleep habits. If I came in and changed your personal sleep strategies, you’d feel some anxiety about it and probably wouldn’t like the idea. Changing your baby’s sleep habits is pretty tough to do without some type of protest.
The good news for your baby is that you and your husband will be there and he’ll realize that he’s got your support to get through this. What has to happen is that he needs to find some of his own skills to get himself to sleep, without relying on you to do all the work for him. The first couple of nights will be rough though.
In just a very few days, when you think of the big picture of your child’s life, this will be just a tiny blip on the radar and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. I’d encourage you and your husband to get on board together; to really tackle this problem so you can have your bed back, and soon, very soon, all of you will sleep well.
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