My 2.5-Year-Old Is Sleeping Through the Night (Sorta)

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Nana holds a sleeping Felix, 2 days old.

As I’ve mentioned before, Felix still wasn’t sleeping through the night after his second birthday, and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I love co-sleeping, and most nights, despite Felix’s continued desire to nurse frequently, it has been a pleasant experience–although in truth there have been many nights that were miserable exceptions.

Sleeping Without Nursing: An Impossible Goal?

Recently, I decided I wanted to wean Felix by the time he turns three (a subject for another post!), and that the all-night nursefest will be the first feeding to go.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution

When it came to a “sleep training” strategy, I long ago decided against any cry-it-out method. I bought Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution when Felix was six months old, and while in theory I love Pantley’s approach to babies and sleep, the process she recommended felt complicated when I tried to implement it.

When Felix turned two, I purchased The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers, and this time swore I would really put Pantley’s suggestions into action. Again, every time I began the process, I was overwhelmed by too many steps and strategies–sleep logs, jotting down notes in the middle of the night, yanking my nipple from Felix’s mouth before he dozed each time we breastfed…I was too tired just reading the steps involved in Pantley’s plan to give it a fair shot.

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Dr. Jay Gordon: Changing Sleep Patterns in the Family Bed

A friend recommended Dr. Jay Gordon’s “sleep training” method, and it sounded simpler and more straighforward than The No-Cry Sleep Solution, although not quite as gentle.

While Dr. Gordon’s plan is not a no-cry sleep training method, it is, in my opinion, a great alternative to the Weissbuth and Ferber methods (I’ve read both of those books, too).

At no point during Dr. Gordon’s plan is the baby or child left alone to cry, and you can continue to co-sleep throughout and after the process–in fact, Dr. Gordon recommends that you do. And unlike Pantley’s no-cry method, Dr. Gordon advocates a simple plan devoid of sleep logs or multiple strategies cobbled together–and it’s all over within about ten days. Best of all, there is no book to purchase and slog through–Dr. Gordon’s method is posted right on his website.

Needless to say, I love Dr. Gordon’s method. I didn’t find his explanation of the method to be totally easy to follow, so I will paraphrase it for you below.

Note: This is summary only; please refer to Dr. Gordon’s website to learn more about his sleep philosophy.

Dr. Jay Gordon’s Stance on Sleep

  • Babies should not be “trained” to sleep through the night before one year of age, and the older they are, the easier the process will be.
  • Co-sleeping is the best nighttime arrangement for most families; you do not have to put your child in her own bed in order for her to sleep through the night.
  • Trust your instincts. If, at any point during the implementation of Dr. Gordon’s plan–or any other sleep training method–it feels wrong, stop and try again in a few months.

 

Dr. Gordon’s 10-Day Sleep Plan for Babies One and Older

Decide on a chunk of seven hours of sleep that you determine to be most valuable (Dr. Gordon recommends 11:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m., and this seemed to work best for us). This is the block of time during which your child will be “trained” to sleep on his own.

Phase One: Nights 1-3

  1. At any time before 11:00 p.m., you may nurse or cuddle your baby/child to get her to sleep the first time and to get her back to sleep when she wakes.
  2. After 11:00 p.m., when your baby/child wakes up, hug him, pat him, rock him, or nurse him for a short period of time, but make sure you don’t let him fall asleep at the breast and that he’s put back down awake.
  3. Repeat Step 2 throughout the night.
  4. At 6:01 a.m., do whatever you have been doing as a morning routine, including nursing.

NOTE: Because Felix is 2.5 years old, I did not nurse him back to sleep during these first three nights, and went straight to the second phase of Dr. Gordon’s plan (see below). Felix didn’t protest much, especially if he was allowed to “hold the boobie.” I imagine this step is more challenging with younger toddlers.

Phase Two: Nights 4-6

  1. Again, the nursing stops at 11:00 p.m. When your baby wakes up, hug him, rock him, or cuddle him for a few minutes, but do not breastfeed him, and put him down awake. (The rocking chair was a good substitute for nursing for us, although I often cheated and let Felix fall asleep there.)
  2. Repeat Step 1 throughout the night.
  3. You may nurse your baby at 6:01 a.m.

Phase Three: Nights 7-10

  1. After 11:00 p.m., don’t pick your baby up. When he awakens, talk or sing to him, touch him, but don’t pick him up.
  2. Repeat Step 1 throughout the night.
  3. At 6:01 a.m. you may resume breastfeeding, if you desire.

Ongoing

After these first ten nights, continue to nurse to sleep if you want to, but do not feed your baby when he wakes up throughout the night. The same goes for morning nursing–it’s up to you if you want to continue to breastfeed beginning at 6:01 a.m. (or 7:01 a.m., or whatever time works).

My Takeaways

  • This is not a no-cry method for every kid. Felix never full-on wailed during this process, but I would predict a fair amount of crying–albeit with mom or dad right there–for younger toddlers and babies.
  • Felix doesn’t often wake up before 11:00 p.m. anyway, so we are now going from 8:30 p.m. (his bedtime), until 6:00 a.m. with no nursing. I breastfeed again at 6:00 a.m. in order to (sometimes) get another 30 minutes of sleep out of him.
  • After ten days, your child may not be sleeping through the night. Some nights Felix still wakes up several times and needs a pat or pillow adjustment, but this is less disruptive than 45 minutes of nursing. Plus, I now see an end in sight and believe that within a short time I won’t have to intervene at all during the night. If your baby is in his own bed, you may be disrupted even less.
  • Our goal is to have Felix in his own room by the time he is three, so he starts the night in his own bed (in our room). He generally wakes up at around 2:30 a.m. and climbs into our bed, where he (usually) falls back to sleep without much fuss.
  • Felix used to often wake in the middle of the nap and want to nurse. Since implementing Dr. Gordon’s plan, Felix either sleeps through his nap, or I pick him up and watch TV from the rocking chair while he sleeps his final 45 minutes.

Our next challenge will be getting Felix to fall asleep that first time without nursing. I am all ears, people!

Stay sane,
Maia

Comments

  1. Did you ever nap wean your son? Jay Gordon worked for us for night weaning, but he still needs to nurse to fall asleep. He used to fall asleep to the bottle at nap time, but refuses expressed or any other milk now and has gotten spotty on naps when I'm at work.

  2. Hi there! Unfortunately, I have no secret for nap-weaning. Felix only fell asleep via nursing or bouncing (my husband literally holding him while he (daddy) jumped up and down on the bed), or if we were in the car. He gave up naps all together before he turned 3, which wasn't actually the end of the world as he started going to sleep at 6:00 p.m.! Now, at 3.25 years old, he will still nap in the car. How old is your son? Keep me posted—I'm expecting baby #2 and would love a solution!

  3. i’m trying the jay gordon method–but for naps. i had to adjust the plan a little. basically, i nurse her to sleep in the family bed. then when she wakes i comfort her without nursing. we are on day 23 and she still isn’t sleeping 2hrs solid. she wakes and cries while i try to console her…but she DOES go back to sleep. it’s a slow process, but i think it’s working.

  4. Hi Sally!
    Thanks for sharing. Dr. Jay Gordon’s strategy is certainly not as speedy as a cry-it-out method, but for me it struck the right balance. How old is your daughter? I have a friend who recently tried Gordon’s method on 8-month-old and it is very clear he was too young for it to be remotely effective. I waited until my son was more than 2 years old, which is a terribly long time to be nursing all night without respite:(. I still don’t quite have a strategy planned for my next baby, who was due yesterday!

    • Annabel is 28mo. I quit the nap training as it didn’t seem to be working and started night weaning in September. We are a month in and she still wakes a few times every night. Really brutal when it’s 1, 2, and 3am. By 4a I give up and go ahead and nurse her. Am I sabotaging myself? I just need some sleep and can’t seem to make it to 6a without nursing. Also, I can’t seem to get past the step where you don’t pick up. I often have to rock her back to sleep or hold her in my arms and bounce. She won’t lay down and allow me just to shush her. Any advise welcome. After a month of this, the night wakings are not lessening.

  5. Hi Sally-
    I totally get how brutal the lack of sleep can be! How long have you tried to let her fuss while you shush, rub, sing, etc.? 15 minutes? 30? Believe me, I TOTALLY understand how either sticking a boob in the mouth or bouncing (we have a big yoga ball for just this purpose) feels so much easier in the middle of the night than lying there listening to your poor kid cry! Also, if you decide 4 a.m. is the nurse time, then that’s okay, too. Maybe you decide that you aren’t nursing from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. and then stick to that and see if you can get that down with no rocking or bouncing. Then stretch it from there. How is Annabel’s language? Are you able to explain to her what’s happening?

    • i’ve let her gone at least 15min if not 30. the problem is she won’t just lay there and cry. she gets out of bed and is physically demanding. back breaking to use all my strength to hold her in my arms while she tries to break free. thankfully the episodes have gotten shorter like 5min or less (so i guess we’re making some progress), but it still takes 15-30min of rocking or bouncing to get her to sleep. i haven’t been laying her down awake ’cause then she starts caterwauling all over again. but maybe that’s the key? i need to do that over and over until she can fall asleep on her own?

      she understands the concept. we’ve been reading “nursies when the sunshines” and she will sign “wake-up” and “sun” and say “mimi” (her name for mama milk).

  6. i just don’t know how to force her to stay in bed without sitting on her! j/k i won’t do that. ;-)

  7. Unfortunately, I do think that it takes the painful repetition of putting her down awake over and over again to finally work. Once it clicks, it’s amazing, but the process of getting there can be rough. If you have things to do during the days–like school, work, etc., spending your nights in this sort of battle may not be worth it, even if it’s only temporary. Another option is to scrap the whole thing for a couple of months and try again then, as a lot can change in short amounts of time at this age (as I’m sure you know). If you do have it in you to stick it out a few more weeks, it DOES sound like progress is sloooowly being made. Is she interested in holding your breast instead of nursing it? This worked for Felix as a temporary solution.

    • I’m going to stop nursing her before 11 and just nurse her to sleep. I think it’s confusing to her why she gets Mimi when she wakes up at 9p but not at midnight. Mimi goes to sleep when she goes to sleep…starting tonight! And I’m not going to rock her or hold her…just pick up to put back in bed. It is exhausting because I do work full time. Wish I could take a nap the next day! I’m too invested to stop now! She has found my breast to hold a couple times but I’m afraid if she gets access, she will try to put it in her mouth! I’m wearing sports bras and crew necks to bed!

  8. ha! I love your resolve, and I think you are absolutely right that it’s confusing her to be able to nurse at 9 but not at midnight…
    Please keep me posted. I will be dealing with some sort of sleep training at some point in the next few years (Wolf is only 4 months so I won’t be doing it soon)—and I will need all the success stories I can get!

  9. Night three of no pick up. It’s actually not so bad! The first night was hard. Was on my knees by her bed for an hour and a half but only thirty min of that was she really crying. The other hour she was restless and would say mama? If I tried to leave. Night two and three, she is laying back down immediately as I enter the room, not trying to escape her bed, and falling asleep within minutes! It’s really working! And so much less tiring on me instead if rocking and bouncing her 35lbs, I’m just rubbing her back and humming! I’m hopeful we’ve made a turning point! The no pick up is essential! Thanks for talking me through this!

  10. Yay! This makes me so happy…and gives me much needed hope after a particularly tough night with Wolf!

  11. Annabel slept from

    Annabel slept for 6.5hrs solid…the most glorious chunk of sleep I’ve gotten in a long time!

  12. Ok, we are on a great track and I’m ready to teach her to fall asleep without nursing. Any ideas to share that worked for you and Felix?

    • Hi! I just told him we weren’t nursing to sleep any more. He could “hold the boobie” (which he did, for months!), and I would scratch his back, etc., but I explained that the milk needed to sleep too. SHe will protest I’m sure, but at this age is old enough to understand, which I think makes it so much easier. Keep us posted on how it goes!

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