My 2.5-Year-Old Is Sleeping Through the Night (Sorta)
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.
Dr. Jay Gordon: Changing Sleep Patterns in the Family Bed
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat Step 2 throughout the night.
- 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
- 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.)
- Repeat Step 1 throughout the night.
- You may nurse your baby at 6:01 a.m.
Phase Three: Nights 7-10
- 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.
- Repeat Step 1 throughout the night.
- At 6:01 a.m. you may resume breastfeeding, if you desire.
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).
- 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!
Maia, Founder & CEO
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My 21 month old nurses and sleeps when with me but will fall asleep in no time with the grandparents
Looking for some ideas to nap wean him and also night wean him have stopped nursing him after a particular time but night waking and nursing still going on
Any answers on the nursing-to-sleep-the-first-time question? Thanks!
There is an Ayurvedic “trick” to help babies wake less often throughout the night. Before they go to bed, give them 1-2 tsp (start w/ one) of slightly warmed, melted (organic, please) ghee (clarified butter–you can make it yourself (http://drclaudiawelch.com/resources/recipes/ghee/) or buy it many places where they sell health foods. It goes down easy and helps babies even younger than one (you can start even after a few months) get a better night’s sleep.
Also, Ayurveda places a lot of emphasis on having a strong digestive fire or capacity (“agni”) for everybody, including babies. Just as food-grazing all day taxes this for adults, it may tax it for babies, so it is ideal to really empty both breasts at a feeding, keeping baby awake for this. Then baby is less likely to come back for more too shortly. Having a longer time between feedings can allow baby’s digestive fire to build back up, which is what is wanted. This is true for the days as well as the nights.
Plus, Mom drinking fennel tea throughout the day, helps babies (and Mom’s) digestive capacity.
Thanks for all the good information.
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!
Annabel slept from
Annabel slept for 6.5hrs solid…the most glorious chunk of sleep I’ve gotten in a long time!
Yay! This makes me so happy…and gives me much needed hope after a particularly tough night with Wolf!
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!
i just don’t know how to force her to stay in bed without sitting on her! j/k i won’t do that. 😉
I just had to jump in here…
We had an open family bed for our children for the first several years–sometimes they’d sleep with us, sometimes they’d sleep in their own beds.
As I see, contemporary parents don’t want to “train” their children because they think it’s being harsh or mean. In reality, “Harsh” or “mean” is giving the child mixed messages of:
1) I want you to obey/comply
2) I’m not going to demand obedience/compliance, so if you want to push me to get your will, I’ll yield to your will.
Well, believe me–children are intelligent creatures and will push you to get their way!
Mixed messages confuse the child. Have you ever seen a puppy-training course? I’m not saying you should train your child as you train your puppy, BUT, there definitely are similarities! The training is more for the owner/parent!
YOU, parent, need to be diligent to be consistent in demanding compliance. NOT in a harsh or nasty way, but with a firm hand and loving voice, with consistency. This firm, loving, demanding of compliance–in other words, demonstrating that there is one leader/boss/educator/head of household/parent (and the child is not it) is the way to have peace in the house (and sleep!!!). Another way to look at this is that the child is not the one controlling the household and running the household–you, the parent control and run the household. If you learn this basic principle, and build the training of your child on this foundation, the rest comes easy! And, it starts when they are infants –not when they turn 2 1/2 or 5 or when you want to wean or potty train. They are so smart and regardless of how or if they can communicate with you yet, they are very capable of understanding what you communicate to them–verbally and with body language.
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.
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!
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.