30 Days of Blogging, Day 9

It’s cold again. It’s supposed to go down to  -20°C again tonight, and it’s icy and snowy outside. It’s the kind of weather for family cuddles. The kind of weather where I miss bed sharing with my baby. 

And when your baby has another nasty cough and cold and has to choose whether to breathe through her mouth and trigger more coughing, or breathe through her nose and not get enough air to her lungs, it’s really, really hard to withhold nighttime nursing. Nursing is the throat soothing cure-all that helps her sleep through anything. 

So about that night weaning we started… the night weaning has gone out the window during my shift. While my wife is on call for nighttime wakings (from bedtime till 1am), Avery goes back to sleep with nothing more than my wife poking her head through the doorway and saying “go back to sleep.” During my shift, I’ve started nursing her again. It’s how she sleeps well through being sick. It’s the only way to get her back to sleep during her bouts of middle-of-the-night insomnia (even during my wife’s shift). 

So weaning is a discussion topic for another day (or month, or year….).

On a related note, Avery LOVES peppermint tea. It’s just a dried mint leaf from our garden steeped in hot water. And when she’s sick, a little dollop of honey is a great throat soother. 

30 Days of Blogging, Day 5

I’m 99% sure that our recent sleep issues are due to the 18 month sleep regression. I know Avery’s only 16 (and a half) months, but she’s exhibiting all the signs. Her language is on the cusp of exploding, she’s got separation anxiety, and she just seems to be maturing into her terrible two’s right before our eyes  😛. 

As for the language boom, she says dozens of half words, like ca(t), mou(se), be(d) and ba(th). She’s also starting to sound out head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose (and elbow, belly button, and hair), while pointing to all of them (on herself, on us, on the cats, on dolls…). She has blurted out a few full words without the pressure of being put on the spot and questioned (like toys, elbow, and water). She does sound effects for dogs, cows, trucks, and squirrels (squeak!).  She has even tried to make the elephant noise.

All that learning has to be hard work on the brain, and it’s bound to leave her mind buzzing at night.

I’ll leave you with a random picture of her pulling my socks off today. She HATES wearing socks, and has recently started hating it when other people wear socks, too. 

30 days of blogging, Day 4

 I got a bit of work done on my dissertation proposal edits today because my wife took the kiddo to the local butterfly conservatory again. She loves that place. 

Today was the first time Avery had zero naps. I tried to get her down twice, and she even laid herself down in bed and looked sleepy, but just never drifted off. It was an emotional afternoon, but she fell asleep at bedtime in the blink of an eye (as opposed to the usual hour).

I also reached 300 followers today, which is so awesome! I remember when 200 seemed so far away… I hope that most of my followers actually enjoy reading some of what I share. If you’re reading this, thank you! I really love being able to share my life with you. 

Night weaning log – night 1

7:00pm Bedtime was easy and peaceful. It hasn’t been that way in a while. No pinching or climbing on me, no back and forth wanting rocked, fed, rocked, fed… Just a calm nurse to sleep after reading a couple of books. It took 20 minutes total instead of the hour it has been taking lately. A perfect final bedtime routine before a night of changes. I don’t want to move her to the crib. This is the last she’ll be calmly attached to me till morning. I’m nervous about the night ahead, but I’m ready for battle. I think.

9:40pm My wife rocked it. Got her back to sleep in a couple of minutes flat. No tears.

10:30pm Wife rocked it again. Fast, no tears.

12:15am Wife wasn’t waking up, so I gave it a shot. She cried half heartedly for milk for about 5 minutes and then fell asleep on my shoulder. I failed at the first attempt at transferring her to the crib, but got her down within 15 min.

12:35am Just got back to bed and she woke up again… Clearly my transfer wasn’t that smooth. Sent wife in. 45 minutes of intense screaming for mama. I had my fingers in my ears. The cats were crowding my face, worried about her. Finally my wife won the battle and got her to sleep on her shoulder. Transfer to crib took another half hour – Avery didn’t want to let go of the warm body. I feel bad for my wife. I know this is as hard on her physically as it is on me emotionally. Avery weighs 28 pounds now and fights us with every last ounce when she’s upset.

Crying. My shift. I chug some juice for energy and prepare myself. I check the time –

6:00am.

She slept through till morning! I have gotten up to nurse her back to sleep at LEAST twice between midnight and 6am every night for her entire life, but after being refused milk and refused mama through all those tears, she may be getting the hint…


*side note: the behind the scenes of our night weaning process included 2 weeks of cutting out all random, on-demand feeds through the daytime. I said “no milk right now” and offered water, food, or hugs instead of milk. The purpose of this was to get her used to having me call the shots. The only daytime feeds she has had for 2 weeks have been structured at wakeup, naptime, and bedtime. It has been easy to distract her with the alternatives during the day. To be honest, I’ve missed the random snuggles in the middle of play time or after a tantrum when nursing would calm her and make her so cuddly. But I’m hoping the sacrifice helped to make the transition more gradual and palatable. 

There were also some subtle changes to nursing through the night in the two weeks leading up to now. I worked on the Pantly Pull-Off (from the book, No Cry Sleep Solution) and tried to get Avery to finish nursing and fall the rest of the way to sleep rocking, instead of sleeping on the boob. For several nights, I tested whether a cuddle would suffice to replace milk at wakeups (but never said “no milk” because I was saving that for the actual weaning). 

Weaning from nighttime breastfeeding… the excruciating decision

I have loved breastfeeding. Avery has loved it. We have had such a lucky go of it. I always imagined I’d continue on-demand breastfeeding until Avery self-weaned. I was prepared to continue beyond her second birthday. But here I am, with a 15 month old, starting down the path of slowly weaning. For now I intend to keep 3 nursing sessions a day – wake up, nap time, and bedtime. But everything else is coming to an end.

The biggest influence was a combination of trying to protect my wife’s feelings (hear me out) and a hope that weaning would improve sleep.

Protecting my wife’s feelings is a complicated issue. My wife supports breastfeeding. She understands its benefits to the baby – to a point. She understands it as having nutritional benefits, but doesn’t agree with using it for comfort beyond a certain age. That age has turned out to be 1 year. She’s a big proponent of teaching independence.

However, it’s more than just my wife’s opinions at play here. It’s her emotions. It’s the fact that she struggles to feel like an equal parent. And because that is such a sensitive subject in families like ours – where one parent is genetically related and another is not – I feel the need to adjust my natural inclinations for mother-baby bonding and open up our bond to include my wife. I need to take some responsibility for bringing my wife into the loop, and for us, at this point in time, that means reducing MY importance as a parent over and above my wife. The only way I can think to do this is to slowly start the weaning process.

This whole idea came about because of night time routines. My wife wants to help out when Avery wakes a thousand times a night, but Avery would hit her in the face and scream and call for mama (me). She knew that as soon as I entered the room she’d get to nurse back to sleep. I was a human pacifier. I was ok with that. But I was preventing my wife from being able to pacify her.

More than that, I was exhausted and NEEDED my wife’s help at night. For the last 3 weeks I had felt nauseous from exhaustion to the point of not being able to eat dinner. Some days I’d just lay on the floor while Avery climbed on me and I’d feel like such a useless parent. I knew things needed to change. I had hoped they’d change on their own, but I couldn’t wait it out any longer. While it used to seem attainable to get up all night with Avery until she figured out how to sleep on her own at 2, or even 2 1/2 years old, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of being this exhausted for that much longer.

So my wife and I came up with a plan. It’s a gentle sleep training method that works for both of us – hopefully all three of us. Phase one is to eliminate nighttime feeds, cold turkey. I will still nurse her to sleep at bedtime and nurse her during morning cuddles in our bed anytime after 5am. I am NOT ready to completely wean. These feeds are very important to me.

My wife will take wake up’s up till 1am, I will take 1 to 5am. I will wear a crew neck shirt (wish I owned a turtle neck right now…). We will rock her back to sleep. No milk. We will offer her water if she is persistently asking for milk.

Phase two is about teaching her to fall asleep on her own, no rocking. I’m not ready to get into that yet. It’s too overwhelming. But this is our starting point. My hope is that she’ll have less reason to call us in when she wakes when she knows she won’t get milk.

Just as I documented the floor mattress adventure in a daily log, I’ll document the night weaning process here for anyone who wants to follow along (and offer support!).

At the time of publishing this we’ve already completed one night of this new program. I’m delaying posts by a day or two so I have time to process everything.

Why I let my baby cry… and hated it

*the photo used for this post is not my baby.

This post is written from a gentle parenting perspective. I tried cry-it-out (sort of, not really) and it was not for me. If you have used CIO, I do not think less of you as a parent, and I hope you don’t think less of me because I don’t let my baby cry. We all try different things for different reasons with different results. 

Shit has hit the fan with sleep. I was used to waking every hour at night with my almost 10 month old, but all of a sudden our once reliable naps became a battle, and our 15 minute bedtime routine reverted back to the 2 or 3 hour gong show it was when we hit the 4 month sleep regression. Well, less crying than before, more moving and whining. I get her to sleep by side lying nursing on a floor mattress or in a chair, and she has started getting up and crawling away. For every nap and bedtime. Relentlessly. 

I move between bouncing, rocking, rocking her while standing while she nurses, laying with her, sitting with her, persevering in the dark room for an hour, giving up and going back downstairs to play for another hour and trying again… It is so much work to get her to sleep right now. 

Last night I was entering hour 3 of this nightly battle and I had run out of comfort to give. My back hurt and I was sweaty, and I laid her in her crib to get a hold of myself. She started her slightly displeased little whimper. I knew she was physically fine (which isn’t always a given with our food allergy baby). I put my hand on her and sang her our lullaby. She shoved my hand aside and drown out my singing with loud, angry crying. I thought to myself, she’s physically fine right now, I’m right next to her, there’s no reason why she can’t settle down and come to realize she is perfectly ok. I waited. I stood there, shushing her, letting her cry. 

I didn’t plan to try crying it out. There was no predetermined time that I was going to wait. There was no plan. I was tired, touched out, frustrated, and desperate. 

She laid there for 10 minutes, screaming at me angrily, tears streaming down the sides of her face and pooling in her ears. I shushed her calmly the whole time. I stood next to her, reassuring her. She only got more and more angry. She was already almost 3 hours past her bedtime, remember, and extremely tired. By the time I caved and picked her up, she was brutally exhausted. She snuggled into my neck, her breathing still hiccuped from the crying, face wet, and promptly fell asleep. 

All I wanted to do in that moment was hold her tight. I felt like I could hold her all night. I wanted to take her into my bed with me (but we’re trying not to resort to that…). I felt like what I had just done was pointless. Wasted tears. In the end, she didn’t learn that she could fall asleep in her crib. She learned that if she cries enough, mommy will eventually pick her up. I don’t understand the psychology behind controlled crying. True CIO, sure – the harsh reality is that the baby learns that no amount of crying will get them what they want, and the behaviour is extinguished. But with controlled crying, the baby should, from a behavioural psychology perspective, persevere. Cry for 10 minutes, get picked up. Cry for 20 minutes, get picked up. The baby gets the pattern that it takes longer each time and is willing to keep crying for 30 minutes the next time. I’m sure it has worked for some families, or it wouldn’t still be a thing. I just have no faith in it because I don’t understand it. 

So that’s where I’m at with letting my baby cry after trying it one time, without a plan, out of desperation. I don’t understand it. It’s not for me. It made me feel yucky inside. 

But I also needed that to remind myself why I get up with her every hour and why I don’t have evenings to myself (or with my wife) again right now. It’s worth it to me because of the value I place on always providing comfort to my baby when she asks for it. It’s not everyone’s parenting approach, but it’s passionately mine. 

An update on sleep

I’ve kind of settled into this life of little sleep. It has been 9 months and 1 week since I slept through the night. No, that’s not true. There was a while there when Avery was 5-6 months old that I demanded we bed share because the dreaded 4 month sleep regression had destroyed any possibility of putting my baby down, anywhere, without my body next to hers. During those weeks I slept a lot more back-to-back hours, but she was also waking up for the day at 4:30am. 
Here’s where we are now, at 9 months and 1 week, in a nutshell. 

7/7:30pm. Bedtime routine, then I nurse her to sleep (with a lullaby) on the floor of her room, on her crib mattress. 

8:30-9:30pm. At her first wake up of the night, about an hour to two hours later, I lift her mattress into her crib with one hand while holding her and Benny (her chosen Lovie) in the other, and I nurse her back to sleep in the chair before putting her down in the crib. 

We start the night on the floor because she is a lot more sensitive to wake ups early in the evening. By the time she has been sleeping for an hour or two, her wake ups are a lot quicker to manage and she settles in the crib a lot easier. I feed her at her first wake up even if it’s only an hour later because she wants it. It seems like her body wants to stock up for the night ahead. 

So by around 9:30-10 I am done my shift, and I am free to go to sleep (free does not equal able). My wife handles most wake ups from 10 – 1 by rocking. These wake ups are usually easy to deal with. She wakes crying but it’s only a couple of minutes of reassuring snuggles before she’ll stay asleep for the crib transfer. 

Of course, every time she wakes for my wife, usually 1 to 3 times between 10pm and 1am, I wake up. Occasionally my wife calls me in because Avery tries to nurse on my wife’s shoulder and we offer her milk. It’s usually just that she wants me to hold her, though. 

At 1:30am she wakes for milk. 

At 2:30am she wakes and I try rocking her but my legs are too weak from the tiredness and I feel nauseous and I have to sit. She is asleep on me and I fall asleep before I can get back up to put her in the crib. 

3:30am rolls around and she wakes again, this time in my arms in the chair. Oh fuck, I’m still in the chair. I rock her and put her in the crib and go back to bed where I find the cats have stolen my side of the bed and I am too tired to move them so I teeter on the edge of the bed, usually with no blankets. It’s so silly what the sleepy brain makes you do. Why can’t I think to just move them? 

4:30am she wakes and I waste no time bringing her into our bed with me for the best 1.5 hours of sleep I will have all night. I lock the cats out of the room so they won’t wake her by begging for breakfast. She sleeps next to me until her natural wake up time of 6am. 

Ocassionally we get a 3 hour stretch that happens totally out of the blue, always in the very middle of the night. The other night she slept from 11:30pm until 3:30am. 

I try to really pay attention to the progress we’ve made rather than focusing on how far we have yet to go. Although she still wakes a lot, there was a time when we COULD NOT put her down in the crib. No matter how long she had been sleeping for in our arms, a transfer would lead to SCREAMING. Now she responds well to crib transfers most of the time, and even pushes off of us at least once a night asking to be put down while still awake. On these rare but hopeful occasions, she rolls over and goes to sleep with a light back rub. That’s amazing progress. 

Although I would still love to bring back bed sharing, I’m kind of sneakily integrating bedsharing into the 4:30am wakeup when I’m just too tired to be up with her. That’s good enough for me right now. It’s nice to have our bed to ourselves for the first half of the night so we can watch tv and talk (and even have sex, TWICE, for the first time since part way through my pregnancy).  

I can see her growing up before my very eyes, and I can see her sleep abilities maturing, if I look really, really closely. Or rather, if I look at the big picture. I’m confident that another sleep update post a few months from now will look even better. 

The Lullaby as a family heirloom

I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill, possibly out of tune (but it doesn’t matter) lullabies. They don’t have to be anything fancy, and they may be the same songs that many other families sang and cherished as their own. But there is something very meaningful and sentimental about these songs. I love the way a lullaby can be passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom. 

I have very strong memories and a subconscious emotional reaction to the lullaby my mom sang me when I was a baby/young child, and I sing the same lullaby to my own baby now at every nap time and every bedtime. 

My dad sang to me too, but he sang a lot of different songs, and he played his guitar for me, and he played relaxing CDs for me. I have emotional reactions to some of the songs he used to sing as well, but they were something different than The Lullaby that my mom used. From a psychological perspective, a Lullaby is used (intentionally or unintentionally) to condition a sleep response. It is used repeatedly at sleep times to cue that it’s time to sleep, and eventually hearing that particular lullaby will make the child feel sleepy. I have to think that such a deeply conditioned song would stick around in one’s memory and continue to evoke an emotional response later in life. Interestingly, it may also trigger a sleep response in me – I yawn my way through it when I sing to my baby the lullaby my mom sang to me as a baby. 

Avery now reacts instantly to our lullaby. She relaxes, closes her eyes, and her arms stop flailing as she rests her hand on me while she nurses to sleep. 

In case anyone’s wondering, my family heirloom lullaby is All The Pretty Horses. Side note: old lullabies like that tend to have subtly disturbing lyrics. A quick Wikipedia search of this lullaby suggests that the song was originally sung by Africans slaves who couldn’t care for their babies because they had to care for their masters, and some versions make reference to buzzards pecking out their eyes. We don’t sing that verse…. 

What lullaby has a special place in your memory? Do you have a family heirloom lullaby? 

Four Pillars of a Bad Night’s Sleep

Avery is sick. She is teething. She seems to be going through the 8 month sleep regression, and the 3-to-2 per day nap transition. We haven’t slept in days. 

The Sick

I think she must have gotten sick from the Tylenol dropper… Is that possible? We gave it to her last time she was sick, and let her suck on the dropper. In a tired haze, I put it back in the bottle without washing it. Last week we used the Tylenol again for a bad bout of teething. Now she is a Cranky Pants Sicky McGee. Her nose is a faucet and she wakes every 15 minutes because she can’t breathe/is uncomfortable. She’s in our bed again for the duration of the cold, but I spend most of the night sitting up with her because being upright helps her breathing. 

The Teething

She has been working on FIVE new teeth and two have fully broken through in the time she’s been sick. Her upper central incisors have been black and blue with bruising and one has finally come through, one upper lateral incisor has cut through and for once doesn’t seem to be receding back into the gum again, and I can see white points under the gums at both lower lateral incisors. 

The 8 Month Sleep Regression 

Before she got sick (for about a week and a half now) she started getting harder to put down in the crib again. Our 15 minute bedtime routine has returned to a 2 hour bedtime routine and I have once again lost my evenings. She wakes every 45 minutes again. We’ve been surviving and waiting for it to pass, but with the sick/teething drama it’s been harder to deal with. 

The Nap Transition 

Avery has always been a high sleep needs baby, and she has also always been a good daytime napper (although I’ve always let her nap in the Moby Wrap or on the boob). She had been on a great schedule for a couple of months: 8-9, 11:30-1:30, and 4-5. I think she’s showing signs of being ready to transition to 2 naps a day. The signs are: skipping naps entirely despite us spending an hour just laying in the dark at each scheduled nap time; shorter naps, from 1-2 hours to 30 minutes; especially fighting her third nap of the day but then falling asleep on the go at 6pm, which messes up bedtime. 

I hope she feels better soon and finishes with those teeth soon. We’ve learned that we can deal with sleep struggles, but we really didn’t need the extra crap piling on to already shitty sleep. 

Weekend update: Easter

It was a beautiful spring long weekend. My wife got four days off (her new job gives both Easter Friday and Monday off!) and we only spent one day away from home. It was ideal. Busy, but at least we were busy in our own home doing our own stuff. Oh, and we were both sick, which was exhausting. We caught Avery’s bug. 

Friday 

I prepared an Easter dinner to have with my mom, and I managed to get the house cleaned too, all while taking care of Avery. It was one of those super mom days that balances out the days where I can’t even seem to get dressed by 5pm. My wife got a lot more progress done on the chicken coop, and my mom got a good visit in with Avery. 

Saturday 

I got some plants for the garden transplanted into bigger pots until all risk of frost has passed (mid May), and we sat on our first pub patio of patio season. Avery couldn’t get enough of the fries. 

Sunday 

We went to the in-laws for Easter dinner and Avery had a great time interacting with all the family she used to have stranger anxiety around. Except for her 1 year old cousin… She still has some issues to work out with him.

Monday

I had to go to work to invigilate an exam and Avery stayed home with her Mo. More coop building ensued, and some relaxing in the afternoon. 

Sleep

Since I last wrote about the floor bed arrangement, we have changed gears with sleep arrangements again. She seems to have matured a bit in the needing comfort area, because when she wakes through the night (which is still every 30 min to 2 hours) she doesn’t wail or cry in a panicked way. She cries in a complaining way now. So for a little over a week I have been putting her to sleep by nursing in the chair in her room, and then transferring her to her crib. The first transfer of the evening is hard. She needs to be really asleep to go for it, so it can take an hour and a half still. But after that all it usually takes to get her back down is a quick (2 to 15 minute) rock. She sometimes rolls around to get comfy after you put her back down, too, so she seems aware that she’s going back in the crib alone. 

The problem I’ve had over the weekend is that I’m too exhausted to rock her back to sleep. My legs feel like they’re on fire and I just don’t have the will power and I instead sit down in the chair with her. Sometimes she nurses, sometimes she just cuddles. She falls asleep, but so do I. A couple of hours pass. This isn’t helping our “training” because she still spends half the night sleeping with me, and it doesn’t benefit me like bed sharing did because I’m so uncomfortable. 

My wife took some of the night waking shifts over the weekend which was great for our “training”, but she can’t keep it up once she’s back to work this week. This will be my greatest challenge – staying the fuck awake through the night.