Thank you for writing in. How lucky your son is to have your grandmothers while you work! Please take general comfort that much of what you describe is common for attachment parents. I will answer your questions in the order of your post and hopefully, the suggestions, context and support will bring you relief.
1. “As he has gotten older, more mobile and more opinionated, it has gotten harder and harder to do those day to day things.”
This is to be expected; he is starting to individuate. Here are some ideas for trying to get something done with your toddler at this age:
a) Set him up with a “play-station” to engage in the activity with you; pen/paper, flour/measuring cup, rake/leaves, depending on your project.
b) Set him up with a “play-station” near you with his own activities while you continue your task: a blanket with soft toys, a safe mirror, healthy snack, musical instrument, books, figurines, blocks, cars, tea set, etc.
c) Single focus: Set aside a small block of time to focus entirely on your son, and then single focus on your task for the same amount of time (while he is occupied in station a or b.) Repeat as necessary, and be sure to explain your plan in advance. Click here for more information on this10/10 L.O.V.E. Parenting Technique.
2. Re: the nap situation of your son wanting to be held, nursing down and then waking after an hour and not being able to return to sleep, and less interest in the second nap.
a) Most babies need something to help bridge the gap between their single-awake self and sleep. Unless a baby has been sleep trained in a consistent way, often starting at a young age, it is rare for a baby to just lie in their crib and fall asleep without protest. Most babies need either an independent instrument such as a car seat in motion, a car seat rocked manually, a cradle, a bouncy swing, or a moving stroller, or they need a human body to walk them in a sling, rock them in a chair, lay with them or nurse them.
b) It is very common for a nursed-down toddler to wake at that one-hour mark and have trouble falling back asleep despite fatigue; at that point, mothers either let their baby wake at that one-hour mark and then try for a second short nap later in the day, or they join the baby at the first wake up point and nurse them down again; either a longer nurse with a successful de-latch, or a nap/nurse on and off together for the second hour. I know this news doesn’t help you, but maybe you will take comfort in knowing this a very common scenario in attachment parenting.
c) Transitioning out of two naps into one nap is a very difficult transition; children at this age usually still need the second nap by the end of the day, and yet, the late second nap hinders a smooth bedtime; you are in the “danger zone” if you get in the car at 4pm because they are sure to fall asleep and if they do, bedtime is often tiresome and challenging.
Possible Solutions (recognizing the multitude of extenuating circumstances that would affect these timelines):
- One nap: wake in the 7’s, nap 12-2pm (help facilitate the second half of the nap so that he gets two hours rather than one if he wakes,) bedtime 7’s.
- Two naps: wake in the 7’s, nap 10am and 2pm (don’t facilitate the second half of the nap,) bedtime 7’s.
3. Incessant night nursing: Your son is definitely experiencing the nighttime as a time to nurse all night and be close to you in this way. He may be doing this because you work during the day and by nursing at night he insures his physical closeness with you, as well as tanking up on the nursing; however, MANY babies who are with their mothers all day with access to daytime nursing STILL spend their nights the same way.
a) Night wean: If you night wean then nursing will be off the table at night and your son will sooner learn to enjoy the comforts of your alternative methods of soothing. Please see my night weaning post for more details on night weaning. Click here.
b) A partial night weaning: Consider nursing your son to sleep at night, nursing him for his second waking, and then establishing a no-nursing zone from around midnight until dawn. Employ the same techniques as night weaning.
c) Once you have an established time that nursing is “never an option,” you can employ the other methods of comfort that you are wanting (sing, patting back, etc.)
4. “Nurse, play, nurse, play, before he finally goes to sleep.”
It is up to you to lead the way on this; if you play with him, he considers this an option. Give him a big final “play” of the night and let him know that this is it and then follow through. After the routine, it is “time for sleep.” Often times, parents can lay down, close eyes and rest, until the toddler joins you, as long as the room and bed are baby-proofed for safety. The baby may roll around or sing or play quietly, but the key is you are not available for playing and you are honoring the “sleep zone.” Otherwise, your child is getting mixed messages and believes that playing is still an option.
You have my compassion as you navigate the often challenging world of helping a child develop his own relationship to sleep. Click here for another post on sleep with many tips for creating an inviting sleep environment.
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