At the beginning of May, we embarked on nightweaning our then-20 month old. We used the Dr. Gordon method described here: http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html. We have had a really great experience so far, and I wanted to write about it for any other families who need to nightwean to get their kids to sleep better.
As background: my DS slept pretty well until he hit the 4 month sleep regression and never looked back. As he got older, I thought his sleep would naturally get better. Wrong! If anything, it got worse and worse. We transitioned him to his own room (with me sleeping with him) around 10 months - no help. Then around 1 year or so, I started sleeping in my own bed until his first wakeup - that didn't help either. Stopping him from nursing to sleep didn't help either. I didn't count how often he woke up at night, but it was A LOT. So often that I remember being elated a few nights when he only woke up 3 times. Usually it was way too often to count. I felt like I never got more than 15-30 minutes sleep at a time (can't verify that since I never checked, though).
For various reasons, I decided to wait until May to finally nightwean. I prepared him for about a month prior, by telling him a story about it while he nursed prior to bedtime. I used the same words every time so that he would start to learn the story (I hoped). I was hoping that waiting until he was 20 months (and had a much greater capacity to understand and communicate with me) would help him deal with the change.
Now for the actual nightweaning process...
We decided to set 11-6 as our no-nursing hours. (Everything prior to 11 or after 6 I just handled like normal.) During the first 3-4 nights of the Dr. Gordon method, you are supposed to let your kid nurse, but just not all the way to sleep. I had trouble with this concept, because during the night my son tended to nurse and then just pop off asleep, unexpectedly. So there wasn't an obvious change in his nursing pattern to tell me when to unlatch him. What I decided to do (from 11-6) was to let him nurse for 1 minute, with me counting out loud for the last 10 seconds. I would say "nanos are going to sleep in 10...9...8...etc." ("nano" is DS's word for nursing.) The first couple of times, I unlatched him at the end of the countdown. He wasn't too happy but he just fussed, he didn't cry or scream and he fell asleep without me needing to pick him up. After a couple of countdowns, he knew that meant "stop nursing" and he unlatched himself and went to sleep. So, these nights went pretty well - however, he wasn't really waking up less, he was just nursing for less time. Still, that was some progress.
After 4 nights, we progressed to the second step in the Dr. Gordon plan, with no nursing from 11-6, but I can pick him up to comfort him when he wakes. I was super-nervous about this - nursing has been my go-to sleep aid for so long. But the very first night of no nursing, DS only woke once and didn't even need me to hold him to get back to sleep! The second night was the toughest - he was up for about 2 hours in the middle of the night just not able to get back to sleep. He wasn't really crying (although he did cry some), but he wanted me to hold him and rock him in the rocking chair. But the next night, he slept through the entire night!
I never needed to progress to the third step (where you comfort your kid back to sleep with touching/talking, but not holding), because DS never needed me to pick him up after that one tough night.
One month later...DS usually sleeps from 9pm to 6am without waking. When he wakes, I can generally get him to sleep for another hour or so by nursing him. He does sometimes wake up once overnight, but I can get him back to sleep just by lying down next to him. I adjusted the no-nursing hours because if DS wakes up when the sun is up (and it is light in his room), it is hard to get him back to sleep without nursing. So these days, if he wakes up early, like 5am, I will nurse him. But I still pretty much always get 7 hours straight of sleep in my own bed each night. That would've seemed like such a luxury two months ago.
We have had some rough nights where he's woken up a lot (maybe 4 times) - but compared to previously, it doesn't seem so bad. These rough nights happen maybe once a week or less. I recently discovered that his upper two-year molars are breaking through the gums, so I attribute those bad nights to teething pain.
Basically, I am overjoyed with the results of our nightweaning. I am also happy to report that nightweaning has not affected his daytime nursing in the least - he is just as interested as ever. Thanks for reading through this long post. :)
Oh, that was an inspiring story! I'm considering doing this -- we tried it at 13 months but it was a miserable experience for everyone, and in general we sleep very well...except now I really miss sleeping with my partner, and am starting to see some signs (no longer nursing to sleep at bedtime, being able to cuddle and then fall asleep with just my presence in the room) in my toddler (almost 18 mos) that make me think she's ready to at least try nightweaning again.
Thanks for the positive feedback! :) I was hoping to be able to give some inspiration to others (and provide some real-world info on the Dr. Gordon night weaning method as well). Honestly, if my DS could do it, I think anyone could. His sleep was just so incredibly bad that I NEVER found anyone in real life who could relate in the slightest.
One other thing that I didn't get a chance to say in my original post was related to readiness - I thought that DS might be ready to nightwean because he could occasionally (like when I was so sleep-deprived that I begged him to let me have some rest!) fall asleep on his own in the middle of the night without nursing. So I knew it was at least theoretically possible...
Good luck to all of you thinking about doing this soon!
sunwise, I was going to ask just that: what were the signs of readiness that you saw in your DS? Where there any others? I have a 16-month-old who doesn't seem ready (I haven' really thought about night weaning yet, except that I'm darn tired all the time) but he occasionally pops off before falling all the way asleep and that gives me hope that he'll be ready ONE day!
4 years and 5 IVF cycles in the making, Elliott was born at home in water on 2/2/11.
Sorry I forgot to respond to this! The main sign that I interpreted as "readiness" was his (occasional) willingness to go back to sleep on his own during the night without nursing. So I knew he *could* do it, he just didn't want to.
I will say since I wrote my original post, his sleep has continued to improve and we have settled into more of a routine. He now generally sleeps about 8 hours without waking, and then I nurse him (he usually wakes between 5-6, which is within our designated nursing hours) and he sleeps for another hour or so. He even slept well through 2 illnesses (a cold and a 24-hour fever), which amazed me. I wish he would sleep for more hours and fall asleep more easily at night, but the main thing is that he is still his happy self during the day. So I guess he is getting enough sleep.