8 – 11 months Part II: Reader’s question about night weaning & sleep

There are so many fascinating change during this transition period that I could spend 10 posts just going into the emotional and cognitive characteristics of kids this age. But in the interest of also being pragmatic and helpful to the more sleep-deprived, let's talk about B's questions about her 9-month old daughter:

When J [my daughter] was born I quickly realized that she was a better sleeper in
her own space.  Due to space limitations in our house, and the
assumption that she would have similar sleeping habits to her sister, I
set up the co-sleeper next to our bed.  We set up the crib once she
became mobile.  She wowed me those first few months by sleeping long
stretches (upwards of 7 hours in the 2.5-4 month range).  Nothing like
her sister!  She is also able to put herself to sleep with minimal
crying – this is after I have nursed her and I lie on my bed next to
her crib.  Sometimes I have to pick her up once or twice if she is
really mad.  I am not comfortable leaving the room and letting her cry
alone.  I hold her when I can, but sometimes she is just so mad/tired
she bucks and arches her back and settles more quickly if I just put
her down.  She is definitley a tension releaser when she cries.

Since the 4 month mark she has been feeding more at night.  I was
expecting this and was prepared for the 4 month sleep regression.  And
I realise that now, at 9 months, there is also a sleep regression thing
going on.  Due to growth spurts, teething etc. she is nursing more than
3x per night.  I take the short and easy road when she wakes and nurse
her back to sleep in our bed, so that everyone gets the most sleep.
 Well, most everyone.

The co-sleeping, constant night nursing worked fine for baby #1.  But
mama is a little more tired with two children and is ready for more
sleep.  We have moved the guest bed downstairs and now [the girls]
will each have their own room at the end of next week…  I plan to use the Dr. Jay Gordon
method to night wean J.  He doesn't recommend night-weaning until 12
months.  I think it is pointless to night-wean at 9 months due to the
sleep regression thing.  I am hoping we can keep up the the "going to
sleep by herself as long as mommy is in the room" and then gradually
move mommy into the hallway etc.  I am also hoping she will sleep
better in her own room because she won't hear us coming into bed etc.

I guess I want to know if there is a BETTER time to night-wean?  Is
night-weaning the crux for getting her to sleep through the night?  As
I said, I haven't received/read your book yet, so the answer might be
in there.  Obviously I would like to night-wean before 12 months, but
not if the timing is bad.  Can you offer any advice about the BEST
timing for night-weaning given that she will be moving into her own
room soon?  Should I night-wean her in my bed first, and then move her
into her room?  Should I try a different strategy given her
tension-releasing personality?

And if you can tell my why all my friend's babies (same age as J.) are all sleeping through the night I'd love to know!

Let's start with that last HILARIOUS statement. I'm tempted to suggest that all your friends are lying, but of course that's just plain obnoxious of me. But I would wait a week or two and see if that sleep setback that hits most 9-month olds doesn't also hit your friends' kids ;-)

Your instinct is right on. Night weaning at 9 months can be a tough battle. Yes, there IS a better time. The next stable period starts around 12 months. From 12-16 months, kids are much more resilient and weaning can be a much easier process than at 9 months when separation distress is peaking.

To elaborate more on the nature of this transition let's think about what the 9-month old baby is all about: beginning around 8-months old, she is very attentive to adults in her environment, and in particular her mother (poor fathers often take a back seat during this phase). The 9-month old is very attuned to her mother's goals and to where her mother is looking. What does mom see? She's also attuned to mother’s emotional cues, as conveyed by her facial expressions. What does mom think of this situation? What does she want me to do about it? In particular, we see an infant who begins to understand joint attention, who experiences herself as a social partner with her parent, sharing the same perceptions, the same world. Learning to dance a more sophisticated dance with mom and LOVING it when she can demand, and receive, the attention she strives for. So, weaning a baby at this age is likely to feel like a real intrusion to this new-found synchrony and you're likely to hear loud and lasting cries of protest against anything that disrupts this sense of connection that baby now knows can be initiated and maintained by her own actions. 

In terms of whether you should night-wean before you move her to her own room, there's a few ways you can think about it. If you don't mind continuing to lie next to her crib for the next couple of months, and if that's getting you both the most sleep possible, then you could continue that way and then wean her in combination with transitioning her to her own room. If you really want to move her to her own room now, then you can still nurse her in her room each time she wakes up at night. Having said that, this stage might make it tough to change sleeping arrangements like the room in which she's going down for the night. On the other hand, since you say she seems to really like her own space to some degree, maybe it will go smoothly. You could try and see how she copes with it the first couple of days.

In terms of what strategy to use because she's a tension releaser, I'm stumped on that one mainly because I think during these transition stages, some kids can flip from tension releasers to increasers and vice versa. (If you don't know what we're talking about, check out Moxie's compelling distinctions between kids who increase vs release tension when they cry). It's sometimes even hard to define a child based on this dichotomy during these highly sensitive periods because they ALWAYS seem to be increasing in tension to some degree… until they stop. How long and hard does a releaser have to release before he turns into an increaser? I found it impossible to figure this stuff out when my boys were 8-11 months old and again when they reached 18 months. All I knew for sure during those periods was that I was a tension releaser.

Anyone out there night-wean at 9 months? If it went smoothly for you, any words of wisdom for B? Anyone out there night-wean at 12 months? How did it go for you?

5 thoughts on “8 – 11 months Part II: Reader’s question about night weaning & sleep

  1. My son magically weaned himself (completely) at exactly 12 months. I think he actually had hand, foot and mouth or something, which made feeding uncomfortable (although he was still eating solids just fine). But after a week of not breastfeeding at all (and me keeping on expressing just in case) he went back to it, however, seeing as I knew he could go all night without a feed and be just fine I didn’t feed him the couple of times he did wake up and he seemed to take it really well. I was really scared about night weaning because I can’t deal with him crying AT ALL (and he’s an increaser anyway) but I was actually surprised at how easy it was! :)

  2. I’m wondering at this point one’s definiton of ‘nightweaning’?. My daughter ‘officially’ night weaned at around 8 months, but had her first ‘morning’ feed at around 5.30, which went on till about 3 days ago, when I cut out the morning feed altogether ( at 28 months). I know it is all semantics really, but I was never really able to cut out that feed until I cut out the morning completely.

  3. @kelly: one of my boys also weaned himself entirely (at 8 months). It was completely awful for me because I didn’t want him weaned for daytime feedings yet (and, for the record, I had some awful advice from the LLL who insisted it was only a nursing “strike” and that I should keep trying and insisting he take the breast and NOT feed him from a bottle so that he would be compelled to go back to the breast… um, not so much). I ended up pumping for the little bugger (ahem… I mean dear one) for another 4 months. He was fine with the breastmilk; he just (overnight) was appalled at the boob-vessel it came through. Some things in child development remain complete mysteries to me…
    @paola: I had to laugh in complete empathy with your point. 5:30 am always seemed to me like it was still “night.” Glad to hear you were able to make the change so quickly!

  4. I nightweaned my son at 9 months. He was exclusively breastfed and down to one feeding for awhile before that. I experimented to see how short I could get the feedings and by 8-9 months, some nights that one feeding was only a few minutes. The shorter the feedings got, the more I felt confident we could cut them out altogether and get more sleep (it might be just one wakeup, but getting rid of it made so much difference for my sanity!).
    He was already across the hall in his crib. I had planned to go in and comfort him at intervals, but he never cried long/hard enough for me to feel like I had to go in. We also learned early on with him that he often fell asleep better if we weren’t in the room and that us being there tended to escalate his crying more than anything.
    When we decided to wean, I think he woke up once a night for three nights before he started sleeping through. He’s almost 2 now and has slept through the night 95% of the time since then (with the 5% being mostly illness or diaper related), so I think a lot of it is just that he’s a good night sleeper. He definitely seemed ready to nightwean at 9 months though, at least as far as I could tell from the shortening feedings.

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