Night waking may be associated with breastfeeding at night, a bedtime that is too late, or the failure of a child to learn self-soothing. Night waking is also a feature of babies with extreme fussiness/colic.
Maren was born July 18, 1984, after an uneventful pregnancy and an easy Lamaze delivery, three days past term. We were committed to breastfeeding, with no preconceived expectations of its duration. Maren behaved as a normal infant for about two weeks, at which point persistent crying jags began to occur daily. Though we were assured real colic was worse, we came to refer to these spells as “Maren’s colic.” We endured the inconsolable crying without much complaint. Although her crying mostly lasted one to two hours, the worst individual days would include unabated crying spells lasting for eight to ten hours. Various experiments were tried to ease the colic suffering, including having Maren sleep with us, having her sleep on a hot-water bottle, et cetera. Predictably, none worked. At 2 months, the colic ended relatively abruptly.
From 2 months on, a very happy, trusting relationship developed between Maren and me. For about 7 months, Maren was fed virtually exclusively on breast milk. From 7 to 10 months, increasing amounts of solid food were introduced at breakfast and lunch. Maren has always been a happy, bubbly, joyful child. The breastfeeding seemed to contribute to this sunny disposition. Maren’s nap patterns were completely normal. Generally, I would sleep with her in the morning. Part of the feeding ritual for these 10 months included twice-nightly breastfeedings for Maren, interrupting my sleep.
Massive campaigns were mounted by both sets of grandparents to convince me that breastfeeding needed to end. These began at 2 months and reached fever pitch around 7 months. We listened politely. Except for a brief experimental period at around 8 months, I didn’t attempt to pump my breasts to permit me extra sleep. This was a conscious decision; direct feeding was easier and more satisfying for both of us. But after nearly a year without a full night’s sleep, I began to reach a whole new level of fatigue, and I realized it was time to wean Maren to a bottle.
Maren didn’t like the plan much. She obviously disliked formula as much as I disliked feeding it to her. For nearly a week she rejected cow’s milk. I ended the midmorning nap breastfeeding ritual first. Juices (orange, apple, pear) in the morning or during car rides helped to improve Maren’s familiarity with bottles. They also allowed my husband, Larry, to feed her while I rested later in the mornings. Putting cow’s milk in a special bottle (formed and painted to look like a dog) allowed this unpleasant white stuff to become gradually more acceptable. After a few days, Maren started to respond more favorably to her “pooch juice” and the games I created and associated with it.
Maren was fully weaned at 11 months. The last feeding to change over was at bedtime. But even if she was given milk at bedtime, Maren continued to wake up once or twice per evening, crying to be fed. The next step was to get her to sleep through the night. We were repeatedly advised to let her cry herself to sleep. The phrase “even for five or six hours” was used, a reminder of colic days. We considered this proposition but continued to feed Maren warm milk, sing lullabies, and rock her to sleep, once or twice per night. The big question: What was waking her up?
We decided it was mostly habit, and that she just wanted the comfort of our company. A new go-to-sleep ritual was introduced: After much playing and affection, Maren was put to bed with her favorite doll, not rocked to sleep. If she woke, warm milk was provided, but Maren was purposely not picked up. Maren cried ten minutes when left alone the first night, then rested her head on top of her favorite doll and drifted off to sleep. After expecting possibly an hour or more of crying, this was an unbelievable, almost anticlimactic relief to us. After two or three nights of feeding without picking her up, Maren began sleeping through the night.
At the end of month eleven, the go-to-sleep is routine. Maren rarely cries at all. Key elements: a big dinner, a bath, gentle play, eight ounces of warm milk, hugs, and her favorite doll. Even a babysitter can do it. At 1 year, Maren had finally learned to sleep eight hours straight. In retrospect, maybe I should have made the switch to a bottle sooner, and not waited so long before we tried to put her to sleep alone. Our parents continuously warned us we were being too indulgent. They may have been right. But then, first-time parents are like that.