Hi, Kim West, the Sleep Lady and today, I am going to answer this mother’s question about nursing and co-sleeping with her toddler. She wrote in and said:
“Hi, I’m totally worried. I’m still nursing my daughter who’s almost 3. It’s only for sleep and I’m not even convinced I have any more milk. I am so tired at night that I can’t bare to face a melt down and I know it will break her heart. I had no help from my husband because of his work schedule and oh yeah… she sleeps in bed with us. How do I do this? Also, when I’ve tried in the past, it causes arguments with my hubby because we’re both so tired. I swear if I don’t nurse her, she will not sleep.”
I want to thank you for writing in this question because I think that this is happening more often than a lot of parents are willing to talk about. Allow me to first say that I don’t think that it is a ‘bad thing’ that you are nursing your child until three years of age. I think what’s more important to look at is that it sounds like you may be starting to resent it, that you want it to end, and that it’s causing some problems in your family and marriage. That is important to look at.
Have a Talk With Her About Nursing and Co-Sleeping
Obviously, we need to help your child learn how put herself to sleep independently without you lying down and nursing her to sleep and back to sleep. To start, I first would begin by talking about your nursing relationship with her and talking about it needing to end soon. When you talk about it needing to end, you can say how much you loved it (she may have even had a special name for it, so I would use that name) and explain that now instead at bedtime, we’re going to read stories and have snuggles and be all done with nursing (or whatever you may have called it).
By talking about it ahead of time, it’s no surprise (which of course would cause a tantrum because she’s not going to understand why you’re changing)! The second thing you may want to do to prepare is find a time when your husband has a couple of days off, depending on what his work schedule is, or find some window of time where you can have support. Read this article called 7 Tips to Take to Gently Wean Your Breastfeeding Toddler
Weaning While Still Co-Sleeping
There are two options I’d recommend for you to consider. The first option would be for you to continue to co-sleep and wean her just at night. You have already been talking to her about this change ahead of time so she is well prepared. At bedtime you can say, “This is the night that mommy will sit next to you while you put yourself to sleep in our bed, but we are all done nursing.” You can even start off by lying down with her and snuggling with her instead. If it becomes a power struggle or a physical struggle with her (i.e., grabbing at your chest) then you might want to sit up. You can even ask your husband to take over, or for him to lie down with her at bedtime. I have had plenty of dads successfully help with the first couple of nights of weaning.
During the night if you do return back to the bed, I would recommend for you to wear a sweatshirt or a fitted long-sleeve shirt, and a bra to make it difficult for her to try to nurse. If she does try, I would lovingly turn her around facing outward and snuggle with her while reassuring her. Be sure to remind her that we are all done with nursing and it’s okay. Be prepared as she is not going to be used to this and it’s going to be a learning experience for her. This is why it’s so helpful to have your husband supporting you too.
Weaning and Ending Co-Sleeping
If you have success with this, and things are going well (she is night-weaned and you’re continuing to co-sleep and everybody is happy) I don’t think you have a problem. If you’d like to learn more, I’ve written another article that contains my tips on co-sleeping and room sharing.
However, if you do decide you want to end both the nursing and co-sleeping because it is affecting your marriage or your family, then you are going to want to work towards achieving both. You can either first, night wean and then move her into her own bedroom or you can do them both at the same time. I do outline this process in more detail in my book Good Night, Sleep Tight. In a nutshell, you can begin by co-sleeping with her in her new bedroom. Talk about it beforehand and spending time in her room saying, “This is your new room. This is your cozy bed.” Then co-sleep with her for a few nights in her bedroom, and then finally you can pick ‘the big night’ where you will no longer lie down with her. You may also want to watch this video blog where I talk about how to end co-sleeping with your toddler.
You will want to make sure that you don’t spend too much time lying down in her new bed with her (maybe 3 to 5 nights). From here you can follow The Sleep Lady Shuffle (as outlined in my book, Good Night Sleep Tight), and sit next to her bed, and begin a sleep manner chart that you can go over with her every night and morning. Remember, it always get worse before it gets better. Your consistency and your husband’s support of you in doing this is essential for success. Another really important point is to remind your daughter that she can do this and reassure her of how proud of her you are.
Further Reading about Nursing and Co-Sleeping
Video filmed by In Focus Studios
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