I wrote this post a few months back when Father Earthly and I were rolling blearily from one sleepless night to the next, while I became more and more touched-out by constant feedings and girl Earthly's need to be near me 24/7. The sleep starvation and general ill-health that I was suffering made me extremely reactive to her need for closeness and it became quickly apparent that we needed to break the cycle of hourly feedings and wakings before it seriously affected my relationship with her. This is how we went about it: I hope this may help some other poor tired mammas (and papas!) out there.
Sadly, that has since stopped working! And so followed more months of torturous nights where girlie would take hours to get to sleep, typically involving several attempts by both and/or each of us in turn to soothe her, only to wake up again every hour or so. By 2-3am she would no longer settle back down at all and basically kept us until 5am, at which point she decided once and for all it was time to get up! I'm sure you can see the problem...
I did not want to night-wean but by now I was a wreck and so touched out I didn't even want to be near her. And that feeling was spilling over into the day as well. If things went on any longer the way they had been I was in serious danger of inadvertently weaning her completely.
So we devised a plan whereby Father Earthly was to take her whenever she woke - away from me and into another room if needed. We had tried this with girlie about a month beforehand but it really hadn't worked - she just wouldn't settle with her Dad at all.
The Magical 9 Month Mark
It's said that by 9 months, baby is becoming much more independent and beginning to release herself from her maternal ties. Most babies by now have learned to crawl, cruise or walk, and move in all kinds of interesting and terrifying ways; can eat copious amounts of a wide variety of foodstuffs by themselves; babble away to whoever will listen (including themselves), and are generally pretty fascinated by life. Of course, while they're learning all this they can naturally become regularly frustrated as well as deciding they'd rather practice their new found skills than sleep when you'd like them to!
But by 9 months, quite often they have settled into their new-found freedom a little, and it's a good opportunity to try and get them back into some kind of routine. We decided to do things as gently as we could under the circumstances. Father Earthly put her to bed after a last feed from me, and we agreed that he would sleep in the next room so that when girlie awoke I could take her straight through to him, rather than waiting for him to rouse himself enough to move (by which point girlie would be well and truly awake!).
And so, at the point in the night when missy Earthly would no longer settle with me (currently about 2am), I'd take her through to her Dad and he'd settle her for the rest of the night.
To our utmost astonishment and gratitude, it worked like a dream. No longer distracted by the smell of milk and mummy-ness, she settled quickly (most of the time) with Father Earthly and without fuss. Not only that, but for the first time, she has taken to typically sleeping through between around 8pm and 4am. Incredible, given that previously she had been waking almost every hour for a feed.
To every attached mummy, I know what you must be thinking - that poor girlie is literally being severed from her natural and instinctual berth beside me and that her sleep is in fact a plaintive denial of my abandonment of her. Or is that just my innate motherly guilt talking?
Equally though, I do not think for a moment that we "spoilt" her with our co-sleeping or regular feedings. It was clear from our previous attempts that she was not ready to leave the nest, and that she really would have been distraught without me close by. Of course, this is a call every mother has to make at some point - and we all choose our times based upon our own circumstances and our own unique babies - but I do believe that 9 months is an excellent marker for such a change given their broadening outlook and intrigue in the world at large.
Whilst practicing this new regime, I realised another blessing which I never thought possible. I found I loved slipping into bed next to her at night again (she'd outgrown her hammock and would not move into her cot, so for the time being she slept on top of our bed, in Father Earthly's space), just us girls together. With the extra space afforded us and the slight separation of blankets, I found I could enjoy her closeness without feeling trapped or hounded. It felt so very special and has really helped to heal the strained bond between us.
There are drawbacks to this method of course. Most importantly, there have been no nightly adult Earthly cuddles and that has on the whole put a bit of a strain on our relationship - often the only time we really get together just now is last thing at night as we're falling asleep. Secondly, having to physically get up and move her down the boat in the night rather than just rolling over and feeding her, means I wake up fully and then lie awake listening anxiously as Father Earthly attempts to settle her. Often he and his girl will be snoring away long before I've managed to drop back off! Thirdly, she still likes to wake properly by 5am, and as Father Earthly leaves for work about 6.15am, this means I am obliged to take over ;-/
Last of all, finally getting more sleep actually makes you more tired in the short-run as your body starts to refill its sleep bank. But know this: it will pass, and you will feel better!
About 2 months on, girl Earthly has transitioned to her cot. She self-settles (after a bit of a fuss) and usually sleeps through between 7pm and 5am, at which point she believes it's time for breakfast ;)