This month it seems that the 32-month-old is night-weaning himself, on his own initiative.
This is the first time that we've been through this. Each of my three older children was still co-sleeping and night-nursing right up until I became pregnant with the next younger sibling. Pregnancy made me want to crave the soundest sleep I could manage, so I asked Mark to get up with the toddler (each was age two at the time) and offer milkshakes or snacks or WHATEVER IT TAKES AS LONG AS YOU DON'T WAKE ME UP, and within a few weeks they weren't nursing (or waking) at night anymore.
My current two-year-old has no in-utero competition, and I am really quite happy to continue nursing him at night for the time being. But a few months ago, he unexpectedly begin asking me to nurse him to sleep "in the little bed" -- the twin bed that's pushed up next to the queen-size bed in our bedroom, to give us a little more room for children who sneak back in the middle of the night. I would nurse him to sleep there, and then I would move back to my spot on the other side of Mark in the queen-size bed.
In the wee hours of the morning he would sit up, call "Mommy!" and I would say, "Over here," and he would clamber over his sleeping daddy and nestle in between us, and I would nurse him down again, both of us falling back to sleep together. Very sweet.
A couple of weeks ago, though, he didn't wake until it was nearly time for the alarm to go off. This happened again a few times -- then, days ago, he slept right through in the "little bed" until Mark had gone off to work and I was downstairs drinking coffee.
So it does, eventually, happen on its own.
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One of the things that pleases me about this is that it doesn't look very different from the nightweaning that I purposely put my older children through. Whenever I decide, deliberately, to mess with a comfortable life process, I like to try to mimic -- if I can -- the state of nature, so to speak.
So, I prefer a longer, later, and closer-to-child-led process of full weaning, for example; I had quite a lot of input into the day-to-day process of course, but my first child stopped nursing (all the time, not just at night) more or less on his own schedule, around age 4. When I weaned #2 deliberately starting at age not-quite-3, I looked around for various pieces of advice on how to do it peacefully, but in the end I decided to mimic my first child's more hands-off weaning.
I had observed that, that first time, the time between nursings got longer and longer. Eventually he would forget to nurse for a whole day here and there, and then two days, and after a while we would go more than a week between nursings. Finally the day had come when we nursed for the last time, although I didn't realize it had been the last until many weeks later when the next request never arrived.
So when I set out to wean #2, I decided to copy that process -- deliberately distracting him from nursing for just an hour or so at first until the gaps between nursing stretched to a few hours, then half a day, then a day. I would tell him when he finished, "Now the next time we'll nurse will be three o'clock," or, later, "The next day you'll get milk is on Thursday." And I stuck to it. I don't remember it being all that difficult. I was free to stay at one frequency for long enough to let him get used to it before pushing for a longer gap. Also, once the process got going and he was nursing less, it alleviated a lot of the pressures I had been under that had made me decide to wean him in the first place, so after a while the was no need to hurry him.
All in all, I recommend it to anyone who has decided to wean (as long as it doesn't have to be over quickly, because it isn't a quick way to wean -- just a fairly peaceful one). It seemed like a good compromise between what I needed and what he needed. If you are going to try some different ways to wean, I suppose my method is as worthy of a trial as any other.
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My three previous children, however, got night-weaned without the benefit of any maternal experience with hands-off nightweaning. But I am pleased to report that my youngest is cutting back his night nursing not too differently from how his older siblings were made to do it.
First of all, he is around the same age that they were at nightweaning. My first was probably about 30 months old, my second was 28 months, and my third was 34 months. Number 4 is now 32 months.
Second, I always started by putting them to bed on the other side of Mark, then moving back to my spot. (I think one of the times it was me who moved into the "little bed" to sleep by myself, but it is still basically the same arrangement). And here is my youngest voluntarily asking to sleep in his own little bed.
Third, he is wanting to be nursed to sleep in the little bed -- which I did two of the other three times. (One of them tended not to fall asleep until after latching off, so I would nurse him and then we'd be done and turn out the light.)
Fourth, I usually did nurse the others once in the morning before we'd get up and start our day.
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So this hands-off nightweaning looks a lot like my deliberate night weanings. If I wanted to cement it -- and I might yet -- I guess I could add the part where, when he wakes up and asks to nurse, Mark takes him downstairs and offers him ice cream instead. That is the main missing piece so far...