Sleep Training, Nonni Style

john asleep

Remember when your babies were little? Remember those long, long, long nights when they’d wake up roughly every 42 seconds to nurse?

Yeah. Me too.

My daughter, the goddess of motherhood, is in the middle of this struggle right now. She has a beautiful, brilliant, (not kidding, she’s way smarter than I am) 2 1/2 year old daughter. And an almost ten month old son.

It’s little Johnny who is waking them up all night long.

I feel a tiny bit responsible for this difficult situation.

See, I watch the two kids every day, and I don’t always manage to get Johnny to take enough breast milk during the day. That makes him want to nurse all night long.

I mean, I try, God knows, I do! I give him oatmeal with breast milk, cheerios with breast milk, noodles in breast milk. I even have a new bottle, with little handles that he can use to feed himself that precious momma’s milk.

Except that he doesn’t. When I try to give him a bottle, I settle into our usual glider rocker and I lay him across my lap. I hold the bottle to his lips. He looks up at me with his huge brown eyes, all filled with love and joy. He takes approximately 2.2 sips. Then he grabs the handles of the bottle, jerks himself into a sitting position and proceeds to smack me in the head with the breastmilk filled bottle. He chortles. He giggles. He shakes the bottle so that milk flies through the air.

Just as I’m about to grab the bottle and the baby and wrestle both of them into submission, Johnny pops the nipple into his mouth, looks at me with the innocent eyes of a saint, and take two good gulps.

Repeat. After 30 minutes he might have taken one ounce. Two more are on my floor.

And then nap time comes.

Because we are sleep training, I have tried gently placing our sleepy little boy into the pack and play crib. The idea is for the little one to learn how to soothe himself to sleep. He should cry for a few minutes, then settle down to nap.

Of course, this doesn’t always go as smoothly as I’d like. In the first place, the crib is so low and the side are so high that in order for this old lady to get the half-asleep child into the bed, I have to lean over far enough to dislocate at least two vertebrae. And on the way down to the mattress, our beloved Johnny has learned to arch his back, turn his head, throw his arms up and generally make it clear that if I actually let go, I’ll do him irreparable harm.

Nevertheless, I get him in there every damn morning.

Then I go into the kitchen and I desperately try to wash dishes while listening to him scream as if his toenails are being removed with tweezers. I can hear his internal monologue, “MOMMA! She’s killing me!!! She hates me!!! She threw me into this pit of hell! My neck got twisted! My back hurts! WHY does she hate me???!!!!”

I leave him to cry it out. I hold on as long as I possibly can. His big sister usually looks at me with her own accusing brown eyes. Sometimes, I swear, she shakes her head in disbelief at my cruelty.

So 27 seconds after I put Johnny down, I scoop him back up again. I hold him to my chest, stroking his back.

He sobs. He hiccups, he lifts his tear stained cheeks to me and looks at me with accusing, melting chocolate eyes. He grabs my shirt with his tiny fists. He lays his head against my chest. He sighs.

I sit in the rocker, holding him to my heart. He falls asleep with his angelic face lifted to mine. His lips, so pink and perfect, make a lovely bow. His cheeks flush and his beautiful long lashes brush them gently.

I hold him. I watch him sleep, feeling his every breath against my own.

“I tried, ” I say aloud into the room. “I did. I tried.”

I cradle him a little closer. I close my own eyes, feeling a sense of relaxation and peace that so often eludes me.

Two hours later, when we both wake up from our naps, I hold him upright on my knee.

“Seriously, kid, ” I tell him. “Tomorrow we are going to let you cry it out. We ARE.”

He grins. He reaches his hand out and grabs me by my little finger. He looks me in the eye.

“Gabagoo.” He says. And I believe him.



4 thoughts on “Sleep Training, Nonni Style

  1. Back in the day when I was doing my undergraduate psych degree, we learned all about schedules of reinforcement if we wanted to encourage the development of a behavior. The strongest reinforcement came with a variable interval schedule in which a behavior was rewarded at variable intervals. You are reinforcing his heartrending performance since you invariably will give in and pick him up sooner or later. I think he has won the battle and that Nonni cannot resist the pathetic, heartrending screams produced by that helpless (ha!) baby boy. He has Nonni well trained. As for his desire to nurse all night, I seriously doubt it has anything to do with a lack of milk during the day. You are drowning all his food in it! I think he likes that nuturing contact with his momma. I wonder what would happen if Daddy tried to give him a bottle of breast milk in the middle of the night? I’m sure that is not an experiment either one of them really wants to try (I don’t think I would!), but at some point they may notice your daughter napping in her classroom! Isn’t spring break coming soon? Maybe time for night time experiments and compensating long day time naps. šŸ™‚ I don’t miss those days/nights at all. Good luck.


    • You are so right! What makes this funnier is that my husband is clinical psychologist, and I have a degree in special ed. I actually worked in a school for Autistic students where we used the Lovaas behavior technique. I completely understand that Johnny has me trained! Luckily, my daughter and I can laugh about it. And she and her husband know they should try to bottle at night, but… I think this is one of the hardest issues for nursing Moms who work. You ant to nurse in the day, but you aren’t there. You want to make up for it at night!


      • The answers will come from you guys. They may not be pretty, but if they work for you that’s enough. I loved nursing my babies. It was a wonderfully nurturing time, for both of us. I would not have chosen to eliminate it even if I had to get up multiple times a night although maybe Johnny would settle for a bottle once in awhile when the sleep deprivation gets too bad. It’s not much longer probably. It always seemed like as soon as we all figured each other out, the baby’s needs would change!


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