Q&A: nighttime parenting is making our eyes bleed

Lisa writes:

"Can you stand another question on sleep?

I guess the actual question is: how do I night wean?

The context is this: I work random shifts in an ER and this means that sometimes I am away for the evening or overnight and my husband has baby sleep duty. When he has to do bedtime, no sweat after we did a little sleep training that involved a little crying.  But the overnights are a different story.  My son (9 months old) has been co-sleeping from day 1, starting the night in a crib and moving into our bed once I come to bed.  I used to be able to nurse him at night and slide him back into his crib but now that he's so mobile, the crib rails have all gone up, and he protests the return so often sleeps next to me, latching on all night when the fancy strikes him.  This is great for all of us except on the 3-4 nights a month that I'm gone for the night.  He totally freaks out, my husband then totally freaks out, they end up awake all night from 1 AM onward with bags under their eyes the next morning.  I blame myself because I know it's not fair to my son to get me some nights and not others without any pattern at all.  So I feel like my only option is to get him to go without the milk bar which probably entails going without sleeping under my shirt.

We tried doing this by letting him yell in protest but living in a little condo makes my husband feel guilty about the noise's impact on the neighbors so we end up jumping ship on that plan.  We also recognize that having him in our room is compounding things but I can't move him into the only other candidate room since we had an intruder break in several weeks ago through that bedroom window, so I'm psychologically unable to put him there.

I just don't know logistically how to night wean a baby who is still in our room without lots of hollering.  But I have to do something because every morning after I work a night shift, my family is falling into little tiny pieces which means I'm trying to fix them and not able to recover from having been up working all night and I am starting to get just a teensy bit resentful.  Plus hugely guilty that I did this by letting my son cozy up to the milk bar all night long for so long.  Help? Please?

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First, let me say how sorry I am that someone broke into your home. That's got to be a terrifying and creepy feeling. I completely understand that you can't put your son alone in that room.

You know what I'm going to say next: Trying to do anything to change sleep patterns is going to be harder in the middle of a sleep regression phase. So right now (9 months) is probably not going to meet with much success. If you can wait a month you'll probably do better.

And even more next: This isn't your fault, and it's NOT your responsibility to manage the relationship between your son and husband, or fix things the next morning when you come home from work. There is not a single thing you can do about what happens while you're at work, and working out a nighttime routine that allows both your son and your husband to sleep is pretty much your husband's responsibility. Babies learn that different people do different things, so your son will have a different set of nighttime expectations when he's with his dad. It happens all the time that kids go to sleep differently with their mothers, fathers, grandparents, babysitters, etc., so it isn't your responsibility to gatekeep the relationship between your two guys.

I think nightweaning is actually going to be counterproductive, since it'll take that comfort away from your son on all nights, not just when you're not there physically. Especially at this separation anxiety age, it's probably going to end up making him more clingy and crabby all the time, instead of just when you're gone.

Now, having said that, if you truly do want to nightwean for you, and not because you think it'll somehow equalize things, your husband is going to have to take the lead on that. I can't think of anyone I know who nightweaned within a month without basically giving the baby to the non-nursing partner during nightweaning. Most women I know moved to another room during nightweaning (raising my hand), or just played dead at night during that phase. Which leaves you in a tricky situation, since you're going to have to do the thing you've identified as the problem (your husband having to comfort your son to sleep) in order to avoid having your husband have to comfort your son to sleep while you're not there.

You can see why I'm not so excited about putting the nighttime responsibility all on your shoulders. It's a big circle of confusion, nastiness, crying, and sleep deprivation for all three of you.

I really think I'd try to work with your husband on developing his own routine to get your son back to sleep. I don't know if he does much of the initial putting to bed, but that's a start. Many kids seem to be confused when the going to sleep is different from what happens when they wake up in the middle of the night. So having him develop a really solid bedtime routine that he does might make it easier to replicate that in the middle of the night to get them both back to sleep ASAP. It also sounds like he maybe feels like your son not sleeping is his fault, and, again, a non-sleeping kid is not the parents' fault. So if your husband can stay kind of zen about it he may have better luck with the getting back to sleep.

Having said that, this is probably all going to get slightly better in a few weeks anyway, once this sleep regression is past. And the older your son gets, the easier the changes will be on him because he'll just be used to them. And he'll start sleeping longer anyway.

Anyone have conflicting opinions, suggestions, or comments?