I couldn’t help but answer the question below when I visited Quora yesterday:
‘How do you wean an 18 month old off breastfeeding during the night when he is waking up screaming and flailing around?’
Ha ha, this took me back to a similar time when I was a new mother and constantly tired. Our eldest son Leon refused to sleep for any length of time, and this carried on for about two years. He hated to be left alone to go to sleep on his own, and we always had to get him to sleep by putting him in his pushchair and rocking it backwards and forwards.
Every time he woke up at night, Sam or I would get up, give Leon a bottle of milk if he was hungry, and then rock him back to sleep again in the pram. This could happen several times every night, and we were both on our knees with tiredness. The screaming was relentless if we put him down awake in the cot, and the constant broken nights wore us out until we were both snapping at each other out of exhaustion.
One night when Leon was about two years old, it was Sam’s turn to rock the pram backwards and forwards. He stumbled out of bed and I fell back asleep. In the morning the alarm woke us up, and I couldn’t hear any screaming. I looked over at Sam in amazement.
“He’s still asleep!”
“Probably, yeah.” Came the muffled reply. “He’s sleeping it off.”
“Sleeping what off?” I sat up in bed, worried.
“He asked me for a little drop of whisky in his milk, so I gave it to him.”
“You did what?” I was livid. “You can’t give whisky to a toddler! He might be dead in there! I can’t look! You’ll have to go and see!”
Sam is very resourceful, inventive, and can find a practical solution quite quickly if there’s a crisis. He shrugged and did not seem at all perturbed.
“It was only a few drops. He’ll be fine.”
Up he got and peered into the nursery. The noise of the door opening woke Leon and started him off screaming. Sam picked him up, changed his nappy, and brought him out into the kitchen.
“He’s got a hangover now!” I sat Leon in his highchair. “And it’s all your fault!”
That night was a turning point. I forbade Sam to give Leon any more whisky, and we decided that unless we let him scream himself to sleep, then we’d still be rocking him when he was 16. We lived in a flat, and I knocked on the neighbours’ doors to warn them to put their earplugs in round about 7pm as we were going to let Leon scream it out. One of our neighbours was an elderly lady who had brought up 5 children of her own, and she confirmed that she had done exactly the same thing for two of her sons who had never wanted to go to sleep on their own. I was reassured by this, especially when she told me that the boys never remembered screaming themselves to sleep when they were older.
It was hell for 6 weeks, but by the end of it we could lay Leon down in his cot and he’d go to sleep. We went in a few times during the nightly hour or two of screaming to reassure him we were still there and sometimes he had a drink of water, but we didn’t pick him up. Leon is 35 now and of course doesn’t remember any of it.
When we had Marc we had to do it all over again, but this time Marc was only about eight months old and it didn’t take so long. Marc would scream until he vomited. We’d bathe him, feed him again, and then lay him back down in the cot and he’d sleep for the rest of the night. It became a nightly ritual for about three weeks until he got used to going to sleep on his own. All that screaming wore him out.
So, to all you exhausted parents of toddlers out there, you’ve probably just got to endure the screaming, unless you’re prepared to forego any proper sleep. For all those parents whose infants lay down in their cots and immediately close their eyes – you don’t know how lucky you are!
As late as 8 or 9 years old I can remember waking up in the middle of the night, calling out for my mother, and asking if I could get into her bed. Bless her, the answer was always in the affirmative. Dad would stumble into my bed, and I’d hop into their double bed. For years Dad never knew which bed he’d wake up in.
Do you have to play night manoeuvres? How do (or did) you get your children to sleep?