Monday, January 11, 2016

Early Childhood Development 101

    I think a lot of people- or at least a lot of people who have never had a child before- think of development as a linear process. Things gradually get better. Babies gradually sleep longer. They gradually nurse less. Which from a macro standpoint is true. A five year old probably sleeps longer stretches and nurses less than a five month old. But does a five month old sleep longer than a five day old? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes the baby sleeps longer for a few months then goes back to waking more frequently. Sometimes the toddler starts nursing like a newborn again. And if you were expecting a smooth linear path, it can be frustrating or nerve wracking or miserable. A lot of parents think something must be wrong. There are countless articles that talk about "regressions" (see here for why that is a bit of a misnomer).
    The reality is that development is often a messy two steps forward, one step back situation. Revisiting our expectations and adjusting our perspective can be really helpful in making the process less stressful, but I'm as guilty as anyone else in loosing sight of the long term and becoming completely overwhelmed in the day to day. So here are some of Perrin's big developments that we are finally seeing, even though they have been in the works for some time.

1. Sleeping through the night. While we were in Philadelphia, Perrin decided to sleep from 11 pm to 6 pm without waking. Previous to this, a 4-5 hour stretch was about the longest we ever got out of him, and even that wasn't on a regular basis. (Side note: Did you know that the definition of "sleeping through the night" that all those baby books use is only 5 hours? Not sure about you, but my concept of a full night's sleep is a heck of a lot more than 5 hours.) It was awesome. But the next night was the normal up every two to three hours, so we didn't get our hopes up. However, over the next few weeks the nights of long sleep stretches became more frequent until they were more often than not. For our purposes, I consider our "night" the time he goes to bed until the time Joey gets up in the morning, usually around 5:30. Perrin and I usually stay in bed until 7, so we get more sleep than that, but if he wants to nurse and then go back to sleep or something during those morning hours, I still count the night as a "success". Naturally, this meant he was also not nursing as often during the night. Which brings me to milestone number two.

2. Night weaning. We've been working on this one for a while. Waaaaay back in the day I thought I might toy with it around 1 year, the earliest it's usually recommended. But it was obvious when we got to that point that Perrin was nowhere near ready. And honestly, night nursing never really bothered me that much. We cosleep and Perrin had been pretty good at nursing lying down since about 9 weeks, so nursing him at night barely roused me at all. A little help latching and I just drifted right back to sleep. Perrin never even really woke up.
    So then his second birthday came, and the idea of sleeping for several hours straight had started to seem pretty sweet. I bought the book "Nursies When the Sun Shines" to help prep him for the concept and we started with a version of Jay Gordon's nightweaning method. However, once again, it was obvious he just wasn't ready. I'm sure we could have been a little more forceful with it and maybe had more success, but once again night nursing just wasn't that big of a deal for me. I didn't mind waiting a bit longer.
  So really, the night weaning and sleeping through the night happened pretty much simultaneously. Maybe once or twice a week he still asks to nurse in the middle of the night, and I usually let him since allowing him to latch for 10 seconds and rolling over to go back to sleep is easier than arguing about it. (In truth I offer water and remind him to wait until morning once, and if he persists I just go with it). But mosts nights he nurses before we lay down to sleep (he doesn't actually nurse to sleep at night anymore) and then doesn't nurse again until after 5:30 when Joey gets up. Sometimes he makes it all the way until 7 when we get up for the day.

3. Weaning in general. Another idea I had way back in the beginning was that I would allow Perrin to completely self wean if I was still ok with continuing the nursing relationship. My baseline goal was to make it to two years, and then just let him go after that and see what happened. Well, about two months after he turned two I developed a really awful nursing aversion. Nursing aversions are hard to describe. It's not simple as being physically uncomfortable (which can be a sign of latch issues that sometimes develop as kids get older and need to relearn a good latch). It's more like, if you could imagine that nails down a chalkboard feeling but in your nipples. At least that's the best way I can describe it. Anyway, I had started to get it during ovulation and menses around 17 months postpartum when my menstrual cycle returned. But after Perrin turned two, it was everyday, all the time. So I knew that allowing him to nurse on demand was not going to work much longer. I made the decision to start nudging him in the direction of weaning. I experimented with a few different approaches. Limiting the frequency of nursing didn't seem to go very smoothly. He was very resistant, as anyone would be when their main source of comfort was suddenly inexplicably unavailable. However, he was totally cool with me limiting the duration of the nursing session. Often I could give him about 10 seconds on each breast, say all done, and he'd scamper off to do whatever. So that became my main strategy. He could nurse as often as he like, but only for a very short amount of time, with the exceptions being before night and nap.
   Now about a month ago when Perrin was just shy of two and a half, I began to revisit the limiting frequency approach. We started instituting a "nursing for nap or night time" policy and did lots of offering snacks, distraction, and staying busy. So far it's been going extremely well. Most days he only nurses four times- before and after nap and before and after night sleep. I make exceptions for extreme distress, such as when he is hurt. And every now and then he inexplicably insists on nursing in between and it's obvious that it is a real need, even if I can't understand why. Going back to the start of this post, I understand that it's not going to be a perfectly smooth transition and I am fine with the ups and downs and back and forth until we both get used to the new status quo.
   My goal now is to keep up with the nap and night nursing, until that's no longer working either. Then we will start working on completely weaning.

So these are the several different goings ons, all of which have developed in just the past few months. I know things will continue to evolve as we near the three year mark, and I am very excited about the prospect of being done nursing and moving to even more independent sleep for Perrin. But right now I am perfectly comfortable in the fact that change is coming, even if it is slow, and I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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