I’ve always slept in the same bed as my 16-month-old son, and I’ve nursed him on demand, when he wakes up, throughout the night. Now he won’t go to sleep without me, and I want to get back to my own bed. What can I do without leaving him alone crying for hours? How can I teach him to sleep on his own? I would like to stop nursing during the night.
It’s a big misconception that in order to teach a child to change their sleep habits you need to abandon them.
There are a variety of ways to make this transition. The first, and most important, thing to do is break the food/sleep association.
When it comes to your night time routine, start the evening with nursing, rather than putting it at the end. Then move on – a bath, a diaper change, books, and finally, being placed in bed. You can choose to put him in his own bed or co-sleep along with him. The key, though, on the first night, would be to offer him as much comfort as possible without nursing him. Be advised - he will not be happy, and if you are lying beside him he will do his best to get the breast. Have faith in him, and have faith in yourself. He was fed before bed, and you are right there with him providing emotional support. He will just be pissed that he isn’t getting his own way or what you’ve taught him to be the norm.
As time goes on, you should start to limit the tools you personally offer him. Encourage him to self-sooth by using a lovey (thumb, soother, etc.). As the days pass, he will start to get used to this new routine. You can then move yourself away physically, until ultimately, he is in his own bed and you are in yours.
Sleep training can be very overwhelming for families. Make sure you get some support for yourself, and set your own personal goals that you are comfortable with. Even by teaching him to go to sleep at the beginning of the night, and not limiting night feeds, is a great step for both of you, and one step closer to sleeping independently.
Good luck and sweet dreams.