Seventeen Months, Sucky Sleep and How Progress Looks Like Regression

Dear Daughter,

You’re seventeen months old. Your sleep is craptacular. I do not enjoy the night wakings at the moment. At all. I’m sleepy. I’m cranky. You’re sleepy. You’re cranky. This stage of the sleep journey feels like nothing more than abysmal failure. All the ways that I get you to sleep are taking longer and not working anymore and you’re waking up a lot because of your teeth.

Some of my friends who were on the Wait it Out journey with me have crossed over to modified sleep training, night weaning, CIO. And their reasons sound a lot like my life right now. I’m tired. Some nights you wake up every hour. I’m tired. I want sleep. I’m tired. Mostly I’m tired.

I also want you to speak a little faster because it’s really a bit grating on my nerves when you whine instead of talking. And the potty training thing is so tempting because you can take off your diaper now and sit on the potty, and you’re using it sometimes when you pee.

I guess the sleep thing feels like it can be forced, like it SHOULD be forced. Like you’re so close I can just train you now and have sleep. SLEEP. Real deep sleep. Uninterrupted. Blissful.

You just went down for a nap. You were nursing and squirming and when I see you through the words of others I think “She’s resisting sleep”. But your eyes were closed. You were pushing away at me and biting down and so I kissed your forehead and rolled you off of me and you closed your eyes and fell asleep.

And at night you are crawling around and laying your head down and RESISTING SLEEP until you find your comfortable spot and fall asleep or try to fall asleep before you whine and want to nurse again. If you weren’t resisting sleep then you’d GO TO SLEEP WHEN I’M TRYING TO PUT YOU TO SLEEP by bouncing you or nursing you.

Right.

This is the transition between me doing it for you and your doing it yourself. You’re resisting when I try to do it for you, because you’re trying to learn how to do it yourself. And you’re going back and forth between trying on your own and accepting my help.

It sucks because it’s out of my control. I could grab control back by saying “Okay, it’s time for her to learn” and refusing to let you come back for comfort once you’ve crawled away on your own. I could just let you scream for a few nights and it would be over. Right now chances are pretty good that since you’re actively trying to fall asleep that you’d do just fine and I could let you scream a few nights and be done.

And have sleep.

Oh the sleep. How I want the sleep.

And you, you want your sleep too. You’re tired. The tiredness that you’re feeling is what’s driving you to learn.

With your brother he went through a period of “NO” before he hit “I DO IT MYSELF” where he learned that he couldn’t just avoid sleep completely. Once he learned that lesson he quickly decided that he would put himself to bed.

You.. You’re different. You want to do it already, and you’re resisting not because you don’t want to go to sleep, but because you want to learn how to do it all on your own. That’s why you pop off and squirm around and put your head down on the pillow and try so hard well before you’re ready. Then you crawl back to nurse. That’s why you squirm around for a minute before you start to fuss, and fuss for a while before you signal, and wake yourself up a lot in the process and need more help to get back to sleep.

Because you’re trying.

And it looks like regression because you used to accept a back patting to help you get back to sleep. Now you get upset by it because YOU WANT TO DO IT YOURSELF. But you can’t just  yet. It looks like regression because you’re waking up between sleep cycles again, but that’s because it’s when you learn best and you’re trying to learn.

I see it. I do. And I’ll keep waiting it out. I do hope that you learn soon. It’s getting a little bit exhausting when you wake me up every hour to practice falling back to sleep.

I’m sleepy. You are too.

This is what learning looks like. Back and forth and back and forth and FULL STEAM BACKWARDS before it’s full steam ahead.

You’re seventeen months. Your brothers wouldn’t sleep independently before two. I see you sleeping independently before then. You’ve already randomly fallen asleep in ways that we have not anticipated or guessed at.

I can wait it out. No rush. Sleep will come. This is yours to learn, your success to own. And just like I’ll be there for you one day when you’re needing guidance to get through a difficult project for school.. I’ll be here for you now. Not to do it for you, but to support you while you work towards your goals.

I’m not going to rush in and finish it for you just because I can see how it might be done a little faster. I see how hard you’re working at this. I trust you, just as you’ve trusted me these past seventeen months. You’re finding that safe and quiet place inside you where your mind can curl up comfy and quiet as it’s time to sleep. I’ll wait and let you find that place peacefully so that you can savor that a-hah moment where it all clicks into place.

I’ve waited this long, I can wait a little longer.

<3 Mama

(FYI the reasons behind the changes that my friends have made are pretty excellent. This letter isn’t about their reasons or their choices. It’s about processing their reasons, seeing if they apply to my life, and considering what if anything I should change/want to change about what I’m doing. If their reasons were terrible I wouldn’t have anything to process for myself. :) )

15 thoughts on “Seventeen Months, Sucky Sleep and How Progress Looks Like Regression

  1. Good job, Mama. My son was 2.5 before he did anything that looked like sleeping through the night. Now, at 3 he does most nights. Long haul. But, now on the other side I’m so glad I waited on him.

    1. Shelly,

      My oldest didn’t sleep through the night until 2.5 as well. :) My middle child slept through the night starting at 22 months and discovered the joys of independently putting himself to sleep shortly after that. It’s definitely worth the wait to see how proud they are when they figure things out. :)

      I’ve also learned so much in sharing their journey with them.

      -Sarah

  2. Oh, this is all so familiar. My 18-month-old has been here for two months now. He wants to fall asleep by himself, screams if I try to rock, bounce or pat him. Pushes me off his bed, lays his head down…and then climbs into my lap, only to push me away two minutes later. It’s an hour or two of this every night until he falls asleep himself or accepts my help. It’s exhausting and frustrating, but it’s good to know we’re not alone in it. It’s good know we’re making progress too.

  3. You are speaking my heart right now. Thank you so much. My girl is just 13 months but I know she is trying to figure out how to do this herself but wants me to help her along the way and I will not leave her to figure out for herself.

  4. Thank you for this post. It was timely. I want to tear my hair out some nights when my 22 mo old is wiggling all around “fighting sleep”, but thanks for the reminder that she is just trying to figure it out.

  5. Thank you for this. We are in a regression right now and it is exhausting! I was attempting to night wean but it just didn’t feel right. So I gave up after a few nights and will keep waiting it out with you. Your words always resonate with me. You provide so much support to so many women. I hope you know how special you are.

  6. I’m here right now with my 19 month old and I’m struggling so much. I’m four months pregnant and it’s intensely uncomfortable and often downright painful to nurse so often in the middle of the night. Factor in the fatigue/exhaustion that comes with pregnancy and I’m about at the end of my rope. She let me nap when she napped the first couple of months, but now she wants to nurse straight through her nap, so I don’t even have that relief.

  7. Oh wow I needed this today!:( Our babies are the same age and apear to have the same personalities (this trying to do things by myself before it’s due). Wish I could still breastfeed but with circumstances I had to stop at 9 months. Trying to WIO and not cave in to CIO and what ever else people are suggesting. The last few nights have just been a tad harder with two eye tooth coming at the same time, and baby vomiting all over the floor as he is too busy exploring and palying to sit still and be sick. Well guess we have to just WIO for this one too, tooth don’t take an eternity to come (although it feels like it). The smile when I left for work this morning makes it all worth it, and tonight I will be practising WIO again because he makes it all worth it.

  8. Oh wow I needed this today!:( Our babies are the same age and apear to have the same personalities (this trying to do things by myself before it’s due). Wish I could still breastfeed but with circumstances I had to stop at 9 months. Trying to WIO and not cave in to CIO and what ever else people are suggesting. The last few nights have just been a tad harder with two eye tooth coming at the same time, and baby vomiting all over the floor as he is too busy exploring and playing to sit still and be sick. Well guess we have to just WIO for this one too, tooth don’t take an eternity to come (although it feels like it). The smile when I left for work this morning makes it all worth it, and tonight I will be practising WIO again because he makes it all worth it.

  9. This is my 9-month old. I probably have a long road ahead, or maybe not since she is trying her best to learn already. Thanks for writing this. It helps me recommit to WIO.

  10. This was a nice reminder, my little one is 30 months old and lately I have caught my self thinking she’ll never learn to fall asleep her self as long as I let her nurse to sleep when ever she wants. Exactly like she didn’t learn to eat and walk and…hey wait? No one forced her to learn that! It was just made available. And she figured it out. In her own pace. (But she is such a habitual little person, she is very attached to her rituals, and gets really upset by attempts to change them. So somehow this worry that she will not stop needing this particular ritual ever has crept in, with out me formulating it quite so clearly to my self, because if I had it would become immediatly obious what a silly notion it is. Of cource she will out grow her sleepnursing days. But perhaps not in the pace I would prefer if I could choose. I get a strong feeling I’ll nurse her at bedtime as long as I nurse. It will probably be the very last nursing session to go.)

    Great to realise I am actually giving her lots of opportunities every night to fall asleep on her own, and come to think of it i suspect she does not nurse back to deep sleep every time she drifts to the surface and is breifly awake in the middle of the night.

    Also, she has been insisting that she’s going to “slep my self!” lately, and I’v gotten really impatient because that translates into lie down for some seconds or maybe even several seconds before squrming and insisting to nurse. But that does not mean the project was as futile as it felt to me! She is practicing. Makes sense, really.

    1. Ps. I guess what is most stressfull at the moment is that she’s from the very start really only reqired to feel safe and not be interupted while falling asleep. And the list of stuff that interupts her is ever growing. Because not being interupted isn’t really soemthing we do, we’ve got a very limited toolkit for helping her sleep. It’s nursing, or it’s walking with her in her wrap (and lately with the added condition of the absense of sounds of cars, og playing children, or other disturbing noises. Quiet woods are good.) And that’s more or less it. Laying next to her is in rare occasions acceptable but really only if she’s very much closer to sleep than the famous drowsy but awake, and after plenty of nursing. So it feels like we have no starting point from wich to exercise the falling asleep on your own from. And like nothing has changed in this area for ages. But come to think of it, every new thing has come in sudden leaps. So probably this will to. But who knows when.

  11. Thanks Mama! My first child is 23 months old. As you said, it gets easier closer to two! I don’t see him doing much sleep stuff independently yet though… But we certainly had a bouncy, walking in the carrier, lots of working at falling asleep time around 17-19 months! And that was without teething! Good luck! WIO! Thanks for sharing! :0)

  12. At 18 months, we are experiencing the same progress. Twice in the past two days, I have had to put him down in his crib, and he has happily fallen asleep on his own from wide awake. If he cried, I would go to him, but he doesn’t. It blows my mind. By the same token, he is “fighting” each nap and bedtime like crazy. It’s really funny how this major milestone appears out of all the strife.

  13. When I read this post last week it just confirmed my suspicions that my son (14 months) was trying to fall asleep by himself. At first I thought it was teething that caused him to nurse, then toss and turn, then nurse, then toss and turn ALL NIGHT LONG for weeks. We have been co-sleeping/room sharing since day one, and last weekend I moved his floor bed to his room and he’s been sleeping (and putting himself back to sleep) all night long. No crying, no sleep training. He was ready. Thank you for this post, and than you for giving a name and creating a support group for something we’ve been doing naturally since day one; Waiting It Out.

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