A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Tandem Nursing Nighttime Routine

I didn’t think much about sleep before I was a mom, but it didn’t take long for me to learn that this was one of the most controversial topics in parenting. My husband, Josh, read a bunch of sleep books while I was pregnant, I didn’t read any. It never occurred to me that it would involve anything beyond lying a baby down in a crib and walking out of the room while they closed their eyes to quiet sleep. It’s what I always saw in the moves! Well, HA!

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder, tired as hell.

The drama began the first night we brought my first son, Jack, home. We jiggled him and bounced him and nursed him and he just didn’t go to sleep. We were up all night. We were trying to follow all these rules in the books, but they didn’t work. And we were learning that the way we wanted to parent Jack wasn’t lining up with the message we were getting from books, TV, friends, doctors and random people with advice. Jack slept in a bassinette next to our bed. His crib sat empty in the next room waiting for us to get ready to put him in. First I said he would transition at 3 months, then 6 months, then I found myself dragging the crib into our room to sidecar it. I knew that the easiest thing for us would be to have him sleep in our bed, but I heard loud and clear that this was a death wish.

Once I was able to tune out the fear-mongering surrounding bed sharing I pulled my sweet boy in, latched him on and went to sleep. I tossed the crib and any lingering fears about our family bed. It was the right decision for us. Josh and I have questioned and re-questioned every single parenting decision along the way except for this one. This was right for us, we knew it then and know it now to be true through and through.

Jack was a high needs baby and will always be a highly sensitive person. The family bed is the best place for him, but that didn’t stop the sleep issues from truckin’ right along. We had developed a pattern of stress surrounding bedtime. We didn’t have a deep enough understanding of sleep, the brain and Jack’s sensitivities to grasp how sleep was so difficult for him. We went through long phases of taking turns staying up with him until he was tired enough to go to sleep, arguing, stressing, yelling, crying. Right on through my pregnancy I nursed my 2.5-year-old in the recliner until the wee hours of the morning.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder, with son.

Upon the birth of my second son, Exley, Jack in all his sensitive glory hit the roof. Sleep got worse than ever. We were more stressed than ever. We knew we had ignored a problem that needed addressing by a professional long enough. I always hesitated to reach out to a sleep consultant. I looked down on outside help from trainers because I thought sleep was supposed to come naturally and if I just practiced Attachment Parenting everything would be perfect. I thought routines were for losers. I was afraid they would judge my parenting and I would waste my money listening to and not taking their advice. Exley was a newborn and slept just fine. I would nurse Exley to sleep or Josh would walk him around in the carrier while the other one went toe to toe with Jack until he passed out.

Naps were out of control. It took so long to get Jack to sleep that Exley would always wake up. There were times when I would nurse them both in the recliner, I would just give up and sit there while they both slept on each boob. But inevitably one would wake up and get fidgety. There were times when I was able to slide Exley with one arm into the bassinette and carry Jack to the bedroom, but Exley would usually wake up before I could get Jack all the way to sleep. Then I would have to get up again. Jack was just so upset at having to share his mommy. The transition was awful. Most of the time it was a disaster that ended with all of us crying.

We were in crisis. We had been for a long time. I reached out to a friend who introduced me to Rebecca Michi. She supported our sleeping arrangements and trusted our feelings. We took a deep breath and dove into months of serious hard work. We took detailed notes of our daily routine for her to review and get to know the culture of our home. We took surveys to determine Jack’s temperament. She taught us about the brain and what elements of our home interrupted the process of Jack’s brain to create melatonin. So much of it had to with us. The little that had to do with Jack’s unique temperament still had to do with us. We were the ones that needed to change. We worked our butts off. Jack still knows her by name as, “Rebecca, the lady that knows a lot about sleep.”

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder's son

And, boy, does she know a lot about sleep! I cannot even begin to go into detail about the work we did together. That is a whole other blog post. (Should I write that?) What I want to emphasize here is the level of stress that we felt surrounding sleep and the amount of work that went into changing the culture of our home.

Our lives are drastically different now. The norm is that Jack and Exley are in bed, our family bed, nursed to sleep, by 8pm. So, here is the question I always get. How in the world do you do that? I don’t believe it would be like this without addressing the real crisis that was us not understanding, and therefore not providing Jack with what he needed to get tired and go to sleep.

Bedtime for Jack begins when he wakes up. It sounds daunting, I know, but it’s truly about developing a routine and we don’t even notice it now. Jack becomes overloaded very easily. We have built in times throughout the day where Jack does something calming. Jack wouldn’t do these things on his own. He would go at 120 miles per hour all day and then by the end of the day be so wound up that he can’t come down until his body literally gives out. So to keep him within the speed limit we have book reading, board games, picnics or anything that requires sitting. He is able to come back down to zero and start fresh. By bedtime he is able to engage in our nightly routine. The nighttime routine is our knight in shining armor. It’s been tweaked a million times, but now it is set in stone and over my dead body will it ever be strayed from.

630pm- dinner

7pm- brush teeth for Jack. Josh holds Exley.

705pm- playtime downstairs with Jack and daddy. This is a quiet time where they can sit and play cars, do our magnet game, whatever they want that involves sitting. I take Exley, put his jammies on and read him books.

720pm- jammies for Jack.

725pm- snack and books with Jack and mommy. Josh takes Exley downstairs to read books and then puts him in the carrier and walks in the dark. Jack and I read 2 books. During the first book we eat our snack. Before the second book I demonstrate neck rolls and deep breathing. Jack does his neck rolls and deep breathing while I read.

745pm- Jack says, “boobie and go to sleep.” I carry him into our bed and nurse him to sleep.

755pm-I come out and take Exley (who is generally mostly asleep) to our bed and nurse him the rest of the way to sleep.

8pm- I come out and go “TA DA!”

***We also eliminated Jack’s nap during the day when he was about 3.5 years old.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder with husband and sons

This routine has taken many different forms since the birth of Exley. Their changing and differing needs had us adjusting to various phases. We created a large family bed with a queen and a twin mattress next to each other. It goes Josh then Jack then me then Exley. I was in between the boys so that I could tend to both of them. As a newborn Exley needed to nurse constantly so he spent most of the night latched on. But Jack was still waking up a couple times a night to nurse. We would either:

  1. Have Josh take Exley while I nursed Jack back to sleep and then I would take Exley again
  2. Sometimes Exley would stay asleep unlatched and I could just roll over and nurse Jack back to sleep
  3. I could also lean on a pillow and nurse them both. This made it trickier to get back to a lying position, but it worked if both of them needed me.

I was pretty much always breastfeeding someone. Those early newborn days are foggy. We did whatever the moment called for and didn’t have much of a routine. No one does right away.

When Exley was very young I never allowed Jack to sleep next to him, but now that Exley is older the order changes sometimes depending on where I can find a spot. Jack does not wake up during the night anymore and if he does he simply goes back to sleep on his own. Exley still wakes up frequently so I spend much time side-lying and nursing him. It’s a glorious moment when they both sleep on their own and I get to lie on my stomach. (See here for safe bed sharing guidelines)

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder's sleeping sons.

It’s a life I never thought I would have. More than 2 hours to be alone before Josh and I go to bed! It’s amazing. Having 2 under 5 is still extremely stressful parenting, but the stress of bedtime is gone. If I didn’t have Josh it would be really hard. I would do whatever I needed to do to stick to a routine. I would use TV or food or whatever I needed to distract one while dealing with the other. I think I would put Exley to sleep first so that I could then give Jack the extra attention he needs to get to sleep. You do whatever it is that you need to do to get by.

If you are in sleep crisis I highly recommend reaching out for help. It CAN get better. Everyone needs sleep. Sleep problems are some of the most stressful ones. Welcoming a new family member is also stressful. I was so anxious my whole pregnancy wondering how things would go, where would everyone sleep, how would we ever give everyone what they needed and, most of all, how in the world will I be able to breastfeed 2 kids around the clock? It’s like everything else, you will wonder, you will be nervous then the baby will come and it will be chaos. It will be chaos that you barely remember and soon you will emerge with a routine. You will feel so badass because you figure it out in each moment and it just works.