There are many benefits in continuing to breastfeed past the first year but nursing at night can be exhausting. Night weaning is a great way to continue a breastfeeding relationship that might otherwise be cut short. Your night weaning toddler may struggle with the adjustment but it’s worth it. When we night weaned OG it was the most amazing thing to be able to get a full night’s sleep again after 2 years!
We co-sleep. In our bedroom we have a queen sized mattress and box spring on the floor right next to a twin mattress and box spring that is nestled tight in the corner (so it’s like one big bed). The twin bed is supposed to be Olive’s bed but she often comes over into our bed at night.
When she was still nursing at night it was really difficult for me to sleep comfortably. I either had to nurse her in my bed and move her, leave her in our bed (and be forced to sleep on my side) or I had to lay in the crack between the beds to nurse her in her own bed, all of which resulted in poor sleep for me. So we decided to give night weaning a try.
I was very nervous that we wouldn’t be able to night wean without ending our co-sleeping arrangement. I like co-sleeping because I don’t need to get up if she wiggles out from under her blankets or wakes from a bad dream. I can just reach over and help her. I also knew that with another baby coming it would be easier to keep us all in one room, especially because Matt works overnights quite often. I also realized I couldn’t continue to nurse OG at night. Luckily we were able to come up with a way to night wean without ending our co-sleeping arrangement.
I read The No Cry Sleep Solution, which had great advice for night weaning and gentle sleep “training”. Though we didn’t do anything exactly as it was in the book, it was very useful in coming up with a solution that worked for our family.
Night weaning toddler: How I knew she was ready
- She was 2 years old (Most babies over 6 months don’t need to nurse at night for food but may still need to nurse for comfort).
- She would wake up often and cry for mommy milk but would fall asleep almost as soon as she latched on. It seemed like more of a habit than a need.
Night weaning toddler: What we did
Matt and I talked with OG for a few days before explaining the changes that were going to happen so that she wasn’t surprised.
Matt and OG slept in the master bedroom for a week or two while I slept in the guest room. Matt would soothe OG back to sleep when she woke. It wasn’t easy and I think he had a newfound appreciation of what I had been doing for 2 years!
I found it to be very helpful to be “tuned in” to OG. I could tell the difference between her “I’m unhappy” cry and her “I really need you” cry.
We believe that crying is sometimes just something that babies (and adults too!) need to do to express themselves. However, we believe in supported crying rather than leaving a child to cry in a room by themselves. And of course if their cry is an “I really need help” cry, then we help.
Matt supported OG while she was crying. When OG would wake and cry for mommy milk Matt would empathize with her (“I know you want mommy milk and you’re upset that you can’t have it), and he would offer his hand for her to hold if she wanted.
For the first few days or a week I would have to go back into our room in the early morning (or sometimes earlier) because OG wouldn’t accept Matt’s soothing anymore. That was fine though, getting 4-6 straight hours was like heaven at that point!
When it seemed like OG wasn’t waking for mommy milk anymore I moved back into the bedroom. For a few days I slept on the outside and Matt slept next to OG so he could continue to soothe her while I was in the room (I don’t know if this step was necessary but my thinking was that she would see that even though I was back in the room things were not going back to the way they had been before).
Soon I was also able to soothe her back to sleep without nursing using the same techniques Matt used (although she wasn’t always happy with it, and sometimes I would need to leave the room and Matt would become primary soother again). For a while she was sleeping from bedtime to about 5 am without waking (or at least being able to go back to sleep on her own).
I was getting some pretty good sleep in but OG was still waking up at 5am which was a bit early so I decided to set a new limit that she would not nurse until the sun came up. Using the same techniques as above this happened pretty quickly and she now sleeps until 6:30 or 7 most morning.
A few tips if you want to try night weaning toddler:
- Follow your child – If he is more clingy and cranky during the day after an attempt at night weaning he may not be ready.
- Don’t underestimate the benefit of just one or two skipped night nursings! If your child isn’t ready for full night weaning you may still be able to get her to skip one or two early in the night so you can get more rest. An exhausted mom will know that 4 hours straight feels like a full nights sleep when you’re used to getting only 1-2 hours at a time.
- Don’t try night weaning if there is some other big change happening, e.g. going to a new day care, moving to a new home, having a new baby, etc.
- Keep in mind that if you work outside the home your baby may be nursing more at night to catch up on mommy time. If you are able, it can be helpful to increase daytime nursing and contact to try and minimize nighttime nursing.