Night Weaning for Wimps

Now that it's been nearly a month since I nursed my 21-month-old girl at night, I think I can safely say that she is night weaned.  Here is my approach to night weaning: Night Weaning for Wimps.

Night weaning is very difficult for me.  I have to psyche myself up both for enduring my child's crying and for poor sleep (I usually sleep very well sharing a bed with a nursing baby). I have a very low tolerance for crying, and am constantly tempted to intervene during the night weaning process. We night wean by having baby sleep with Papa only while Mama "sleeps" in a different room. I think this approach works best if your child spends plenty of time with Papa and has had many experiences having Papa put her to sleep during naps or at night.  

This time around, we first tried a gradual approach, because my daughter was only nursing once or twice during the night anyway. I slept in another room but went in and nursed my daughter if my husband couldn't get her back to sleep very quickly. This almost worked, but then she got sick and broke a tooth, and, well, I'm just not sure I'd ever try this approach again because there probably is never going to be a long enough stretch without any illness or teething to make this work. So then we went cold turkey. Here are my 10 tips for night weaning if you are a big wimp like me.

Night Weaning for Wimps: Ten Tips 

Give your child lots of nursing time and snuggles during the day. Until night-weaning was well-established, I let my toddler nurse as long as she wanted during our normal daytime sessions. And maybe even an extra time here and there during the day. In my opinion, this is one of the best things you can do to help you and your child feel OK about night weaning. You might also try explaining to your child that she can nurse as much as she wants during the day, but that after the last nursing session at bedtime, your breasts are going to sleep for the night until it is light outside.

Try having dad put your child to sleep for a week (after nursing) before beginning the night weaning process. Instead of nursing my toddler to sleep, I nursed her when she was still quite alert around the household action in a well-lit room and then handed her off to my husband. After about a week of this, I slept in a different room and stopped nursing her at night. This worked well for several weeks.

Find a good balance between being consistent and being flexible. I did cave and nurse my child several times in the middle of the night when she was sick a week or so into the "cold turkey" process. This just drew out the process and I wish I hadn't done it. On the other hand, my daughter became so hysterical when I tried to leave the room and have my husband put her to bed after a few weeks that I went back to nursing her to sleep. The first night was an experiment. When she slept through the night with my husband without problem, we kept doing it. I'll worry about cutting out this nursing session in another couple of months.

Have mom use ear plugs and white noise. I usually wake up when my toddler cries no matter what. But sometimes with the white noise and ear plugs, and if the heater is also on and she only cried for 0.5 seconds, I was able to sleep through it.  Now that she doesn't wake up at night to nurse, I only use the ear plugs and white noise if she's sick or teething.

Learn some relaxation techniques to help you go back to sleep.  I really struggle with getting back to sleep after waking up to my child crying.  The fact is, while sleeping with my nursing baby, I never wake up to a crying child.  I usually nurse without the baby or me even waking up. When I wake up to a child crying, my body is soon full of adrenalin.  I can feel my heart racing and it takes forever for me to calm down.  Also, I am just used to those lovely nursing hormones putting me back to sleep too.  It takes me a long time to adjust to sleeping without nursing.

Give dad permission to use any means necessary to get your child back to sleep.  Rocking, bouncing, twirling, pacing, whatever.  You can cut these things out later.  For me, the goal is just to get the kid through the night without nursing.  All other transitions will be easier and can happen once night weaning is established.

Have sippy cup available near the bed.  In my experience, children rarely accept the sippy cup as a replacement for the breast, but it's worth a shot.

Use the TV and food to distract an inconsolable child.  If the baby cries terribly, no one gets any sleep.  Plus, I have an extremely low tolerance for crying (especially in the middle of the night when I'm slightly irrational and can't tell how much time has actually passed), and might cave and come in the room and nurse my child if she cries too much. So I tell my husband to do whatever it takes to get my child to stop crying.  Put on her favorite show or offer her a snack or drink.  Whatever.

Explain to other children why baby is crying.  If your child is not accustomed to hearing your baby cry for more than a few moments, night weaning can be pretty disconcerting.  My preschooler slept through most of the crying, but each night I reminded him that his little sister might cry.  I told him she was mad and frustrated that I wasn't nursing her anymore at night, but that she would be OK because Papa was in the room with her helping her go back to sleep.

If you suspect your child is teething or has a sore throat, give her ibuprofen.  This is not the time to be a purist. I am a judicious user of children's meds, but I don't want my child to deal with a sore throat or molar breaking while also having to adjust to no night-time nursing sessions.

What are your tips for night weaning?

Photo credit: tempophage

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  1. Hah, the title of this post alone caught my attention to come take a look from the Top Ten Tuesday list! When we get to this point, I definitely want to lovingly ease my son off of night weaning, so your tips look helpful!

  2. Off of "night nursing" rather, not weaning. Sorry for the typo!

  3. It's so hard to determine the right path forward for this step! My daughter turns 21 months tomorrow, and I'm contemplating night weaning, but I don't think we are quite there yet... or maybe I'm just not!

  4. This is good info. I didn't co-sleep, but night-weaning was still hard. I did it by minutes. The first night, I let him nurse however long he wanted--and I timed it. Then cut it down by 2 minutes the next night. He was fine every night--even when we just nursed for 2 minutes. But the next night? I went in to his room and just spoke to him. He was not happy. And cried. But after a few nights he was good!

  5. Caroline and Tiffany, it is so hard, esp. when you like co-sleeping and nursing! I actually think it would have been better if I'd night weaned a bit earlier (as I did with my first child, at 15 months) or a bit later (when she could understand a bit better what was going on). 20 months is a pretty willful age, at least at my house!

    amanda, I have definitely heard of this approach, and I think it could work well for a baby who is used to not nursing all the way to sleep (b/c you are putting them back in a crib or whatever). Some folks use this technique during the day. I find it easier just to drop one feeding at a time. I can't imagine my child agreeing to stop nursing after a few minutes.

  6. My method ended up with so little crying.
    1. We co-slept, but had a cot in the bedroom for the child and they helped pick it out and make it up. I nursed the toddler to sleep and lay with him/her on my bed for a while. Once toddler was asleep Daddy would gently lift him/her off our bed while whispering "Daddy's moving you to your bed" because that really seemed to keep them asleep better than if we moved without explaining. Once they were on their bed, not kicking us in the face, he/she was more likely to sleep through the night and not wake up. And if she/he did wake up, there was no crying because I was within a few feet and they could find me easily.
    2. When they seemed ready and I was ready, I started telling them that nursies needed rest to keep up with such a big kid, so please don't wake them up. After that, there was a sippy cup for a drink of water. There were a few breakdowns at 2 a.m. when the toddler insisted to daddy that it should be the RED cup, not the BLUE cup, but we use the "take what you get and don't throw a fit" tactic in daytime so we stuck with it at nighttime too, and the child settled down within minutes.
    3. When all else failed, I told them that nursies had an owie and put a bandaid across the nipple. The toddler respects the bandaid.

  7. Birthblessed, Thanks for the detailed account! It made me laugh. The bandaid is brilliant. I think your method may have worked for me if my child were a bit older (or had as much comprehension as your child seemed to), but I was ready for a transition, even if she wasn't.

  8. Sadly, this is very timely for me. Thanks for the tips, and the reassurance. (We're getting there!)

  9. Thanks so much for this. My DS is 15 months and he has started some really bad sleep habits that are not letting mommy get very much sleep! We are transitioning him to his own bed and also working on night weaning. It's tough, and for this moment, we are probably getting even less sleep, but I have hope that we will make it to sleeping through the night, because I need it!


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