• Mon, Mar 19 2007


nap.jpgIt’s been over a week so I feel confident saying that I’ve successfully night-weaned my toddler. I know there are those of you who aren’t impressed that it took 27 months to accomplish this task, but I’m quite proud that it was accomplished gently, slowly and without tears. It ended up taking three phases.

1. Separate nursing from falling asleep. We changed our bedtime routine to: change into pajamas, brush teeth, read stories, nurse, have a drink of water, turn out the lights, and “talk about doin’ ‘morrow.” We discuss the events scheduled for the next day and snuggle until my daughter falls asleep. Yes, that’s a new sleep association. I don’t mind that she needs me to stay with her until she falls asleep. I don’t begrudge her those five minutes. I enjoy them! We quickly saw some progress and that encouraged me to continue.

2. Separate the night-nursings from falling back asleep. We tried having my husband settle my daughter in the night but she held out for nursing (I don’t blame her!) That wasn’t fun for any of us — she wasn’t getting what she wanted, I couldn’t stand listening to the two of them struggle and my husband couldn’t stand it when I eventually couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that I would be the one to settle her back to sleep again at night. I think she was comforted knowing that I was still available to her even if we weren’t going to nurse.

At naptime, I nursed her almost to sleep but worked on getting her to settle in those last moments on her own. That’s where the toddler swaddle helped.

3. Truly night-weaning. Over a week ago on a Saturday night, I had a talk with my toddler. I told her that she could have all the “mum-mum” she wanted before bed. She should fill up her tummy because the “mum-mums” were going to sleep and wouldn’t wake up again until the sun came up. I reinforced this concept with her a few times throughout our bedtime routine. I told her that if she woke in the night she should go right back to sleep because it feels so good to sleep, and we weren’t going to have mum-mum again until morning. If she needed help in the night, Daddy would help her.

That night she woke twice and went right back to sleep with a simple reminder from my husband that I was sleeping and she could nurse again when the sun came up. It was as simple as that.

After the sun came up, my daughter giggled when I told her she could nurse. She got a belly full of milk and fell back asleep for another two hours! While I had woken briefly a few times in the night out of habit, I felt refreshed in the morning and got up to do a few things around the house before my girls woke up for good.

It’s gone well ever since that time. Sometimes my daughter wants to snuggle me in the night, but she understands that we don’t nurse until the sun comes up. She always settles back to sleep in under a minute.

My four-year-old is doing well too. She decided she didn’t want to co-sleep with her little sister anymore. We pulled apart the two twin mattresses and set up a twin bed for the four-year-old and moved my toddler’s mattress into the master bedroom. As part of the deal, my four-year-old agreed to fall asleep on her own (no more snuggling to sleep) as long as we agreed to check on her in five minutes. She’s kept to the deal and I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of all of us!

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  • http://sapphireone.livejournal.com Katy

    Congratulations!!! Both on the night-weaning, and on doing it so gently!

    Do you have any tips on step 1? My son is actually starting to sleep for longer stretches, but I haven’t been able to get him to sleep without nursing. I’ve tried the Pantley Pop-off and Dr. Jay Gordon’s plan, but he is still convinced that he can’t go to sleep without nursing. It’s been an on-going goal, since I work some evenings, and he won’t sleep for my husband.

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Thanks Katy! I’ve tried various things with each of my girls over the years and different things worked at different times. We bought a “white noise” clock radio that played ocean, forest or brook sounds. My daughter could choose which one she wanted to listen to as she drifted off to sleep. That gave her some control and helped distract her from the fact that she wasn’t nursing :)

    I’ve also sung songs, over and over if need be. I let the child choose if she will, or I start singing and see which song ends up being a hit. Repetitive songs like “BINGO” and “Old MacDonald” and “The Wheels on the Bus” work well.

    We also talk about what we did during the day and what we are going to do the next day. I repeat that discussion a few times, with a warning before the last time. “Okay, this is the last time and then it’s time for quiet and sleep.” I find that informing the child of each next step along the way helps prepare the child and prevent argument about it.

    At first I let the child fall asleep on my chest. It takes skill and patience to wait until the child is deep enough in sleep to be able to roll the child off and have her stay asleep, but it’s worth it! Now my child rests next to me on the bed and the whole process takes far less time.

    Good luck!

  • http://breastfeeding.blog.motherwear.com tanya@motherwearblog

    What a great story! I’m happy for you all and impressed at how you did it.


  • http://www.babylune.com Kate

    Good for you.

    I am so desperate to sleep more that I just popped my 15 month-old in the crib she’s only played in. It took her about 2 minutes to decide she was too tired to really complain.The problem isn’t so much night nursing as “let’s wake up and have a little play.” Nursing is the only strategy I have for, “let’s quiet right back down and get back to sleep.”

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    I hear you Kate! There are distinct advantages to night-nursing. Certainly in the short term it’s faster and easier to nurse a child back to sleep at each night-waking. At some point (I believe not before 12 months and not before the child is ready) it becomes easier to work with the child on not nursing all the way to sleep.

  • http://breastfeedingmums.typepad.com Sinead@BreastFeedingMums

    Hey Angela, what a coincidence! I am trying to wean Jack at the moment and the problem is not so much breastfeeding per se but night-time breastfeeding. Just today I was thinking about trying to night wean and continuing with daytime feeds when I found your post!! I’ll be giving your tips a try over the next few nights. Thanks!!

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Good timing! Good luck with the night-weaning. It takes a little work but it’s worth it and it can make all the difference in how you feel (and consequently how you feel about nursing) during the day.

  • http://breastfeedingmums.typepad.com Sinead@BreastFeedingMums

    I’ve linked to this post so that your great advice can help other moms and “mums”(UK)like me out there!

  • http://www.babytalkers.com Csara

    Congratulations on your amazing job. What a nice story to hear about how beautifully, easily and gently you did this. We are no longer nursing, but my 21 month old son still sleeps in bed with us and I am soon going to try a gentle way of getting him into his own bed. He is getting so big and I am missing my space and cuddling with my husband at night. :-)

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Thanks Csara! Good luck with transitioning your son to his own bed. We have found that a mattress or pad/sleeping bag on the floor next to our bed helps a child accept the new arrangement.

  • http://breastfeedingmums.typepad.com Sinead@BreastFeedingMums

    We ended up with all three in our double bed at one stage and ended up buying a, wait for it, super kingsize to fit us all!! Now the bed is much too big and we realise that lack of sleep made us do such a silly thing – a kingsize would have been perfect!
    On the plus side our two girls now stay in their own beds and only the youngest is still in with us… but not for much longer we hope :-)

  • http://www.babytalkers.com Csara

    My son is obsessed with Thomas the Train so we bought him a little thomas mattress/bed today and hope that if we put it on the floor next to our bed, he will possibly sleep in it. Wish us luck!! :-)

  • Jaxy

    I mad the mistake of feeding my son to sleep from the get go. He is now nineteen months and although he is only down to feeding when he wakes in the night-the only way I can get him to go to sleep without nursing him is (your gonna think I’m horrible) put a video on for him. It causes a distraction and he falls asleep pretty much within 15 minutes. I think this is the wrong way to go about it but I don’t know what else to do considering he shares a room with his 31 month old brother and if I let him cry it out or stay in there until he falls asleep his brother won’t be able to stick to his routine-which he has had since he was 16 months. All these suggestions seem to be great-any others??

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  • http://www.dalianmitmita.com Yemi

    I read this story and I was happy to hear that you were able to night wean but let me tell ya, I am now worried that my son who is 13 months will take another year before he night weans. 27 months? OH NO! No! Noooooo!

  • bethany

    i am having a difficult time with my 1 year old. i need to night wean cuz i am pooped but also because my nipples are going to fall off if i don’t. my sons top teeth are just killing me. i have used every cream in the world and breast milk, nothing is working. can someone, anyone give me some advice on night weaning a one year old. he just turned one june 12th and it seems like most of the stories i have read are all of older children. help help help if you can

  • http://breastfeedingmums.typepad.com Sinead@BreastFeedingMums

    I’m having exactly the same trouble with my almost 2 year old! Believe it or not, over the last couple of weeks I have started introducing a soother which has worked remarkably well.

    He always comes into our bed in the early hours and I have started saying no to night feeds and giving him a few sips of water from a sippy cup and then the soother. More often than not this works and he goes back to sleep. In fact, last night he only woke once for a feed.

    To be honest I know he isn’t hungry as I give him two weetabix before bed and I think he wakes more out of habit and because it’s comforting to have a breastfeed. It got so exhausting for me that things just had to change…

    For the teeth problem, try repositioning a few times. If your son is biting, stop each feed and tell him firmly no and he will soon get the message!

    However, sometimes the pain can be caused by thrush so you may want to speak to your doctor. I know recently I was extremely sore on my right side during each feed and had to stop feeding from that side shortly after starting each feed. I expressed instead from that side and fed from the other for a few days which helped a lot!

    I really hope this helps you. Know that you’re not alone :) and ask for more help if you need it.

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  • Emilie

    What an incredibly helpful discussion. My 21 month old son is going through some intense teething and, once he’s woken up at around 3:30 a.m. and my husband can’t get him back to sleep (as he’s already done that about 2 – 3 times between 7:00 p.m. and 3:30 a.m.), he comes into bed with us and pretty much nurses continuously until he’s wide awake at 5 a.m. Angela, your strategy is the first that I’ve encountered that seems logical and gentle at the same time. I was really getting quite sad at the thought that maybe this was it, and that I would have to try to wean Sean completely.

    Thank you all for the discussion!

  • Amanda

    What a great story, and so helpful and encouraging to me! A couple of questions for you: what did you use to comfort her back to sleep without nursing (just patting and soothing voice, I assume) ? Did she cry for long with you at her side when she woke at night? Do you share a bed with your daughter/husband or did you sleep separately and go to her when she woke up? Congratulations—-I can’t wait to try your methods with my 24 month old.

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

    Hi Amanda!

    1. To comfort my daughter back to sleep, I first offered water as a substitute for nursing. Sometimes she simply was thirsty! I know I get thirsty in the night. Some people keep regular cups or sippy cups by the bed for this reason.

    I also sang favorite songs. My first daughter loved any repetitive songs (B-I-N-G-O, Old MacDonald Had a Farm etc.) My second favored Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

    Plus I repeated the same key phrase, “It’s okay. Back to sleep.” Sometimes I’d make a “shh–shh-shh” noise — not to shush her crying, but just a noise to let her know I was there, it was okay. I didn’t want to engage so much with talking, just soothe her and get her back to sleep.

    2. She would not cry long with me next to her — less than a minute for sure. If she cried any longer than that, I would nurse her. I’d take it as a sign she wasn’t ready (or she was sick, or teething, or too upset, and really did “need” to nurse — we could always start again another night).

    3. We’ve had all sorts of bed configurations. Co-sleep, then mattress on the floor next to mommy and daddy’s bed, then she started the night off in her own bed (with me snuggling her to sleep but not staying with her) and me going to her in the night (at which point I would either settle her back to sleep and leave or just stay with her and sleep, depending on both our needs!)

    Good luck! Come back and let me know what worked for you!

  • http://www.tash-ramblings.blogspot.com Tash

    I plan to start tonight with my 24 month. He has been in his own bed for 2 months now and loves it, its just the part about falling asleep with out “ayah” that will be hard. I appreciate your sharing this info!

  • aviva

    Thank you for sharing this information. I am still struggling to night wean my 30 month old. She was never much of a sleeper even as in infant.

    Over the last month we have acheived step 1. But I’ve been struggling with step 2, she cries when my husband tries to settle her down so like you I have taken to settle her down. My telling her nursing in the morning has been leading to tears as well. Any ideas on how to get through this would be much appreciated?

  • Nicola

    I appreciate the comments everyone has made. It gives me hope. I’ve been struggling with the night weaning of my 18mth old son and the resulting physical exhaustion as well. It seemed that we had him down to 1 or 2 feedings a night during the summertime, then he got sick and it all went out the window. It is now October 31st and he is once again recovering from being sick and is now waking up as many as 5X a night. I am exhausted and struggling to not let frustration over take me. What has made it worse is, due to my son’s teething and the way he holds his jaw I’ve had mastitis about 5-6 times now. I have gotten so I know the signs that it is coming. I have been trying to night wean, however after prolonged crying (and comments from the landlord, who’s bedroom is directly above ours), I often end up giving in. What has helped is explaining to him to have a “gentle mouth” and not allowing him to continue nursing if he is clenching his jaw. I think if I did not have to worry about the landlord making comments everytime he cried, it would be easier. Anywayz, I could go on and on but I have to find the strength to get through this. I love sharing this time with my son, but I cannot allow him to continue nursing so many times a night.

  • Precious

    I have been trying to night wean my yearold twins for a long time. I wake up to breastfeed them almost every hour and its extremely exhausting. I cant allow them to cry to sleep coz of the noise. I had thought of weaning them completely.Help

  • Gwen

    Congratulations! I am deseparate for help with night weaning my co-sleeping 27 month old. She wakes about 4-6 times a night and the only way she will fall asleep again is to nurse. I can’t do it anymore, the lack of sleep is just too much some days since I work from home and have my 2 children here with me for most of the day.

    I will try your techiniques, hopefully this will be the magic one (have tried a few others with no luck).


  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor