Night weaning your toddler can be a gut wrenching decision, especially for mothers who know that this will be their last baby.
To stop nursing your older baby, toddler or older child can feel as though you’re removing an amazing thing between you that you’ll never be able to do again.
It can be reassuring, though, to know that the night weaning process doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.
You can gently night wean while maintaining a loving bond between you and your child.
When should I night wean my breastfed baby?
Many mothers feel pressured to night wean their baby or toddler so they can start sleeping through the night.
Firstly, if night feedings are working for you and your baby, there is no need to stop night feeding until you both feel ready.
If family or friends are suggesting you stop night nursing so your baby will sleep through the night, it’s helpful to know that formula fed babies experience night waking just as often as breastfed babies.
Studies have found that parents of breastfed babies actually get more sleep.
Night feeds contribute to the overall daily milk intake for breastfed babies and, for that reason, it’s generally not recommended to attempt to night weaning your baby before 12 months of age.
Attempting night weaning before 12 months might actually increase night waking.
It’s common, and important, for exclusively breastfed babies (6 months and under) to wake and nurse frequently overnight.
Do babies naturally wean from night feedings?
Weaning from breastfeeding actually begins at around 6 months of age, when your baby starts eating solid foods.
From birth to 12 months, breast milk or formula remains the most important part of your child’s diet, with the addition of nutritious and age appropriate complementary family foods from 6 months.
As your baby’s caloric intake from food continues to increase, the amount of milk in the diet decreases. That’s how the natural process of weaning from night feedings works. That being said, any breast milk you continue to provide to your baby is beneficial to life long health.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Breastfeeding Toddlers – Why Continue Breastfeeding?
In this article, you will also note that breastfeeding is much more than just food. As well as providing nutrition, immunity and brain development, breastfeeding is also very much about comfort. Many babies and toddlers feed back to sleep whenever they wake in the night.
Although all babies will eventually wean from night feedings, this is why is might take longer for some toddlers to night wean than others.
How long should night weaning take?
Depending on the age of your baby or toddler, along with several other factors, night weaning can take anywhere from a few nights to a few weeks or longer.
When night weaning takes longer than expected, many families wonder whether it could have been avoided if they had started night weaning earlier.
When you’re sleep deprived, it’s normal to wish you could flick a switch and be done with night feedings for good. A mother and member of BellyBelly’s forum shared her feelings:
‘I’ve been breast feeding since 2009, without a break. Not even one day. I’ve loved it but I must say now, honestly I am pretty over being pawed at on an hourly basis by my toddler. The overnight feeds are killing me because she feeds all night long and, at 2, has enough fight in her to make me saying no a very loud, long drawn out reaction, at all hours of the morning.
‘I have tried to night wean for weeks now but in the early mornings, I relent because I cannot face the lack of sleep it results in. I become very cranky and impatient but then I also become the same when feeding because I am getting my free nipple pinched and I’m feeling pretty used. I feel so overwhelmed. I feel like I want to dry up my milk artificially. I’m exhausted’.
Rest assured that you have not missed a window of opportunity by not night weaning earlier. Just like daytime parenting, nighttime parenting involves responding to your baby’s needs.
You never need to worry about doing the wrong thing as a parent by responding to your baby’s needs.
Night weaning your toddler
Gentle night weaning over several nights or for an even longer period, such as weeks or months, is the ideal way to reduce night feedings gradually, until your child is fully night weaned.
Most babies and toddlers will need a distraction from breastfeeding before they stop night nursing altogether.
If you have been co sleeping, transitioning toddlers to their own beds can be an effective way to start the night weaning process.
If toddlers already sleep in their own beds, introducing a new bedtime routine might help encourage night weaning. Bedtime stories or a gentle sleep book focused on eliminating night feeds can help your toddler understand the transition to a new stage.
Just as it would be for adults, it’s normal for toddlers to feel worried about changing a routine they have had for their whole life.
Some parents find that getting the non breastfeeding parent to take over the nighttime routine for a while can help.
If you feel as though introducing independent sleep and night weaning at the same time is too much at once for your child, you can continue to co sleep and still eliminate night nursing.
Toddlers feels safest when they are in close proximity to a trusted care giver. Cuddling your child, stroking child’s hair, patting the back or whispering ‘night night’ are all loving ways you can encourage your toddler back to sleep without offering a night feed.
For further information, you can read BellyBelly’s article Toddler Sleep – Does Your Toddler Need A Sleep Routine?