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Night Weaning a Breastfeeding Toddler

I wrote this post before going away in November, thinking that I’d get around to editing the draft while I was gone. Not only did that not happen, I decided to wean Claire completely while we were away. However, night weaning is one of those topics that is still very much relevant and useful for lots of families who are looking for ways to reduce night nursing, so I decided to go ahead and edit and publish this post now even though it’s a little out of date for my family. Here you go!

toddler on a windy winter beach

Night weaning is one of those things that doesn’t always take on the first try.  There are some things I am willing to stick with through thick and thin, but our first attempt at night weaning was not one of them. Claire just wasn’t ready.

However, our second attempt at night weaning was more successful. It’s been a good while now and although she still sometimes asks to nurse at bedtime, she will accept “we’ll nurse again in the morning” as an answer.

Wondering How to Night Wean a Breastfeeding
Toddler?

There are no cut and dried rules to follow when it comes to night weaning (or pretty much any other parenting decision, I’m afraid). But here are some guidelines that might help.

1. Take your needs and your child’s development into account. If your child nurses once or twice a night and you’re fine with that, no problem. Keep nursing as long as you like! If you’re woken too many times to get a decent rest and your child is eating lots of solids and seems emotionally ready, give it a try. You will know if it’s the right time by giving night weaning a shot.

2. Listen to your child.  Most nurslings will protest at least a little when mom starts putting limits on nursing sessions, but you can tell from their reaction whether this is something that they are ready to handle or not. If your child reacts with hysterical, uncontrollable crying, then try again another time. If, after a short time your child is able to calm down again and go to sleep, then stick with it.

3. Wean off of the bedtime feed first.  When I night weaned Claire for the second time, I eliminated the bedtime nursing session along with the middle of the night nursing.  The first time we night weaned I’d nurse her to sleep and then not nurse again until about 4-5am.  She woke just as often and each time she was cranky about not being able to nurse back to sleep.  As Tom pointed out, it was probably confusing to fall asleep nursing at the start of the night but not in the middle of the night.  Now she falls asleep while I lie next to her at bedtime and doesn’ t nurse again until 6am.  Maybe it was the extra few months of development, or maybe it’s the fact that she doesn’t nurse to sleep anymore, but she now sleeps more solidly between 8pm-6am than she did before.

4. Link nursing times to something the child can observe.  The second time we night weaned I told her, “We’ll nurse again when the sun comes up.”  This was something she could understand and verify for herself, and when climbing into bed at nap time she would sometimes pull open the curtain and say, “Sun come up!”  We would nurse to sleep then, but not at bedtime.  With days getting shorter and sunset coming earlier each day it was a relatively easy way to wean off the bedtime nursing session.

5. Expect a drop in milk supply.  My supply was already dropping fast, but when we cut out the night nursing my supply dropped to almost nothing. I can see that this will lead to a gradual and eventual full weaning soon, but I’m ok with that.  If you are concerned about your milk supply, think twice about night weaning.

Like so many other things, night weaning works best as part of a steady and predictable daily rhythm.  Some toddlers take to the idea quickly while others need a few more months of development before they’re ready to go all night without nursing.  For parents, it can be a good compromise between the need for unbroken sleep and your child’s need for the comfort of nursing.

Did you night wean your toddler?  How did it go?  I’d love to hear about your experience!

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife January 9, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Weaning off of the bedtime session first is an interesting suggestion! It’s been the last to go with both boys. The idea of it being confusing makes sense. Definitely something to keep in mind for next time!

    I tried nightweaning a few times with the first before he was truly ready. Little more than an exercise in frustration – for both of us – to keep trying when it clearly wasn’t working. Nightweaning him was a long loooong process.

    With the second, he still nurses to sleep but rarely nurses during the night. I usually try to soothe him back to sleep without nursing and he accepts it readily the vast majority of the time. Nightweaning him, while not completely done, has so far been incredibly simple and fuss-free. Never ceases to amaze me how very different siblings can be.
    Cynthia @ The Hippie Housewife´s last [type] ..Gentle Discipline for Babies

    • michelle January 9, 2012, 8:25 pm

      I know, I kind of resisted the idea of cutting out the bedtime nursing at first. Probably because there are so many lovely memories of nursing them to sleep as babies. But for my girls anyway, nursing to sleep stopped working after a while. That was the point at which learning new ways to soothe them to sleep was necessary, and where cutting out the bedtime feed would start being an option.

  • barefootmama January 10, 2012, 5:36 pm

    In everything you say I can feel home much you love….so beautiful!!!!

    • michelle January 10, 2012, 9:06 pm

      Thanks!

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