Night Weaning. Or How I Stopped Breastfeeding All Night Long

Night Weaning. Or How I Stopped Breastfeeding All Night Long

Posted by Corryn Barakat on Sep 26, 2014

After several discussions lately with friends who are struggling with sleeping and breastfeeding through the night, I thought I'd share my experience with my firstborn, who was a very high needs baby, and the process we followed when we night weaned.

My first child was a highly sensitive baby. He found noises, smells, raised voices and light very disturbing. He cried a lot. I compared our situation with other mothers in my Mothers Group and for a long time I thought I must be doing everything wrong (which only served to stress me out even more). Breastfeeding was his security blanket and comfort for many years, through both the day and night. It was one of the only ways to calm him, and having a calmer and happier baby meant that I was happy to continue breastfeeding for as long as he needed. In terms of sleep, for the first year his longest sleep period was generally from 8pm till about 12 or 1am. After that he would wake up every 45 minutes crying and very unsettled. I had followed so many sleeping tips, and everyone had advice. 

Most nights our baby slept in with us as it was the only way I could get enough sleep to function through the day. I had read a plethora of books, most of them weren't at all helpful, as I was determined to parent gently and wasn't comfortable with crying it out or controlled crying techniques. My favourites were Pinky McKay's Sleeping Like a Baby, and Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Sleep Solution". Both of these had some great suggestions. You can read some of them in one of our blog posts from Katie James, IBCLC.

Following his cues to setting regular day time naps made a difference - more sleep through the day meant more sleep at night as he wasn't so overstimulated (what a revelation!). Having his body clock trained to sleep at the same time every day made it easier for him to fall asleep - although most of the time that was still only in the baby carrier or pram.

When he was 2 years old he started attending child care 3 days a week, while I was working on those days. I found that I was becoming increasingly exhausted, and starting to resent breastfeeding at night. It was time to make a change, and not an easy change either! I had discussed it through with my husband, and we both agreed that we needed to night wean. I knew Mr K, then 2 and a half years old, would not be impressed with our decision. So we made a plan to make the changes one little step at a time. 

We started by talking about how big boys don’t feed at night (I admit I cringe a bit at the ‘big boy’ stuff – he was only little and surely he should be enjoying being little while he could!). I even made a little book, with pictures of him doing lots of fun things doing the day, and explaining how we don't breastfeed at night, we only breastfeed during the day. The book explained that when we sleep all night long we have more energy for playing at the playground. I read the book to Mr K repeatedly, even though we were still breastfeeding at night. I continued reading the book and talking about it for at least a month. I've put a modified version of the book we used at the bottom of this blog.

Then I decided to start moving our breastfeeding to a particular spot. I put a chair in his room and started feeding in the chair before bed and before naps instead of in the bed. Mr K was fine with all of this. Next we bought a Thomas the tank engine toddler bed (he LOVES Thomas), and put away the queen size bed that I had been sleeping on with him in his room. The next few nights involved going to sleep in the Thomas bed, then at some stage in the night, coming into our bed and then feeding on and off for the rest of the night. Throughout this we talked up what a big boy he was to be sleeping in his Thomas bed.

After this came the hard part. No more boobies at night. We talked about it that day, and Mr K agreed that he was a ‘big boy’ now and that big boys didn’t feed at night, but I don’t think he understood what that meant.

The first night was the hardest. We had a feed before bed. I went out to the gym and my husband did bed time. Mr K woke up at 11 and wanted a feed. I said no and reminded him that boobies were asleep now until day time. We spent the rest of the night alternating between snatches of sleep and comforting Mr K who was either taking my hand to lead me to the ‘nursing chair’ or was throwing a huge tantrum. We had lots of cuddles. We offered cups of water. We re-iterated that big boys don't nurse at nighttime, and he would be able to in the morning.

It took about 3 nights. Each night was a little easier than the night before, and throughout the process I offered constant cuddles and water. Then it was done! The Thomas bed didn't work out as Mr K continued to wake up at midnight screaming and crying and I couldn't handle the sleep disturbance. We sold the Thomas bed and Mr K ended up continuing to sleep on a cot adjoined to our king size bed, often ending up on our mattress at some point for another year until his little brother came along. 

Some battles just aren't worth fighting, and really, it does get easier to make changes as they get older and can understand more. Sometimes (unless it's causing you a lot of problems) you just wait until they're ready for it. For me, breastfeeding at night needed to change, so we changed it, but where everyone slept at night has never been something that worries me. As long as I get enough sleep to function the next day it's all good!

What have your nighttime experiences been? Have you had to night wean or have your kids naturally weaned themselves?

This is a modified version of the night weaning book we used. I personalised it with images of my little boy doing things he liked (e.g. playing trains and riding his bike), and had pictures of trains on the front and back covers. We just printed in on our home computer.

Helping Your Toddler Night Wean and Sleep All Night Long from Corryn Barakat

about-us-image.jpgBio: After many years of breastfeeding in daggy loose tops, and singlets Corryn decided to start her own business finding beautiful breastfeeding clothes made with natural fabrics. Milk and Love was born, and specialises in stylish clothes and fabulous customer service!