Mothers and parents often hear advice like, "Just leave him to cry," when navigating night weaning. While these methods work for some families, they weren't for me (or my son!). In fact, my brief attempts at overnight separation only made him nurse even more eagerly once we reunited.
Traditional sleep-training methods never resonated with us either. I knew I needed a different approach, one rooted in connection, responsiveness, and my belief in gentle parenting. Now, a year after completely weaning my son from breastfeeding, and even longer since our night feeds stopped, I want to share the insights I wish I had at the beginning of our nursing journey.
Note: Night weaning before one year is not recommended, as breast milk likely makes up a significant portion of your baby's diet until then.
Lean in, Not Away
Mainstream advice may tell you to distance yourself as much as possible overnight. Instead, I urge you to do the opposite. Your toddler or child waking at night seeks to fulfill an unmet need, whether it's hunger, thirst, fear, discomfort, or simply missing you. Ignoring these needs or pretending they don't exist isn't the answer to gentle night weaning. Lean into the fact that they're seeking you, their primary caregiver. How else can you meet those needs if not at the breast?
Rule Out Underlying Conditions
While night waking is developmentally normal for babies, toddlers, and young children, underlying conditions can exacerbate it. These include:
Illness (and more)
Nursing can offer comfort for any of these issues, potentially explaining some of your little one's wake-ups. If you suspect any of these problems, seek support from a medical professional.
If there is just one thing that I wish I had understood as a new mother, it is that night waking in babies, toddlers and young children is natural, and night weaning alone may not guarantee longer stretches of sleep. I write this blog post as the mother of a 4 1/2 year old little boy who was awake between 3:00-5:00am this morning because he was, "Scared of a dinosaur eating him."
He is not longer breastfed, but he still wakes for comfort and reassurance from his parents. Crucially, we still choose to respond to him, day and night. Granted, his night wakings are not as frequent as when he was 9 months old and we went though a period of hourly wakings (I know!), but they do still happen and they are nothing to do with breastfeeding.
Focus on Connection
Unlike the weaning approaches I encountered, I highly recommend making safety, comfort, and connection the focus of your strategy. Instead of aiming for overnight separation, prioritize offering gentle comfort and reassurance while addressing underlying needs. This might involve offering water instead of the breast, cuddling and singing quietly, or simply holding your little one close until they drift back to sleep.
Remember, night weaning is a journey, not a destination. Be patient, responsive, and trust your instincts. By prioritizing connection and addressing underlying needs, you can navigate this transition while fostering a strong, secure bond with your child.
The path to night weaning can be emotional, but it doesn't have to be a tearful trek of disconnection. By embracing a gentle, connection-based approach, you can guide your little one towards longer stretches of sleep while strengthening your precious bond. Remember, trust your instincts, honor your child's needs, and most importantly, embrace the unique rhythm of your parenting journey.
If you're ready to embark on your gentle night weaning journey with confidence and support, let me be your mentor. My comprehensive 33-page guide, "Weaning with Love," offers practical tips, personal insights, and expert advice to create a plan that aligns with your values and your child's unique needs.
For a limited time, you can access both my guide and my hour-long webinar for FREE! Simply use code BOGOF at checkout. With practical strategies, gentle techniques, and unwavering support, we can navigate this transition together, fostering a peaceful night weaning experience for you and your little one.
With love and understanding,