I mentioned night weaning in a post recently and a reader asked for any help or advice I might have to give. As she pointed out, all kids are different, so I offer this knowing that what worked for us may not work for you. But I offer this series of posts on night weaning in hopes that it will help keep mamas from being resentful night nursers and children from having a hard core night weaning experience because his/her parents are so exhausted they just can’t take it anymore.
A week after Cavanaugh turned two, I started night weaning. A lot of my friends did it earlier, but I wasn’t as disturbed by night waking as many mamas I knew. We were bedsharing so Cavanaugh never cried when he woke up and I never came to a fully alert state. Beyond that, he usually only nursed for five minutes so I could fall back to sleep pretty quickly. But then he went from waking every 3 -4 hours back to his previous pattern of waking every 1 1/2 – 2 and I got cranky. I felt like I wasn’t being as good a mom to him during the day because I wasn’t getting enough sleep at night. So I decided to night wean. It was actually my second attempt.
When I first tried to night wean, Cavanaugh was 13 months old and was waking hourly and nursing for long stretches. I was so sleep deprived that I didn’t take full stock to realize it wasn’t the night nursing that was making it feel as if my breasts were about to be sucked off my body. It was Cavanaugh teething (something new since he didn’t cut his first tooth until right before his first birthday). So, my first piece of advice is that if you’re thinking of night weaning, analyze what my be causing sleep disruptions besides nursing. Even if my attempts to night wean had been successful at that point, he would have been waking up just as frequently because he was in pain.
Now Cavanaugh was two, wasn’t teething, and many of his friends had quit night nursing when my mama buddies used the Jay Gordon Method. I read it and couldn’t imagine it working for our family. The seven hour block seemed arbitrary, especially since Cavanaugh can’t tell time. I decided that anytime before I actually got in bed and fell asleep myself (since Cavanaugh usually went to sleep at least two hours before I did), I would nurse. Once I was asleep in the bed next to him, however, there would be no more nursing until daylight.
One of the things I found most helpful was the assurance in The Baby Sleep Book that once my child was past 18 months old, his receptive vocabulary would allow him to understand more of my explanation of what we were doing and why. The first thing I realized was that I’d never told Cavanaugh that sleeping through the night was even a goal. So, I explained that though we’d been waking up during the night his entire life, his body was bigger now and his belly would hold enough milk for him to sleep through the whole night. Instead of milk in the night, he needed to get big blocks of uninterrupted sleep so he’d have enough energy to play and grow. (Maybe too much explanation, but he was listening so I kept talking).
The other big communication piece was explaining that the milk needed to sleep too. I made the mistake of telling Cavanaugh the milk was going to sleep without telling him it was going to wake back up. He experienced a panic akin to separation anxiety. It worked much better when I explained that the milk was sleeping at night just like he and I were sleeping, and the milk would wake up when the sun woke up and it was light outside again. He clung to “sun woke up” as a call to nursing throughout night weaning. He sometimes still says it.
Stay tuned for Part II of Night Weaning: What Happens After You Tell the Boy to Sleep Through the Night