Night Weaning for Attached Parents and Other Sleep Deprived Mamas Part 1

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

10 comments to Night Weaning for Attached Parents and Other Sleep Deprived Mamas Part 1

  • I didn’t have to deal with weaning my son. He wouldn’t breast feed because of breathing problems. I had to transition him from sleeping in our bed to sleeping all night in his own. He was six, could only fall asleep in my arms and would not sleep all night unless he was in bed with me. Once I had my second child, I had to get him to change his habits. It took two nights, and success.

    • Sonya Feher

      Wow! Though you couldn’t breastfeed, it sounds like you had a very strong nursing relationship with your son. Instead of weaning from the breast, you weaned from the bed and your arms. I’ve heard many stories of mamas (and dads) lying on the floor next to their child’s mattress for portions or all of nights until they made the transition. It sounds like you faced quite a challenge. How did you transition with your second son?

  • Tina Murphy

    Help … my baby is almost 14 months old and I am 8 months pregnant. We had to wean to goat’s milk recently due to milk supply which went fine – HOWEVER, he still gets up every 1-1/2 during the night to drink out of the bottle. My first concern is if he is getting too much fluid at night … my second concern is just that I need to sleep and get him to sleep a few hours before this next baby comes. Any thoughts … ideas?

    • Sonya Feher

      I am no medical expert so these are just my thoughts. Your son is used to get fluid at night so he may need to taper down. If you switch to bottles of water instead of goat’s milk for middle of the night feedings, he will no longer be getting calories, or craving them, through the night. I get hungry at times I’m used to eating. So did my son. When we were night weaning him, he woke up and asked for food in the middle of the night because he was used to having his belly filled. Rather than having him feel and be hungry throughout the process, we started making sure he had a snack before bed (like a bowl of yogurt or half a bagel with cream cheese). Then I kept a glass of water next to the bed so if he woke in the middle of the night and was thirsty, he was getting liquid and his belly filled but no calories. He quickly went to only waking up once in the night (around 3 or 4 a.m.) when he would ask for another bowl of yogurt. I fed him the yogurt for awhile, but realized if he was hungry, I didn’t want to have to do down to the kitchen and turn on the light or put something in a bowl b/c it was too much of a production for the middle of the night. When I told him, before bed, that we wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night for yogurt anymore and if he was hungry, he could have crackers or a banana we’d keep byb the bed, he asked for water when he did wake and refused the food. Within a couple of days, he just slept through that middle of the night “feeding” so we were getting 8 or 9 hour blocks in a row.

  • Have you heard of the book “Sleeping Like a Baby” by Pinky McKay? It is excellent, has a 2 week transition program for replacing a feeding to sleep preference.


  • […] just as I advised in Night Weaning Part I that you evaluate your reasons for night weaning or extra sleep disruptions before you get started, […]

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