Wondering when and how you will ever wean your baby? I was right there with you!
There were parts of me that felt excited about the idea and other parts that felt pure dread or sadness. Luckily, there are many options for weaning when it feels right for you and your child. Hopefully in reading some of our tips and tricks, you’ll feel empowered to try when you’re ready.
This is not medical advice and I am not a lactation specialist. This is for educational and entertainment purposes as I share my personal experience.
We each have our own goals and realities when it comes to weaning and night weaning our babies. It is such an emotional process for all that are involved, mainly, mama and baby. I hope you can acknowledge the feelings both of you might experience and allow them to be in the space of this process. And I hope this gives you some encouragement.
Support and success stories are helpful
I have a few favorite resources that I turned to for this transition, as well as chatting with friends. We knew we wanted to take it slowly and support the emotions through the process (my own included). I thoroughly enjoy education and resources from @kaitlinklimmer, @heysleepybaby, @happycosleeper. I browsed their highlights and posts and did end up purchasing Katitlin’s Night Weaning Course so I could have thorough education and to get my husband on the same page. I do recommend it! Especially if a resource will help get your partner collaborating with you. It not only went over the options to approaching night weaning, but also supporting emotions and taking temperament into mind.
Prep is so important!
For the family, for our own emotions, for the child. This is a BIG change. One that even young babies deserve a warning about, and in the moment, deserve to have their feelings validated. So we found books at the library and read and talked about night weaning the week before and the first one to two weeks into it we kept reading our favorites. Our babies are so capable of understanding (and communicating!)! With each book we changed the wording where needed (for example, we’ve just called it milk not “milkies” or “nah-nah’s”)
Books we found at the library:
Nursies when the Sun Shines
Milkies in the Morning
Bye Bye Nah-Nahs
There are more but these are the ones we used, some more than others
And if you’re fortunate enough to have a partner, getting on the same page with each other and having conversations to prepare, plus having their support and hands on can make this process a whole lot easier!
There is no right time, but there can be wrong times
You’re emotionally or physically ready.
“Professional recommendations” (in quotes because you know your baby best) - AAP recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months. We support continued breastfeeding after solid foods are introduced as long as you and your baby desire, for 2 years or beyond.”
You don’t want to do it physically or emotionally
Your child is sick
We went back to nursing on demand if teething or illness happened in the process because breastfeeding is a huge tool, benefit, and support during these times
Upon resuming, we talked with our toddler about the plan (and could have reread the books had we owned them)
Big life changes
I was ready to start cutting a few night feeds when he was 18 months but we had an international trip planned so I knew 1. That would throw everything off and 2. I wanted the tool, comfort, and benefits of breastfeeding while traveling - comfort, immunity, support with transitions (and even an excuse to go to a quiet space to take a break for both of us if needed). So we waited.
Other big life changes can be: starting or changing daycare, new sibling/ baby, move, parent(s) going back to work, etc
It can go as slow as you need it
The process of night weaning began at 21 months for us (yes, I drug my feet after our international trip), he was nursing at least 3-4 times a night. Typically sometime 10:30 to midnight (when we brought him into our bed), 2-3pm, sometimes 4-5am or a later morning feed to get a little more sleep, and then he liked to nurse on waking. It was a lot, but bedsharing helped to make it feel less intense AND I was ready for less wakes. But know, cutting out feeds does not mean cutting out wakes.
We started just approaching night weaning via cutting out the feeds after the first wake (when he came into bed with us, usually between 10:30pm and midnight) and then held off any feeds until 4am. Honestly, I was nervous he would be hungry because he did have some many feeds still at this point of his life. He would be sad when he woke up wanting a feed. Instead, we validated what he wanted and that this change was hard, offered water (usually refused), and then offered him to sleep on one of us. This worked great. And then we hit an angry phase. So instead of tears and sadness, there was screaming and some pulling on mama’s shirt and more screams. We still acknowledged he wanted milk but that he would have to wait, validated how hard it was, and offered him the tools. I think one or two times my husband brought him to the rocking chair in our son’s room to resettle him before both coming back to our bed.
Plateaus may happen
So this was our plateau spot for a while - nursing to sleep, again when he came to bed, and one to two times after 4am. Then I started pushing the morning feed back to 5am. At this point I did feel stuck, like what gives next? And when will the wakes stop?
He was still waking at least once between coming into our bed and 5am, asking for milk and then going back to sleep, usually with his head right next to me.
So just before 24 months, I knew there needed to be another shift and finally pulled the trigger. This was where, at his first wake, he no longer got milk when coming to our bed. I thought this would be horrific. And it was no problem. It made me wonder what would have happened if we tried it sooner! My husband always got him from his room and brought him to our bed at this time and then he would want me. I offered a snuggle and he would just lay on my shoulder and fall asleep, without tears or protest.
At just before 24 months, he was nursing to sleep, coming to our bed somewhere between 10:30/midnight but not having milk again until 5am or later. And about 2.5/3 months into the weaning process, he would consistently sleep in our bed without waking to ask for milk (so just the one wake transitioning to our room around 10:30/midnight)
While the process did take months, I was accepting and ok with this. And it surprised me how capable we both are! We would process in the morning if it was a super easy night or if it was a super hard night. We would remind him of the changes at bedtime too, but made sure to talk about it beforehand too.
I was happy to nurse him at bedtime and naptime for another year if he wanted. Unfortunately, my supply did not allow for that. So the dip has helped to wean the final morning feed. Even with no milk coming out, we’ve gradually moved away. I typically would say, “there is no milk but you can try 10 seconds each” and count to 10 for each side. This helped avoid a big meltdown and get some more morning sleep.
Bedsharing helped us
We have bedshared since day one, it’s what our family felt was best and we all still enjoy it. I was nervous about his access to me impacting this process. I did change what I wore at night too, to make things less accessible. Instead of wearing an easy access tank (with open flannel over top in the winter), I wore t-shirt or crew neck sweatshirts. When he was mad or sad that there was no milk, there was still the option of snuggling close to either parent, and honestly, that’s the next best thing to milk, right? So he typically never cried about not having milk more than four minutes this whole process. So overall, I felt like bedsharing really helped to support emotions through the process.
And someday, I’ll have a post on weaning from bedsharing :) but for now, this is how we get the most sleep. And we like it.
Stay tuned for that or just join us for more tips, tricks, support, and encouragement in your email from a pediatric OT in love with all things pregnancy and baby! I promise, you won’t get a lot of emails, 1-2 per month because I’m also trying to raise my baby while doing this.
Lindsay Williamson is a mama, wife, Pediatric Occupational Therapist, and owner of Root to Raise.
Root to Raise empowers your pregnancy and postpartum experience and beyond by normalizing babies and simplifying baby development to bring confidence and connection to raising strong, thriving babies.
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