Night weaning a toddler

January 20, 2010

I was the picture of patience for the first year of my son’s life. I co-slept, nursed on cue, wore him in a wrap – I was everything a good AP mama should be. But towards his first birthday my nighttime patience began to fizzle. Co-sleeping had previously been the perfect solution for meeting both Calvin’s needs and my needs, but now it seemed to have lost it’s magic. Around eleven months we decided to transition him to a crib. It was bittersweet; I missed being next to my sweet babe, but I also relished the chance to stretch out in my bed. Thus began my own hybrid style of parenting; very influenced by AP thought but thoroughly mixed with things that work for our family.

Contrary to many modern parents, I continued to nurse my son on cue – even at night – throughout the first year of his life and into the second. I did this for many reasons. One, I believe that he needed the nourishment and the comfort. Two, I believe that it was safest to meet his needs and not try to encourage him to sleep through the night. Three, I wanted to wait until I really felt that he was ready. Four, it is just the thing to do if you are AP. Five, it was helping me burn lots of calories even at night. Six, I was afraid of making changes, especially after one failed attempt when he was about 13 months. Seven, as long as he went right back to sleep and didn’t wake too often, I really didn’t mind. Eight, I believe that to some extent, this is par for the course when it comes to extended nursing relationships. Nine, I had spoken with other nursing moms who said that things started really improving between 18 and 24 months, and I thought I could hang in there until then.

As you can see, it was a complicated, muddled thought process that influenced my nighttime parenting. But I truly believe that I was doing the best for Calvin and I have no regrets. I thought for months about night weaning. Many lactation consultants (my own pediatrician among them) recommend waiting until at least twelve months, and I accepted this somewhat blindly. While I don’t think it’s unreasonable, it is definitely something I will research next time around.

But recently I decided that I was ready to commit to night weaning. Ready to implement a plan. Ready to be consistent. Ready to suffer a few sleepless nights if it meant that in the long run I could get Calvin to become accustomed to fall back to sleep without nursing.

This time around I decided to use Dr. Jay Gordon’s night weaning plan. This plan is tailored to co-sleepers, but it easily works for anyone. Beyond having Calvin sleep in his own bed, the only change I made was to stretch out each step to a week rather than 3-4 days. I did this because I wanted to implement any changes on a Thursday night, knowing that I would not have to work the next day. This way I could remain very patient with Calvin. (And if things really went to hell, I would be able to take a nap the next day.)

Nights 1-7 were all relatively the same. He continued to wake twice a night. I would nurse him very briefly – he usually didn’t even get a letdown of milk. Then I would pull him off. He would usually be upset. Half the time he would have a complete fit. It would take several minutes before I could calm him down and then rock him to near sleep. The first night it took about 30 minutes to get him back to sleep, but each night after the time gradually shortened to about 5 minutes.

If he woke around 5am or anytime after, I would let him finish nursing.

Nights 8-13 (the present) were not much different. He woke and I picked him up and rocked him to near sleep. A few times he has had a fit (almost like a temper tantrum in his sleep) because I would not nurse him. But he has always calmed down very quickly. Just like in week 1, I nurse him when he wakes at anytime after 5am.

He’s still not sleeping through the night and that’s ok. We still have another step in the plan to implement. Beyond that, I have already seen several additional benefits. First, he appears to sleep much more soundly. I think this is one reason why night weaning an infant is not a wise idea – young babies should not sleep too soundly. Second, he is sleeping for longer stretches. His first wake-up is around 4am now. It used to be between midnight and 2am. Third, he is usually sleeping longer in the morning.

For so long I have had mixed feelings about night weaning, but now I feel really good about it. He was ready. I was ready. It has not affected our daytime nursing in the least. Night weaning was accomplished gently and with relatively few tears.


2 Responses to “Night weaning a toddler”

  1. Are there any other books on breastfeeding that you’d recommend? I plan to breastfeed my son, and am not sure if I should purchase Dr. Sears’ book, or the La Leche book, or a different one.

    • Liz Says:

      I think that those are both great choices! I read them both when pregnant and then I re-read the LLL book the week after my son’s birth.

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