I’ve been planning this night weaning article in my head for about a week and the whole thing is basically hung on song lyrics:
- “All night long, all night! ooh! All night Loo-oo-ong.” (Matter of factly, perhaps even brightly. Breastfeeding all night long is just the way it is for some of us. Thanks Lionel)
- “Night Weaning! Deserve a quiet night” (sung with melancholy. For when you are fed up of the nightly milk bar. Thanks REM.)
- “Night weaning, night wea-niiiing. We know how to do it!!!!” (Beejees. This is when you still believe in yourself and your ability of getting a complete nights sleep.
- “BOOBY BOOBY BOOBY BOOBYYYYY!!! Aaaahaaahhaaaahaaahaaaaah.” (Your kid, in the middle of the night. Louder than Kaiser Chiefs.)
- “Morning has broken. My boobs are broken. Everything’s broken. Like the first bird. Which is probably broken tooooo.” (This is a hymn. These aren’t even really a bit like the words but night weaning is hard and you are more tired than the person that first ever wrote “Morning has broken like the first morning” because really, that person was tired, to write morning twice like that.)
Let’s crack on!
I haven’t really written about night weaning before. The closest I got was Weaning a Breastfeeding devotee, last year, when Juno (3) and I made an agreement to cut down the breastfeeds. Our weaning journey began with Juno giving me an ultimatum – either I give her booboo or I go to Pak N Save (NZ’s budget supermarket); she didn’t like the idea of weaning any more than I like grocery shopping. She had leverage. We found a peace though, in good conversation, and Juno asked me to “write it down” – I scrawled our agreement down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere safe.
Writing about night weaning though, jeepers, it feels like a huge, very personal, subject! My peeps, Channel Mum, have pulled together such an array of sleep stories that show just how different each family is. However recently lots of you have asked for our story. So first off here is Ramona and Juno’s story, in video form. And then I am going to share everything I have come to believe about night weaning!
1- Firstly, just so we are all on the same page, breastfeeding all night is pretty normal. The very moment I realised that I became SO MUCH more calm about my baby’s night wakings. I was a new mum, in a bit of a stew, trying to figure everything out and the first question from everyone’s lips was “Is she sleeping through the night?” I began to feel like there was a direct correlation between her night wakings and the quality of my parenting. Huh? Babies are meant to sleep all night? So, if she isn’t, does that mean I am doing it all wrong?
Nope! No, no, nononono. I don’t understand whhhhhy people ask that question when we are DESIGNED to wake up in the night! It is healthy for babies to wake in the night! In more ancient circumstances it would have keep babies alive. These days they wake in order to get their emotional and nutritional needs met.
Once I realised that I covered my clock so I couldn’t see and keep track of my baby’s night wakings. Soon enough I just fed her in my sleep and ended up getting a pretty good sleep.
So, let’s be clear:
Breastfeeding at night is healthy and normal.
2- The point at which you night wean will be different for every family. Some babies are happy to night wean early. Ramona night weaned at around 2 years old (not exactly early but with hindsight it feels early!) possibly because I was pregnant and my milk wasn’t flowing so abundantly. Juno wouldn’t have a BAR of night weaning until she was three. (I continued to feed them both together for some time – see breastfeeding older children together and our experience of tandem breastfeeding here.)
But, on top of your baby’s readiness, there is your readiness as a mother to consider.
If breastfeeding all night is making you feel all out of sorts and impacting your ability to be kind and empathetic in the day time, I would say it is important to consider night weaning. When you are ready, firm in your mind, it will be easier for you to night wean.
Only you can figure out if night weaning should happen now or later. If you are feeling pressure from society or a health visitor or extended family to night wean and that’s why you want to do it, it is probably not a good reason. Jump on Facebook and search “breastfeeding older children” in order to find a group of encouraging mothers who will help you be the mother you want to be, deep down.
If you know within yourself that it is a good time to night wean, say you have to head back to work or lack of sleep is making your struggle or whatever (it’s personal!), then there are a few things that can help:
3- Validate, even in the depths of night. I am so bad in the night. My night time brain is a monster. Until I come to the surface I am quite the punitive witch! “Will you JUST settle down and be quiet!” And then I wake up a little more and am like “Oh, I can see you are upset, did you have a bad dream?”
If I was awake enough I made sure to validate both children whilst night weaning; “You are sad as you wish you could have booboo. Booboo in the morning, okay?” I think it makes a huge difference for a child to have their upset feelings validated by us – it shows we understand how important breastfeeding is to them.
4- Breastfeeding at night is providing comfort and security and connection to your child. So when you head down the road of night weaning, be prepared for higher needs in their waking hours. No one really talks about this. But it is a big deal. Have a plan that takes this into consideration. Have a lot of connection time with your kid, call on extra support so you have the time and patience to meet their needs. Get someone to cook you meals for a few days. It is a huge change for your child, plan for it like it is.
5- Don’t leave them. There is no need to do a short, sharp shock of absence. You can absolutely still night wean and be present to them. I think this is a beautiful, modern progression in what we know about night weaning. It used to be felt that mothers had to go away, or hand over night time to someone else, or let a kid cry and cry without them, in order to night wean. It’s just not the case these days. We have hundreds of stories available to us of mothers who chose to night wean and stay present and connected to their child, even through the hardness of it. Although, of course, if you have another loving care giver on hand to offer presence, cuddlesm and support than that is a winner.
6- You can still breastfeed them off to sleep. Night weaning doesn’t have to involve stopping breastfeeding anywhere near the bed which is what some gentle night weaning advice involves. You can stop feeding all night long and STILL breastfeed them to sleep. With Juno I was just really clear about the boundary. At the going-to-sleep feed I’d say – this is your last breastfeed tonight okay darling? Booboo next in the morning. And she would go to sleep on the breast and then that would be it all night.
7- Talk it through with your child. Let your child know why you are doing it, see if they have any ideas for how to make it easier. For Juno, part of the puzzle for her was me writing it down. As if it helped her have closure or something. Your child is never too young to be communicated with respectfully. It might be a tricky conversation, but you never know where these conversation end up going, and how helpful they can be for your child.
8- You don’t have to night wean in order to have someone else take over the bedtime routine. Some people night wean as they want an evening off now and then. I am going to put it out there that your child can still breastfeed to sleep alongside lots of other ways of going to sleep. When I am home Juno has breastmilk. When I am not home she has cuddles and back tickles from Tim. When she is at Grandma’s she goes to sleep with a story. It isn’t confusing to her. She gets that she can’t drink milk from these peeps.
I would love to hear your stories of night weaning. It can feel so immense both for mama and child. I really believe that night weaning can be done in a gentle, respectful way. Sometimes parenting is hard and we have to make calls that feel upsetting for one or both of us, but it can still be done with empathy and connection at the very heart.
Lots of love x x