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The Night Boob! How To Gently Night Wean Your Toddler From Breastfeeding And Bed-Sharing

**An updated and expanded version of this article can be found as a chapter in my book “Boobin’ All Day…Boobin’ All Night. A Gentle Approach To Sleep For Breastfeeding Families”.**

Many of us breastfeeding mums go through the same stages of night time boobing…

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1. We have our baby and listen to our instincts which for lots of us include; breastfeeding on demand, breastfeeding to sleep, breastfeeding to awake, breastfeeding during the night (possibly one thousand times) co-sleeping and/or bed sharing and generally having our baby on our boob or hip most of the time.

2. We learn to ignore comments thrown at us frequently from strangers, family and friends.  Some examples, “she will NEVER learn to fall asleep on her own!” or “You are spoiling her!” or “You will never get her out of your bed!” Some of us become more vocal about breastfeeding and advocate for breastfeeding mums, every chance we get.

3. We continue happily with breastfeeding through the night, thankful for the easy and convenient way we can settle our babies while still getting some rest ourselves.  It’s all so wonderful! Yes we are tired but we are passionate about mothering through breastfeeding!

How is it that one little person can take up so much room?!
How can someone so little take up so much room?!

4. Then we start to pass into the dark side of night boobing! We become exhausted, frustrated and generally at the point of wanting to cry, actually crying, or starting to doubt what we have done up to this point.  We are torn between wanting to continue to meet the night time needs of our babies but also wanting our boobs back! Wanting more sleep! Getting OVER.IT. Our baby is now a toddler who takes up more room, breastfeeds as frequently as a newborn and yells, “Mama!” “Boobie!” or “Milk!” at us throughout the night.  Our happy little co-sleeping families become a bit cranky and unsure of how to move ahead. How can I night wean? How can I get her out of our bed without having her cry? I’m so confused!

Night waking is the biological norm but many of us get the point where we are over it! If you are happy continuing to breastfeed at night then awesome! Keep on going and read a different article of mine! 😆  If you would like some ideas on how to night wean and get your child sleeping in their own bed then please keep scrolling! I will take some ideas that I have heard other mums say over the years, Dr. Jay Gordan’s approach and my own experiences, suggestions and thoughts on the whole subject.  I have successfully night weaned two children at the age of two quite peacefully and gently…my third is continuing to breastfeed at night at twenty months…the dark side of night boobing has not yet appeared for us. 😀  But it will happen eventually!!! Oh yes it will…

We want our boobs back at night, but we want the transition to be as peaceful as possible…

First things first! 

1. If at ANY time you are trialing these ideas and you feel as though your toddler is really not ready or instinctively you feel as though it’s not the right thing to do then STOP and go back to what feels right for you and your child.

2. If your child is younger than about 18 months old, I do not recommend trying these unless if feels like the right thing to do for you and your child, and they are responding well.  If they cry for five seconds and then calm down and fall asleep, then maybe they are ready for this a bit earlier than others. Go with what your instincts and what your child is telling you. At 18 months old most toddlers can understand what you are saying and you can negotiate with them.

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Breastfeeding to awake! :)

3. This is for a child who is healthy and parents who agree that this is best and are supporting each other. If you child has health issues going on then maybe night weaning is not the best option for you.  If your partner does not support this process then you might find it is more difficult.  Not impossible of course but could be more difficult.

4. You can choose to try all of these, one of these or a combination.  It’s all about what feels best for you.  Nothing about the gentle process of night weaning and encouraging them to sleep in their own beds is black and while…

5.  You cannot see this as a linear process. It’s two steps forward, one step back for many of us…and then possibly one step to the side and up!  This will not happen overnight and might not happen for a few weeks or months depending on how slow you would like to take it.  If you want it to happen in a couple of nights you will need go find a different website for that info because it will most likely cause lots of crying.

Remember your child has been sleeping with your and your boobs for their whole little life! Although we want it to happen quickly, it often takes time as they are having to get used to a completely different way of falling and staying asleep…which they have never had to do until this point. Patience on your part is incredibly important.

The Milk Meg’s Collection Of Night Boob Weaning Ideas!

Idea #1 Having your partner, friend or family member put your child to bed  (instead of your boob). Some toddlers are 100% about boobing to sleep.  They will not fall asleep any other way and get extremely upset without breastfeeding. If this sounds like your little one then idea #1 might not be the best approach to take.  Yet there are many little munchkins out there who will happily fall asleep while being cuddled or carried by someone other than mum.  This is a good way to start transitioning them off the boob for falling asleep.  Instead of breastfeeding your little one to sleep, hand them over to your partner or well loved (by your child) family member or friend to put them to sleep instead.  This could be through rocking, singing, lying down with them in their beds or rubbing their backs.  If you do not have someone else to help you, you can try this yourself.  REGARDLESS OF WHO IS DOING THIS, THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR TODDLER! Explain to them very clearly before you put them to bed that this is what is going to happen. “Daddy is going to put you to bed. No boobie tonight.” You will find that by not breastfeeding to sleep, they are more likely to (over time) stop waking to breastfeed during the night. *note “over. time.” not straight away! Unless you have lucky fairy dust surrounding you and have won the night time lottery.

{You might be wondering…isn’t it a problem substituting my boob for something else? How will I then wean my child off of the back rub, lying down with them or singing to them? You had a baby who has now grown into a toddler, even though you have successfully weaned him from breastfeeding at night, that does not mean he has outgrown the need to have you there with him, comforting him and settling him.  This will be the next transition for you and one which is MUCH easier than night weaning because the older your child gets, the easier it is for them to understand.  When my child was ready and I was totally over the whole dragged out night time routine I said, “for the next two nights I will sing to you but then I’m going to stop doing that.”  Third night, said good night and that was it. He was older and totally understood that the singing to bed nights were over! No tears involved at all.}

Idea #2  Set up their own bed. This can be in your room or their own room. If it’s easier you can have a room of mattresses as your bedroom.  This makes for easier bed sharing/musical beds during the night and for transitioning out of your bed, this can be the answer. You can also put a toddler mattress next to your bed.  This is what my husband and I have done for our three boys.  This way they can start out in their own bed and have their own space.  It also makes for an easier transition when you are doing idea #1.  Now they are being put to sleep in their own bed, without boob. This can help start the night weaning transition and getting into their own bed.  I know someone who gradually moved their kid’s bed farther and farther away from their own bed until eventually it was moved out of their room. Remember, COMMUNICATION WITH THEM IS KEY. Talk to them! They are a little human who understands more than many of use realize…

dad

Idea #3 Have your partner/helper settle them when they wake in the middle of the night looking for boob.  If you start doing idea #1 and have some success with it, this is an extension of that.  Let me note here…when my husband and I started doing this with with Middle The Milk, I remember a couple of times saying to him.  “OK, this is the plan tonight. When he wakes up, you cuddle him and try to shoosh him back to sleep.”  The first few times he tried this Middle The Milk SCREAMED! Needless to say I said to my husband, “forget it! Give him to me!” and I breastfed him.  😀    Eventually though, this did work! Two steps forward…one step back.  If it does not work today, that does not mean it won’t work tomorrow or next week. {If you are a sole parent, this is where having your mum/friend/sister etc. sleep over for a week or two and help, will really be the support you need to push through!}

Idea #4 Be open to the idea of bed-sharing without breastfeeding.  After our first born started going to sleep without boob, he would still wake in the middle of the night, walk down the hall and crawl into our bed.  I was totally fine with this because 1. I could actually settle him straight back to sleep without breastfeeding him and 2. I didn’t actually have to get out of bed. If you find that this is not working for you then put a mattress either on the floor next to your bed or get a single bed and push it next to yours.  I also know of people who just put their double mattress on the floor with a single one next to it for this purpose, or bought a king sized bed. Eventually we transitioned him into his own bed on the floor next to ours and then all of a sudden a couple of years later he starting sleeping through the night in his own bed.  Remember, those of us living in Western countries are the weird ones of the world. Most families sleep together in the same room! I’m going to venture out here and say not only because of space issues but because it keeps all the kids and babies happy.  😀

 Idea #5  Transition your child into their own mattress while talking about “no boobie until the sun comes up” or “boobie until I count to ten”.  For our middle boy we did a toddler mattress next to ours and communicating that there was no boob until the sun came up.  For the first couple of nights he would sit up in his own bed, yell out “sun up! sun up!” at 3am when it was PITCH dark and try to breastfeed. I would tell him, “no the sun is not up, go back to sleep” and my husband would shoosh him back to sleep (the mattress was away from me on my husband’s side of the bed).  Eventually he stopped waking and would wake at the FIRST BARELY VISIBLE RAY OF SUNSHINE to have boob.   😀  You can also use the counting trick for limiting the amount of time they stay on the breast.  This can help with the overall weaning process during the day. Obviously they have to be awake for the counting one!meg's iphone jan2013 725

Idea #6 Dr. Jay Gordan’s night weaning schedule.  I love what he has to say but it is a very regimented ten day process, and although he does stress that you follow your own instincts, he does also warn against “setting yourself back a bit” if you give in and breastfeed them when trying to settle them in different ways. I do not actually think breastfeeding your child is setting yourself back as this process is not linear.  As mentioned previously, I look at it as two steps forward, one step back and breastfeeding one night when they wake does not mean you cannot gently encourage different ways of settling with your child a few days later.  It’s all about being flexible.  For some this step by step schedule might work beautifully and be what they are looking for.  For others it might be a bit to regimented for their boobie munchkins.

Idea #7 If you have other children, put them together in the same room or bed.  Often times if they have a sibling to sleep with, they feel much more comfortable.  With our middle boy, we found that he was much easier to get completely out of our room after he night weaned, by putting him in the same room as his brother.  To this day (he is now almost seven) he loves sharing a room.  Of course my oldest who is almost ten and acts about sixteen, is not so keen on the idea of sharing a room with his younger “annoying” brother.

siblings

Idea #8 Sometimes people have to do extreme measures to get their toddlers to night wean.  My dear friend is an example of this.  Her second born was extremely high needs. He cried unless he was being held or breastfeed.  As he got older he would breastfeed FREQUENTLY at night.  When I say frequently, I mean he would hardly sleep at all unless he was latched on.  She continued to breastfeed him throughout the night while pregnant with her third and also after she had her baby.  Yet her breaking point came a few months after her baby was born.  He was crying so often for boob during the night she could not cope! She was breastfeeding a newborn and trying to settle her three year old at the same time.  She ended up having to go to a different room with her infant at night, leaving her three year old with her partner.  Every time he woke up, his dad would try to settle him back to sleep.  There were lots of tears from her little boy BUT the crucial difference between this and trying it with a eight month old is that he understood what was going on.  He could understand what his dad was telling him, he could understand that he was not alone and he could talk and explain what he was feeling!  It is a very different situation doing this with a baby who cannot communicate in any way except to cry and is not developmentally ready for sleeping extended periods of time.

Your child will NOT breastfeed through the night forever.  Your child will NOT share your bed or room forever.  You will NOT be co-sleeping and breastfeeding your child as they head off to college as many non supportive people like to speculate will happen. Listen to your child, they will let you know what ideas are working for them and if you have to slow down what you are doing or if you can keep going full steam ahead.Have flexibility and patience, it is possible to night wean gently if you continue to be mindful of this. 

*Often times families who are going through night weaning find it helpful to have an individualized plan and support from someone who understands.  If you feel as though you need some extra help with this, head here to book a “night boob weaning” consult via Skype with me!  You can choose a one hour or half an hour time slot.  There is also an updated and expanded version of this as a chapter in my new book, which you can order here.

Check out my book! It has a 5 star rating on Amazon!

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