Successful Breastfeeding Blog
Evidence based advice, support, and education for modern families.
If you’re breastfeeding your child into toddlerhood, congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. But maybe you’re to the point where you want to keep nursing, but you’d also like a full night sleep. And if your little one is in the habit of having their all-night buffet available, sleep can be difficult to come by.
Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of support for moms of breastfeeding toddlers. It seems like we assume that once you’ve gotten through those first few months of stress over latch and supply, you should have all the answers. But that’s simply not true.
And because we emphasize the importance of breastfeeding (which is great!), we forget to support moms and children through changes in their breastfeeding journey. We’re working to change this dynamic and find ways to help moms through the toddler breastfeeding years.
With that said, it’s possible to night wean a toddler without having to end nursing entirely. But it takes a little thoughtful preparation. That’s why I love my friend Samantha’s PREP Method Masterplan for night weaning. After night weaning 4 kids of her own, she’s learned a lot about how to get your child used to waiting for morning for the nursies.
Hey there! My name is Kelly Maher Carvell, aka The Lactation Nerd
I offer evidence-based lactation support and advice in my Bump to Weaning System.
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Preparing to gently night wean your toddler
No matter how tired you are, don’t just suddenly decide one morning that you’re going to night wean your toddler cold turkey that night. You’re just setting both of you up for misery (and it probably won’t work).
Instead, set a date a few weeks away to start night weaning. During that time, check to make sure your toddler shows signs of readiness (I personally recommend waiting until your child is a least a year old to night wean, and the PREP method explains other cues that let you know they can understand what’s going on too).
While you’re waiting, make sure you let your toddler know what’s going on. A simple, Did you know that soon you’re going to start sleeping all night without the nursies? is a great start. If your child is younger (say, 13-16 months), you may not get much of a reaction, but babies understand much more than they can verbally respond to.
In addition, you can use night weaning books to explain the process to your child. I love this book template, because you can add pictures and your child’s name to personalize it (plus, your child will love having their own special keepsake book).
It’s also a good idea to get your toddler used to not nursing to sleep. Even if you still let your child nurse to sleep at night, at least start bedtime by nursing in your living room or somewhere other than where you usually put your child to sleep. Then, you can rock or cuddle them to sleep like usual (just don’t nurse). This way, you’re separating breastfeeding from falling asleep.
If you’re currently bed sharing, it’s really up to you whether you want to move your child to their own bed or keep them with you. While it’s easier to keep your child from nursing when they’re not right beside the milkies, switching to a big kid bed is also a big adjustment (and you may not feel up to two big adjustments at once).
Staying supportive during night weaning
Once you actually reach your date and start the night weaning process, you have an important job: Stay empathetic with your child’s big feelings.
I’ll be honest, this isn’t always easy when you’re stressed and exhausted and your toddler is crying at 2AM!
My first recommendation is to go to bed early. You’re likely going to have a long night, so you’ll want as much of a chance for sleep as possible.
If your child wakes up in the night begging to nurse (which is almost certainly going to happen), you’ll need to be ready with what to say (the PREP Method has prompts to tell you exactly what to say to your child).
NOTE: Some people hand off their child to their partner for the night during night weaning. This is a great idea for some families, but it stresses me out to hear my child struggling and not help myself. Do what works for your family.
And make sure you offer lots of praise in the morning! Even if it was an awful night, let your child know that you recognize their work. Wow, you slept all night long without the nursies. What a big kid! You must be so proud of yourself.
Wrapping up night weaning
Most likely, one night won’t be enough to finish the night weaning process. In fact, some kids have a harder second night than their first! It’s like they remember the night before and get ready to battle.
But if you’ve gone through four or five nights and your child is still having a seriously hard time, crying brokenheartedly all night, it’s probably best to stop the process and try again in a few months.
Conclusions on night weaning
Hopefully, this post shows you that gentle toddler night weaning is totally doable. It just takes a little planning and a big dose of patience.
And if you’re desperate for sleep but don’t know how to even begin getting your nights back, the PREP Method night weaning master plan is for you. Let me know what questions you have, and you’ve got this!
Now it's time to hear from you!
Are you working on night weaning your toddler? How's it been going? Tell me in the comments. :)
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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