5 Tips for Night Weaning Your Toddler
Oftentimes, toddlers who nurse frequently during the night are doing so out of comfort rather than necessity. Here are a few tips that may help jump-start the night weaning process, so you can get a better night's rest!
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As your baby grows into a toddler, your breast milk feeding journey has probably taken on many forms and been through various challenges, successes, and schedules. By now, you may have successfully weaned your little one from the overnight feedings or you may have pared it down to just one feeding during the night. However, if your toddler or older baby is still waking for multiple feedings throughout the night, that’s okay too! Toddlers who nurse frequently are typically doing so out of comfort, rather than necessity. While it is important to understand the root cause of your little one’s desire for comfort nursing, there are different ways to begin night weaning that may help you – and your toddler! – get a sound night’s sleep:
- Make nursing part of the bedtime routine. This may require a bit of trial and error as you figure out where in your little one’s bedtime routine nursing makes the most sense, but once you land on a spot that works for both of you – whether it’s before bath time, after bedtime stories, or between putting on pajamas and brushing their teeth, be consistent. A nursing session before bedtime can also help fill up your toddler’s tiny belly, so he or she may not be as likely to wake up overnight for a feeding.
- Gradually reduce the length of your overnight nursing sessions. If you are awakened like clockwork at the same two or three times every night or early morning to feed your little one, you can gradually start to reduce the amount of time spent during each of these overnight feedings. By now, your toddler is incredibly efficient at nursing and he or she knows how to get the milk they need in just 5 - 10 minutes!
During each overnight nursing session, carefully pay attention to how your little one is feeding. Once they stop nursing out of hunger and begin instead suckling for comfort, gently unlatch them and place them back in their crib or bed. From there, you can begin gradually taking a minute or so off each overnight nursing session until they are eventually eliminated. Remember, it might not always be linear – your toddler may be incredibly attached to their 4 A.M. nursing session, but give up the midnight one with relative ease. It may take a few weeks with some back and forth involved, but with consistency and patience your older baby or toddler will eventually be fully night weaned!
- Increase quality time during the day together. Once you return to work or begin leaving the house more often, you may notice that your little one wants to nurse overnight more frequently – this is generally chalked up to being away from you during the day and wanting to make up for not having that familiar time together. This also often happens because your little one is growing into a toddler right before your eyes – there’s so much to see, do, and explore now! This can often lead to him or her being less interested in nursing throughout the day (and more easily distracted), and then desiring that quiet, close bonding time during the night. This can be especially true if your toddler is nearing or going through another physical or developmental leap.
If you’re a working parent, it can be tough to manage – after all, you’re already spending all the quality time that you possibly can with your toddler before and after work! Be sure to spend this time in close physical proximity to them to encourage a lot of cuddles, hugs, and touching. It’s easy to let the activity of the day keep us preoccupied or not totally present, but remember to make time for holding, picking your little one up, and sitting together – you may find that increased connection time during the day minimizes your toddler’s need for it (and the desire to nurse) overnight.
- Get your partner involved in overnight feedings! If you suspect that your toddler is waking overnight out of a desire for comfort than any real need to nurse, switch off with your partner. Chances are, your little one will just as easily accept their other parent giving him or her a feeding of pumped milk or simply rocking them back to sleep. Trading off on the nighttime wake-ups with your partner – and encouraging night weaning together – can be a great way to “share the load” (and let you both get occasional, precious uninterrupted sleep!) until your little one is fully snoozing through the night.
- Talk to your toddler – and gently tell them no. As your toddler gets older, it can be easier to explain why nighttime is for sleeping and not nursing. In fact, if your little one is at least 18 months old, you can gently but firmly tell them no (while, of course, staying in tune with and sensitive to their unique needs). You may wish to instead cuddle or rock him or her until they fall back asleep, or quietly explain something along the lines of “no nursing now, but we can when it’s morning time” – with consistency and patience, your toddler will begin to understand and eventually stop waking overnight to nurse.
Night weaning can be a tough task for any parent, but you’ll know when the time is right for you and your little one to end any remaining overnight feedings! Remember, all babies – including older babies and toddlers! – learn to sleep through the night eventually and this stage of parenthood shall too pass. Want more tips for night weaning your toddler? Join the conversation on our Facebook page and get advice, tips, and more from moms just like you – we’re in this together!