Does your toddler still wake to nurse each night? Are you looking for tips on gently night weaning your toddler? Keep reading for my best tips on night weaning your toddler without damaging your breastfeeding relationship.
It’s 2:30 am, and you hear a little voice calling your name.
Your toddler is awake and wanting to nurse. And you, my friend, are tired.
You start to wonder if the time has come to start night weaning your toddler.
If you’re feeling that thought and emotion, it’s an important one to dive into and understand. As they say, all good things must come to an end, and even though you’ve spent countless hours nursing your child, the time has come to figure out if you are ready to move forward with a gentle night weaning plan.
Nighttime nursing isn’t a “problem” per se if all parties involved are happy with the arrangement. The nightly wakings and lack of sleep will pass mama. I promise the day will come when both you and your toddler sleep through the night.
But if you have difficulty functioning during the day or you are starting to have feelings of resentment towards your nighttime nursing sessions, it might be time to explore night weaning your toddler.
Don’t stress out too hard about this because it’s a process that will take time and patience on your end. Also, find comfort in the fact that all parents go through this, and you’re not alone in what sometimes feels like an uphill battle to maximize sleep for your family.
Do toddlers night wean themselves?
This is actually a common question that is totally valid, too. Is there a possibility that some toddlers just might take control and stop night feedings all together on their own accord? The answer is, actually, “maybe.”
Some nursing toddlers may start sleeping through the night a lot more quickly as they become more active because they’re wearing themselves out more during the day. And some toddlers will get into a habit of finding comfort in their nightly feedings as well.
The simple answer to this is that every nursing toddler is different. So don’t expect your toddler to stop night feedings on their own. But there is a chance that some of them actually might.
At what ages can a toddler start to self wean?
If your child is going to self-wean themselves, this is probably going to happen between the ages of 1-4. Some children just stop with the feedings because they want to while others simply outgrow the process altogether.
Each of my breastfed babies self-weaned from nighttime feedings at different ages. One child night weaned at 13 months, another child at 16 months, and the last one is still going strong with nighttime feedings at 23 months.
How do I stop comfort nursing at night?
As much as it’s hard to admit it, most times, nursing toddlers are still nursing at night because they’re finding comfort in our presence and our scent. And even though it’s created a special bond between you and your toddler, there does come the point when the night feedings do have to stop. Be it from your toddler self-weaning or from you helping it along.
Some simple options to try to help with gentle night weaning could be some of these options below:
- Communicate with your nursing toddler that there isn’t going to be any more night feedings after a specific day of the week. (more on that below)
- Have your spouse help out and take over, putting the child to bed and helping them in the middle of the night when they wake up.
Those two changes might be just what your nursing toddler needs to understand that their nightly routine is going to be different from here on out.
And deciding to end nighttime nursing doesn’t mean that you have to stop or even should stop offering comfort to your little one if they wake during the night.
Now that we’ve dived into some of the more common questions let’s have some more tips on how you can start to implement gentle night weaning for your toddler.
Tips To Start Night Weaning Your Toddler
Learning how to wean night feedings shouldn’t consume your entire day and mind. Here are some tips on how you can start the night weaning process so that your toddler will be weaned in no time at all.
Talk to your nursing toddler
Since your little one is older and can understand a bit better, be sure to have multiple conversations with your toddler. Have nightly conversations with your toddler, explaining that “When we go night-night, milkies go night-night too.”
I would suggest talking to them ahead of time, so it gives them a bit of time to prepare and adjust accordingly as well. As adults, we don’t like sudden change without explanation, so make sure to give that same courtesy to your toddler, too.
Your nursing toddler will probably won’t accept or understand this concept the first time, but if you continue to explain it each time before bed, in time, it will click.
Breastfeed more during the day
Offer more frequent and more prolonged breastfeeding sessions during the day. Try for at least 10 minutes or longer at the breast.
Try filling your little one up before bed. Make sure to offer a well-rounded dinner and increase nursing sessions right before your bedtime routine.
Dream Feed Before You Go To Bed
Dream feed your toddler right before you go to bed, even if they have been sleeping for some time. Many toddlers barely wake during this time, and they are able to get a good nursing session still.
Dream feeding before you go to bed should provide a longer stretch to when your nursing toddler wakes again.
Slowly remove days from your night weaning toddler.
Who says that night weaning your toddler has to be an instant overnight thing? Try starting out small and just don’t wean for a night or two during the week. This is an excellent way for your toddler to wean away from night feedings slowly and is a gentle weaning process as well.
You may find that removing just one night per week from your toddler’s schedule opens up the path to remove more and more over time. And possibly, by the end of it all, you’ll have easily weaned your toddler in a short amount of time.
Have something else for them to drink when they wake
This doesn’t mean that you need to have a full-blown meal for your toddler, but if they wake up and are hungry or thirsty, why not present them with another option to help them understand that breastfeeding just isn’t going to happen anymore.
This could be as simple as having a glass of water for them to sip on while they wake up and then comfort them, so they go back to sleep. This can be a slippery slope as well, though, because you just might be having your toddler give up one habit for another.
Find other ways to offer them comfort in the middle of the night.
More than likely, you’re toddler is waking up in the middle of the night because they are seeking comfort from you. Are they hungry or thirsty each and every night at the same time? Probably not, but they’ve deloped a habit into thinking that they are.
Other reasons toddlers can wake at night include acquiring new skills, stressors in the home, getting too much sleep during the daytime, or illness.
Instead of providing nursing for comfort, you can try to find other methods of comfort for them instead. This could be as simple as lying down with them and holding them for a few moments so that they calm themselves back down to go to sleep or even singing them a comforting song as well.
Just say “no” or “later.”
It’s ok to tell your toddler no or not now but later when they wake for the middle of the night nursing session.
You can use a soft but firm voice and explain, “Mommy is sleeping, you sleep too.” Gently remind them when the sun comes up, it will be time for milkies (or whatever term your child uses).
Sleep in another room
If you cosleep or bedshare with your toddler, you might need to consider moving to another room and allowing your spouse to comfort your nursing toddler during those first few nighttime wakings. Your toddler might wake less when you are not near or become more comfortable with receiving comfort from someone other than mommy.
Is night weaning going to help my toddler sleep through the night?
This might not be what you want to hear but there are no guarantees that night weaning your toddler will help them sleep through the night. It is often a misconception of parents. Sleep is developmental and each child’s internal sleep timetable is different.
Despite night weaning your toddler, they still might continue to wake during the night. Your toddler will grow out of the night waking, even without mom or dad trying to discourage the behavior. Remember, adults wake often throughout the night too.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is only temporary. It is a very short period in your child’s entire life with you. This time of constant waking will pass.
They will eventually sleep. And so will you.
Final thoughts on night weaning your toddler
Some parents are comfortable allowing their toddler to take the lead on night weaning. But for others, the nighttime nursing sessions truly interfere with their ability to function each day and have quality fo life. If nighttime nursing isn’t working for you anymore, and the ultimate goal is to stop with the night feedings, then you can make gentle changes while still taking your child’s needs into account.
Above all, be true to yourself and what you and your toddler need during this time. Even though night weaning your toddler might feel challenging at times, the two of you will find a way to work together that will be beneficial to both. If something isn’t working for you or your child, then you can always do things differently.
One final reminder, the time that your little one will be at your breast and in your arms, is a relatively small part of their life, but the memories of love, comfort, and availability last forever.
Do you have any other tips for night weaning your toddler to share? Please share your tips in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this post on night weaning your toddler you might also be interested in these posts about breastfeeding and toddlers:
30 Brilliant Breastfeeding Tips Every New Mom Needs to Know
12 Lessons About Raising A Strong Willed Toddler You Need To Learn