Weaning from Night Nursing: How We Made it Through the Night

English

The time had come to wean my healthy toddler from night nursing. He was down to just a couple of times of nursing at night, but it was still disruptive for all of us.  No one was sleeping well.

I had napped during the day and had mentioned to my son what the plan was. I was ready to begin that night.

When he awoke to nurse, I held him in my arms instead, and used Staylistening to care for him.  I said, “I’m sorry, Honey.  I love you, but no more nursing tonight.  ”

He cried out his anguish and longing.  I held him and listened. “I’m right here. I love you. I am changing things, you’re right. I know it’s hard.”  I said. I held him and walked with him while he sobbed his little heart out.  It was heartbreaking.

He seemed confused and almost panicky. I held him and walked with him.  “It’s a very big change for us.  I’m right here. Right here with you. We’ll nurse tomorrow, but not tonight. I love you.  We’re ok.”  I told him.

His cries went on and on into the night.  We were up and down.  Asleep, then awake again. He became desperate.  He panicked. He mourned. He seemed so confused. His crying felt almost unbearable at times.  I felt scared.  It seemed to never end.  I felt so powerful and that scared me, too. But I was determined to offer my power in the form of confidence.

I had grappled deeply with the awesome power to give or withhold the most primitive, basic longing of a child—to connect through nursing.

During the 3-4am awake time, I was reassuring both him and myself, “We’ll make it through this sad time together.  I’m sorry this is so hard.  I love you so much. You are just right, and I am right here with you.”  I told him.

These nights felt endless.  They were hard, hard work.  The fatigue made the grief heavier, and vice versa. We were both sad to say goodbye to this time in our relationship.

We had three or four nights of heavy crying and sleeplessness.  I kept listening and continued offering confident reassurance.  I would never have asked him to go through it alone.  Even though I held him, and we walked, and slept together and stayed close in other ways, I worried that I was a bad mom by withholding myself physically.

I talked about my feelings with my husband during the days.  I cried hard.  I talked about how scary it is to feel so powerful.  “I have the power to hurt him. I have the power to give or withhold. I hope this isn’t hurting him. I don’t know if we’ll be OK. Am I a sadistic person by stopping nursing and being the cause of these intense feelings of despair for him?”  I asked my husband.

By talking with my husband during the days, I realized that I felt conflicted about how much power I’d felt in my relationship with my own mother, as a child.  I had been given too much power to make her feel better or worse, and that job was very confusing and overwhelming as a child.

After those conversations, I felt better about continuing to wean.  I still have some lingering regrets about how sad and anxious I felt about weaning my kids.  If I had felt more solid and secure within myself, I’m sure it would have been easier on my son during those long nights of weaning.  The fact that I wasn’t able to feel calmer and more confident must have made it harder for him to get through it.   But we made it.

We felt very close during the days that followed the nighttime weaning, and we feel close now.  We connected and bonded deeply through those nights.  We went through that mourning process together and still enjoy a deep and honest connection now that he is an adult.

~ Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor Beth Ohanneson  M.S. LMFT

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4 thoughts on “Weaning from Night Nursing: How We Made it Through the Night

  1. Thanks for sharing. This is very timely for me as I plan to start night-weaning (DS is 26 mo) next week. I’m scared, nervous and sad, but I think it’s necessary for both of us to get better sleep, especially him. I’ll remember your words as I struggle through the 3 a.m. crying for milk. Yikes….but at least I know we will make it through. Thanks again.

  2. My third baby is now 22 month old and still nursing on demand, anytime of day except for while I eat my dinner. I remember the agony of deciding when to wean his older siblings and how much heartbreak I went through before each baby had any idea what was about to happen. My first son had one hard night and then two or three more less hard nights. My daughter was fine after the one night and I made a point of being available to her all night long while my first son, my husband tended to him. The key I think to both was talking to them about it for a few days before hand and not waffling. I mentioned that Mr. Sun had gone to bed and now mama and papa and birdies and nummies (milk) go to bed til Mr. Sun shines through the window in the morning. They understood that it wasn’t totally over, they’d get their milk in the morning. I really think this was key. I like to prepare my children for changes, by telling them ahead of time what will happen. I believe it has made such a difference in what could have turned into a bad situation…ie. weaning, ending a playdate, moving onto a new activity, etc. Soon we will begin to think about night weaning my last baby and I have the experience now to know this too shall pass.

  3. It took my daughter a month of stay listening after we weened. She actually wouldn’t sleep on her bed when it was time to put her to bed. She demanded we make a bed on the floor for her. One night her cry changed, and I knew she’d finished her project. That night I wept in my husbands arms about how hard it had been for both of us. The next night she went to bed with no emotions, slept on her bed, and now nurses her baby. I’m so grateful for stay listening and my husband being able to stay listen for me.

  4. My method differed from this one and seemed a lot gentler (going on how it is described above). I still gave bedtime and night feeds (this would have been around 10-11 months) but did so sitting up in such a way that it was impossible for my daughter to fall asleep with a breast in her mouth. Separating the difference between needing the MILK at night to wanting the breast for COMFORT. Once it was just for comfort, I knew we could find other, less breast-dependant ways of comforting her, that dad could be part of as well. So I continued for maybe a week, feeding at bedtime and during the night sitting up, and every time it looked like my daughter was falling asleep I would firmly remove her from the breast and lie her down and cuddle with her. If she wanted more milk, she had to sit up for it again, supporting her own weight and not getting too cuddly. After a few days she decided it wasn’t worth the effort, because what she really wanted from me was the comfort and the cuddles, and not the milk itself. I’m not saying it wasn’t a little frustrating for both of us, but it left the decision to stop night feeding up to her, with the conditions set by me, and so we both felt empowered by the experience and she learned the valuable lesson of separating cuddles and comfort from the breast and milk. She weaned fully at 13 months, and once my milk was gone took to cuddling my breasts without any association to milk or feeding. Now at 2 years she still occasionally asks for ‘boobie cuddles’ when I am getting dressed or when she is poorly. We have not lost that special bond, but it has not for a long time had any association to feeding, night time or otherwise. And she also shares a very special bond with her dad.

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