Gentle Night Weaning: Finding our own way

I thought, like many mums of breastfeeding toddlers, that it would be totally impossible to night wean my two year old. Any time I read someone's explanation of how they did it, I was hit with a dozen 'but that wouldn't work for us'es. My boy's temparement was different, our sleeping situation was different, his relationship with his daddy was different, his and my breastfeeding relationship was different.

My boy was 2 years 4 months. I decided to tackle night weaning after months of awful aversion, figuring that I might feel totally fine with continuing until he chose to wean, if I could find a way to place that limit on it.
Feeding to sleep, three days into night weaning
I knew that I had done a great job, that we had gone above and beyond all imaginable lengths to be able to have a breastfeeding relationship in the first place, and that being in the situation where I was breastfeeding a two year old was unfathomable -- I was not even sure I'd be able to breastfeed him even once. So to now actively choose to reduce and to limit his breastfeeding, when I had spent the first year of his life doing everything in my power for him to find comfort at my breast, felt awful. I kept getting flashes of the things we had been through... and now I somehow found myself wanting him to stop. 

But this is my body. It was my choice.

Everything I read discussed your toddler being in a separate room from you. He did have his own room, but we had a double bed in there that I would move into after his first wake in the night, and then just attempt to doze and sleep where I could. That was the way of survival.

We did it just fine, still sleeping next to each other from the moment of his first wake, still snuggling, me continuing to be there and comfort him in the night.

Everything I read said to get your partner on board. But any time my husband even entered the room in the evenings, my boy would become completely hysterical.

I decided I needed to do this on my own. I thought this would be the easier way, and I was right.

Everything I read discussed the fact that a certain amount of crying was inevitable, and I have come to learn that I am extremely sensitive to this and his distress -- especially when in relation to me refusing to breastfeed -- felt as if it would cause me just way too much distress.

There was very very little crying. A few annoyed harrumphs and naww!s, a little whimpering, not much else.
Mothering without breastfeeding.
The breakthrough came at playgroup one Monday morning, when I was just so exhausted and so amgry at this gorgeous little two year old in my lap, so annoyed at the fact he still needed to touch me when all I desperately wanted was for nobody to be within a two metre radius of me. I just cried and cried to my beautiful friends there, and that was the first time I said it: I didn't want to breastfeed him any more.

It was like a floodgate of language opened up for me -- I was now able to talk. I could speak to my little one about it, about how it was ouchie for me now (I figured 'ouchie' is a good way to describe my feelings, both physically and mentally) and that I didn't want to any more. I told him that he could have boobie in bed for sleepy-time, but that there was no more boobie in the night time, until the sun came up. I wasn't quite ready to fully wean yet, and thought that I might be totally fine continuing like that for as long as we chose. I didn't once tell him that he was a 'big boy', or 'not a baby anymore', or try anything deceptive, like the stories I have heard of telling them that ants will crawl out of my breasts now if he sucks (eek!), or putting vinegar or chilli on my breasts... I was just honest, and I actually feel really proud of that, and of him for accepting it.

My four year old was always listening, and I realised at some point that I was also teaching him about bodily consent. We have a saying in our house that 'you are the boss of your own body', and I heard him one afternoon telling his little brother that, "Mummy's boobies are Mummy's, and she is the boss of her boobies, and now she likes doing big cuddles in the night the best, instead of boobie." My little one just agreed and went on playing.
These two little loves of mine, always 'having a conversation' :)
So here is how we did it. My thoughts were that it was all about finding replacements -- not taking things away, but replacing them.

  1. Firstly, I made the decision. Fully. No going back, this was it. If he was sick, if we were on holiday, whatever happened, I was making this decision and sticking with it (except when I didn't... more on that later :) ).
  2. I gave him a few days to get used to the idea. I told him that on Friday we would have no more boobie in the night, and only sleepy-time boobie. No more night-time-boobie, and that if he woke in the night he could have his sippy-cup (I had to go and buy two!) and we would snuggle. I realise this idea of time is too complex, really, but this was largely also for my benefit. I do felt that it helped to have a few days for him to get used to the idea. 
  3. I bought my eldest boy a new night-light and took his night/day clock (we have a Kidsleep Clock, which has worked awesomely for us for years now!) so that I would also have the option of feeding him when the sun came up on the clock. 
  4. The big night came, and we talked all afternoon about it. At bed time, we talked about how this was sleepy-time boobie, and if he woke up again then we would snuggle and have sippy-cup, but no more boobie until the sun came up. I talked with him about it during that feed too, and he fed to sleep. 
  5. He woke in the night (surprise! Not.) and I had two sippy cups ready to go -- one with water and one with milk. I figured we could try the water, but had the milk as a back-up. I climbed into his bed, but put my arm firmly down by my side and told him that we can have a big snuggle now, and here is his sippy cup. He didn't want the sippy cup, did one big protest of a simple teenage-style, 'TSK! NAWW!', pushed his body hard up against my bare arm and went back to sleep. WHAAT?!  I know. 
  6.  He woke two more times that night and we repeated. The last time he did take the sippy cup with milk, whimpered a little, and then snuggled in again. 
  7. When the sun came up on the clock, he breastfed, but only for about one minute instead of his usual 20minute hang-out, then wanted to get up and play. 

This repeated almost exactly for two nights, with no major dramas. On the third night, he did get very distressed at one point and I broke all my rules (which is my perogative, right?! Ha) and breastfed him back to sleep. In the morning, we talked about it, and I repeated all the talking we had done before. That was the last time I breastfed him in the night.

What night weaning looks like :D 
The nights from then on became much better for me. I was sure he was still going to wake continually through the night, but his sleep actually did really improve. He would occasionally sleep through, which was unheard of before, but would usually still wake two or three times -- an improvement on six or more! I still went into him without fail, he snuggled against my arm, or sometimes flopped his body all over mine, but it was better. I was feeling better.

After a week, he wasn't interested in breastfeeding in the morning whatsoever, which surprised me, and I must admit it was kind of a pain to suddenly have to get up and be active, rather than have that quiet snooze time to slowly wake. But that's the price we pay, right?

2 years and 5 months
That was in January. We went on like this for four months with no dramas, and then when he was 2 years and 6 months, I decided to take the steps to fully wean... which I'll talk about in my next blog post ;)

** Edit: I have received some thoughtful feedback, and I agree that somewhere in here I should point out that the reason why I feel this worked so well for us is due to his age. He was an early and furious teether, and had ALL his teeth by two years of age, and I can't imagine attempting to gently night-wean while there were still teeth waiting to come through (though some children also seem more affected by this than others). Also, obviously, there are major cognitive differences between a child who is 15 or 17 months and a child who is 28 months, and I could see that he was becoming more independent and confident (though still very quiet, sensitive and needing my physical closeness) and had become an amazing communicator. The logic and reasoning skills that exist at this age played a major role in our sucess, I feel. 

2 comments

  1. Isn't it great when something in this parenting lark turns out easier than you expected? And everyone's happy too. Nice one! :) x

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  2. I am going through this night weening process at the moment with my little guy at 2y10m. I too was quite concearned about how we would ever manage it but it is turning out easier than expected.
    I talked to him about falling asleep without boob about a week prior & then just gentley implemented it when the moment felt right. He has NEVER fallen asleep (or back to sleep) at home without a boob in his mouth (or bouncing on he fit ball in the early days) so learning to fall asleep without a breast was a key step before expecting him to be able to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night without. I expected a lot of tears but after he had a good breastfeed that night, I said, "ok that's enough now. Time to go to sleep with cuddles." He layed there for a while & asked a couple more times for boob but eventually drifted to sleep peacefully. We have done this for the past week and a half & I am amazed how easy it was. Though I agree, the age & lack of teething is an important factor. I am happy for him to wean in his own time but needed my night time comfort back before considering trying for a second bub. ☺️

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