I believe in full-term nursing, I really do. Kay and I are at two years and one month, and I don’t have plans to end our nursing relationship any time soon. Having said that, is it perfect? No. I’ve been getting pretty irritated with her new habit of pinching me while nursing, and I am especially tired of her nightly routine of waking up one, two, or even three times a night yelling for me to nurse her back to sleep. If I’m still awake, that means running upstairs before she wakes up her sister. And there’s always at least one rude awakening in the middle of the night on top of that.
We co-sleep which is both a blessing and a curse. I love how easy and hassle-free it is to nurse at night, but the flip side is – it’s so easy to nurse at night. Kay is long since old enough to sleep through the night without needing to eat, but why would she spontaneously stop when the snack bar is so close and presumably open all night?
Her older sister night weaned at 18 months when I went back to work, but I haven’t been really motivated to do the same with Kay because until now I didn’t see the need. I made a few halfhearted attempts in the last couple of months, but when Kay protested (very vigorously, I might add) I backed off. It just didn’t seem necessary to end our night nursing sessions at that time.
But now that summer’s over and Tee’s in school full-time, I’m up early in the morning and I’m tired, oh so tired. I need more sleep. A nursing relationship is two-way, and it needs to work for both of us. This part wasn’t working for me anymore, and last weekend I decided it needed to change. I gave Kay a big bedtime snack and explained to her that sissies (her word for nursing) would be going to sleep just like everybody else so there wouldn’t be any milk until the morning. She nodded, but given she’d been nursing pretty much on demand for over two years I’m sure it didn’t really register.
I wore a T-shirt to bed that night hoping to make sissies a little less accessible, and I nursed Kay to sleep as usual. When she woke up at 1:00 a.m. looking for her next breast milk hit, I cuddled her close and gently reminded her, “Sissies is sleeping.” Man, was she pissed! Crying, batting at my chest, howling “Sissies! I want sissies! Pleeeease! Mommy, pleeease!” It was so hard, but I stuck to my guns. “Sorry love, sissies is sleeping. I’m right here. You can have sissies in the morning.” I used the same soothing techniques with her that I had used when night weaning with Tee. I cuddled her, did lots of shushing, empathized (“I know you want sissies”), and reminded her that she could nurse in the morning.
The first couple of nights were rough, but nowhere near as bad as I had feared. I focused on soothing Kay and stroking her back until she calmed down and eventually fell asleep. It seemed like longer, but each episode was probably no more than two or three minutes. Luckily her sister is a heavy sleeper! If Kay had not been able to adapt I would have had to reassess my technique, but thankfully at two she’s quite verbal and understood what I was telling her. (So of course she smacked me in the chest a few times shouting, “Wake up, sissies!”)
As we continued over the next couple of nights, her protests grew less and less distraught, and by the fifth night she woke up just once. She whined and fussed a bit when I reminded her that sissies was sleeping, but she quickly fell back asleep. On the sixth night she slept right through the night until 8:00 a.m., and I’m ecstatic that she’s now slept through for the last three nights! I’m not naive enough to expect her to sleep a solid 11 hours every night from here on out, but I didn’t think we’d make such a difference so quickly so I’ll take whatever I can get!
I do want to be really clear that age and developmental stage are very important to gentle night weaning. Toddlers need to be old enough that they aren’t nursing out of genuine hunger and old enough to understand what you’re saying. Tee was 18 months when she night weaned, and Kay is 25 months now. I certainly would not attempt to night wean a child younger than a year old.