Family Life

Night Weaning in a Week

Tips and strategies for night weaning in a week.

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.

Night Weaning in a Week

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  • small steps…consistency is always important as I’m sure you already know.

    We are working on not using a pacifier anymore, clearly not the same thing, but consistency is a must.

    • Absolutely! You have to give them a chance to establish a new routine/habit before deciding they’re not ready or it’s the wrong strategy.

  • My son is only 5 months, but I’m already worried about how he will handle it a year or two from now when we night wean. Sleep issues are so stressful.

    • It’s always something! My four year old still gets up most nights and needs to be redirected back to her room. Just take it as it comes – it all works out sooner or later. 🙂

  • wow, that went really well, congratulations. I remember having to go into hospital suddenly and I was still doing one night time feed. Hubby just yelled at the poor lad (12 mths) “no” each night and after 2 nights he slept through – not my choice of method but it worked.

  • I weaned my youngest girl earlier than you and did not have any problems. I could not nurse my next baby because of blood incompatibility problems so I really do not have much experience nursing. I think you handled the situation avery well and a good night’s sleep is wonderful for both of you!

  • Thank you for this post. I started this a little while ago, but got scared the first night after the “mid night meltdown”, and I didn’t want the screaming to keep my hubby awake, since he has to work during the days. My daughter is almost 2, and sleeps in her own bed for the first part of the night, then comes into our bed after. I have gotten to where she no longer nurses to sleep initially. We nurse for a few minutes on the couch, then I can take her into her room, read her books, and sing her to sleep. However, when she wakes a few hours later she insists on having her “milkies in mommy’s bed.” Hubby has a week long break next week, so we are going to attempt this again.

  • Sigh… I really need to do this too! I’m not co-sleeping anymore and we just moved Jade (1 1/2) from our room to her sisters’ room down the hall, but she’s still waking up two (or last night three) times a night. I’ve been trying to just snuggle her and put her back down when she wakes up… last night I did that the first time, then nursed her the second time, then brought her back into my bed the third time. Yeah, I know, I’m a sissy. 🙂 I keep promising myself that “tonight” or “this week” I’ll get her trained, and then I’m tired or… 🙂 anyways, thanks for the encouragement. I really need to just do it. 🙂

    • It’s hard to stand firm when they’re so upset! I had some false starts too, until it got to the point where the short-term pain was worth the long-term gain I guess. What you’ve described is a lot of times to be woken up and have to get out of bed and walk down the hallway, so I can totally understand night weaning now. Every child is different of course, but with both of mine a week was enough time to establish that new routine. Good luck!

  • I’m not nursing yet as I’m still pregnant but I have heard that children can get very aggressive. I look forward to the nursing relationship but I hope that my LO will be understanding about my need for sleep once she’s old enough to not need to eat at night.

  • Hi Olivia,
    Just found this post via Pinterest, could have written it myself! I managed to wean my first boy by explaining we had a new baby on the way and baby would need some milk! My second boy is 29 months now and just exactly like your Kay! Co-sleeper, extended breastfeeder! I might take a little inspiration from your success story here and have a try at explaining to him. I feel just like you did writing your post, it’s been a wonderful experience but I’m 5 years nursing now (both boys back to back!) so it’s a good time to move on!
    Thanks for sharing your experience..
    From an East Coast (of Ireland) Mom!
    Sabrina x

    • Thanks for commenting, Sabrina! I went 5.5 years total (2 kids same as you) before we were done with breastfeeding completely. I agree, after that long it’s so nice to get your body back! 🙂

  • I had to wean my little guy cold turkey at 29 months because I was going away for a couple.nights for my blog and had no choice as he just wasn’t letting it go. I wish he had done it this way. I have a feeling when the new baby comes he will try again as I know he would go back to it in a heartbeat.

  • Thank you so much for this article. I’m cosleeping and nursing my 18 month old and all of your information is so honest and appreciated and resonates with me, so thank you again.

  • The last line restored me. Great information! My DD is 9mo, I’m getting a lot of pressure to night weaning but I just don’t see how it’s possible. Thank you!

  • This is so interesting to me, and helpful! My 19-month old is very verbal and will ask for milk (I full-time pumped until 7 months, then switched to formula) once or twice a night still, and I believe the first one is out of hunger (he’s not a big dinner eater) and the second one out of habit/to get back to sleep around that 4-4:45am mark. And it is exhausting me, and not helping him get solid sleep either. So I think I may just have to go cold-turkey on him, like you did!
    I keep his formula/prepped bottles in his room at night for ease of use for this sleepy mama, but as he sees them, I think they’re a visual cue for him to ask for it as well, so they’re going outta there too.
    He soothes with soother and his baby blankie, which we will definitely keep.
    Any other suggestions are much appreciated!

  • I am looking to night wean my 13 month old. Every once and a while he will sleep through the night, and is a much happier child when that happens. I wouldn’t mind the night feeds, if he didn’t have a new sister coming in four weeks. He does not get much milk anyways, so hunger is not an issue as much as comfort. Would you suggest this method for this age? He doesn’t sleep with me so I would be going to him in his room.

  • My little one will be 3 at the end of the month am trying to weaning but am not sure how to go about it everyone says to just take her off all at once . ive done one night no breastfeeding at all…. It was hard …

  • Thank you for sharing your experience! My toddler is about 22 months and I am so tired of him waking 3-4 times every night to nurse. I love breastfeeding and feel a little bad about planning on night weaning but I’m starting to feel angry every time I wake up so I think it’s time. Not looking forward to it, though!

  • Hello, I just want to ask, did you just cold turkey cut off your baby? I know that sounds bad how I worded it but that’s the only way! Haha! Mine is 1.5 years old and is up 1-3x a night and I know it’s for comfort, but Was wondering if cold turkey cut off was your method instead of giving less and less nursing time each night .

    • Yes, we did stop night nursing “cold turkey” (we nursed during the day and nursed to sleep as usual). I snuggled her all night, comforting her with words and touch. If you have more time, gradually cutting out individual night nursings is worth trying, but I knew my baby would be upset about night weaning and it worked best for us to just get it over with. I didn’t want to give her mixed messages (i.e., allowing her to night nurse sometimes and not at other times), and by going cold turkey, we were both sleeping through the night by the sixth night.

  • My baby is 21 Months old, and I’ve been doing the same routine for the last 2 weeks, however, she still wakes up 2 times during the night very angry asking for her “titi”!! I found a short story book in Spanish called “la teta cansada” “the tired breast” which I read to her every night, so hopefully she starts sleeping through the night!

  • I am in the process of night weaning my 25-month-old & on the first night he woke around midnight & yelled, screamed, batted my best for every bit of 20 minutes before my husband finally took him downstairs & it still took him over an hour to fall asleep ?. Night 2 he is was a *little* better. Night 3 he slept until 4:15, fussed/argued a for awhile before falling back asleep. We’re going into night 4 currently. I hope ours is done by night 6 ??. Your post gave me hope!
    How old are your girls now? Did they have any issues with cavities after night nursing into those later months?
    Thanks for your post & feedback!

    • Hi Sara, hope weaning is going well! Did he settle down after a few more nights?

      My daughters are 7 and 10 now. My oldest had a cavity a few years ago, and my youngest has had none at all. Their dentist doesn’t think there was a connection to nursing, but she did suggest doing a quick wipe with a damp cloth after nursing.

  • God. This would be a dream scenario. I’m on night 6 with my 23 month old. She doesn’t just whine, she full-on kicks, screams, hits, and it lasts for a couple hours. Dreaming of the night where she simply whines and goes back to sleep 😫 I admit that I gave in the first few nights, so I think I created a little monster. Using you as inspiration!