When to Stop Night Nursing
She’s so cute. She’s just adorable. SweetPea makes every day fun, easy, and a joy to watch she and her brother roll through life. We often say if she weren’t so cute, there’s no way she would have made it with night nursing a full year. No. Stinking. Way.
Am I crazy for having awakened every 3-4 hours to nurse a baby? Well, obviously when babies are born and the first several months of life it’s vital for their growth and development to nurse 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. That’s science and the standard medical recommendation. Most people probably aren’t still up with their 11 7/8 month old, though. We haven’t night weaned for a number of reasons. I’ll start with those and then move on to unroll our very big plan to night wean when she hits one on April 10th–coincidentally also my birthday!
1) Why not to night wean too early.
When your newborn nurses, the suction & compression tells your body: “Make MORE” and in those early days and weeks, your milk supply becomes established. In my layman’s terms as a non-educated lactationist: you create the supply & demand set up so that your milk glands are geared toward producing a certain amount of milk. It’s hard to increase that later in the game. Nurse early, nurse often.
When your growing baby nurses at night it packs on the pounds. If your baby is like SweetPea and on the smaller end of the spectrum (>25% on the World Health Organization charts), and she’s so squirrely during the day that it’s hard to get food actually into her, and she’s walking around furniture and burning up the calories, night nursing means she’s getting extra calories that her brain and body need.
Lastly, little babies need comfort at night. Yes, they need to learn to self-soothe and sleep is sometimes an acquired skill. But little ones have a biological reason for needing to nurse and be close at night: survival. Imagine prehistoric babe: being away from mama at night meant being eaten by a bear. We are physically linked to these little creatures, whether they’re genetically related to us or born in our hearts. They rely on us to soothe them when they’re small, and whether it’s nursing or rocking, research shows the trauma small babies go through if their cries are left unheeded.
It’s been easier to go and rock her, and then put her back down, than listen to her scream (and wake up SuperBoy). So bizarrely, it’s been convenient to not night wean. But at the same time, I’ve been a zombie. ZOMBIE. So not really convenient. More like crazy. I know.
Also, for many women, night nursing suppresses their prolactin levels and therefore staves off ye old menstrual cycle. For those who use natural family planning methods that don’t involve artificial hormones, this is a great thing! It’s not a guaranteed pregnancy prevention, but is about as organic as you can get, right?
2) When you’re ready to night wean, how to do it.
I am so ready to night wean. I mean, so so so ready to sleep more than 4 hours max. My entire being is ready. But, we’ve opted to wait this long that I can give her another few nights. All our reading and talking with other families who either co-sleep or night nurse indicates that 12 months is a good time to night wean as the child’s developmentally ready. (I know, you’re thinking I’m insane for waiting this long. I’m thinking so too. We’ll see what happens with babe #3 when he or she ever comes along.)
Dr. Jay Gordon has good perimeters for night weaning in a co-sleeping situation (we’re not cosleeping anymore, but sometimes I do sleep with SweetPea on a floor bed in her room). He breaks it down to the first three nights, second three nights, the next four nights, and beyond. You start by putting the baby to bed asleep after nursing, then hug, cuddle but do not nurse, then no hugging or cuddling, just verbal reassurance and back pats, and then from there little back pats & little talking but mostly just being present so the child isn’t crying alone.
Kelly Mom has a number of articles linked and good ideas. This website is my go-to for any nursing or feeding questions. It’s all medically based and scientifically driven information.
And of course, my favorite, Dr. Sears. He’s got 12 alternatives for the night nurser. I just re-read his Baby Sleep book section on this last night and gathered that being with the child (a non-nursing parent) while they go through the agony is helpful.
Our plan: no nursing between midnight and 6. So when she awakens, as she surely will, either AA or my mom, whoever’s on duty, will rock and soothe her, lay her back down, rub her screaming shaking back, and tell her it’s okay (while she insists it’s not), and that it’s time to go sleepy. We’ll see just how this actually goes. And we’ll have the sound machines going in SuperBoy’s room and hers to hopefully prevent this from waking him.
Notably, it’s not recommended to forcibly night wean too early. What that magic time is, I don’t know. I’m do know that your child will let you know when he or she is ready and if you can survive that long, sweet, probably like 7-9 months. If you can’t, you’re probably more sane than I am. Just don’t cut them off in the first few months–they really need your comfort & milk! And when it’s not working for you, it’s time to adjust.
I’m really interested to hear how this turns out (good luck!). I’m still night nursing my 18-month old 2-3 times a night and have been pondering a break. I’d love to know which techniques worked best for you.
I will definitely let you know what happens and what seems to work for her!
Ha, just saw this after I commented. So yeah, me too. Jessica, see my link below. This gradual night weaning method worked for me to get my night nursing toddler down to one manageable early morning feeding. Thinking about getting rid of that one the same way, though I fear it will result in 5 am wakeups. I will gladly nurse to avoid that awful fate!
This is such a toughy, isn’t it? My Maria is 8 months old, and we still do a night feeding (or two) every night. I can tell it’s the right thing for her though…she goes right back to sleep afterwards. The milk, cuddling, and a quick rendition of “Edelweiss” is all she is looking for. Although I don’t get to sleep continuously through the night, I feel good about meeting this need. As to when this should or could stop…? I will stay tuned to SweetPea’s case. 🙂
So glad it works for her to still do night feedings! And clearly it’s still the right way for her be comforted and cared for. I don’t think there’s a “should” on when to night wean–it needs to be when it’s right for both of you (all three!).
I still night nurse my 18 month old and I am not ashamed. 🙂 I have however reduced him to one feeding at about 4 am using this method:
Except when he’s sick, when basically I’ll do whatever it takes to help him be comfortable and both of us sleep.
Kate–great advice! I totally checked it out. How do you night nurse and still get up & at ’em for work in the morning? I feel like when it was just SuperBoy, I could have dealt with all this better, but given that he’s a handful bright & early, when it’s been a rough night with her, I’m like the walking dead. Teach us your secrets!!
5am wakeups (!!!!!) are to be avoided like ye ole plague. Yes!
I don’t know how you do it at 6 am with both of them after a rough night. Seriously I salute you one million times over. Because I am on night duty, I basically insist that I NEVER have to get out of bed before 7 am. If kiddo is up before then, Daddy is on duty and Mama gets to have a little more rest and take her time about waking up.
The three days in January when he was out of town and I was alone were tough. I basically got up and laid on the couch like a zombie for 45 minutes staring at my lovely child running wild around the house thinking need . . . more . . . sleep . . .
So I very much hope that night weaning goes well for you. If you are trying the “one minute at a time” method, it really does work but it takes a few weeks. My method was to sit him upright on my lap when his time was up so he had to support his own giant head if he wanted to keep nursing. At 2 am he would usually pop right off in favor of laying back down, and then I could get him back into his bed.
Oh that’s so wonderful you have daddy help in the morning! And yes, the desire for sleep is all-consuming.
I’m going to work on the one-minute-at-a-time!!! I really enjoyed that site you linked to. Thanks so much for sharing it.
I night weaned my first two both around 15 months. The first was when we moved into a two bedroom apartment from a one bedroom and I was three months pregnant with her sister. I think I just went cold turkey, but her dad went into her to offer water. It went a lot easier than I expected. The second I night weaned also when I was pregnant again, she was already rooming in with her sister; so there was the concern of her waking up the big sister. But it worked, and she is not night nursing anymore. 🙂 My third is five months and with the amount of sleep I got last night I am ready to night wean her right now… lol. But I won’t. She is still so little. 🙂
Very helpful! I’m so glad it was easier than expected.
Glad you’re strong and sticking to nursing at night–five months is still so little for it!