You worked hard to make breastfeeding work and you are on a roll. Your baby is thriving and your confidence in nursing is solid. But now you’re tired! Your baby is still waking up several times at night, and you can’t get back to sleep.
Many families in this position decide it’s time to wean, if only to get better sleep. But there is a middle ground. Breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you are struggling with frequent night-waking, you may want to consider night weaning as opposed to full weaning. This way, your baby still gets all the benefits of breastmilk and you can hopefully get some much-needed sleep.
There is a right time and a wrong right time to wean: babies under the age of 6 months are too young to wean from nursing at night because they still need the calories. Sucking at the breast also has proven protections against SIDS. But if your baby is more than 6 months old and you want to try night weaning, here are some good tips.
Strategies for Successful Night Weaning
Whatever the age of your baby, there are a few things to keep in mind when night weaning:
- Make sure your baby is nursing plenty during the day. It can be easy to get distracted and forget to nurse as often as it takes to satisfy your baby’s caloric needs. Your milk is calorie-dense and very hydrating.
- Prepare your baby by telling her that she is not going to nurse until the sun shines. Teach her about day and night. Even if your baby isn’t speaking yet, she may still understand you.
- Routine and consistency are important. Have a set bed time and bedtime ritual. This could be bath time, baby massage, reading or telling a story, and nursing.
- Be sure your baby is eating nutritious solids. If your baby is already eating solids, make sure to provide as much nourishing and filling food as possible during the day.
- Plan to cluster nurse just before bedtime. Your milk is fattier if you nurse in clusters. In the evening, your milk has more melatonin to help your baby sleep more.
- Avoid night weaning when your baby is sick or teething. This is a time when your baby needs attention twenty-four hours a day, and sleep disturbance comes with the territory. It is also best not to wean during a big change such as a move, a parent returning to work, or during holidays and vacations. Many babies who once slept through the night will wake more when routines change, when mom returns to work, during travel, or when there are visitors.
- Offer lots of skin-to-skin contact while night weaning.
- Have a sippy cup with water available. You may be surprised to know how thirst-quenching your milk is, so your baby may actually be thirsty.
- Avoid pumping at night to relieve fullness. This will encourage your body to continue making milk at night, so you’ll just be pumping instead of nursing. This negates your plan to be able to sleep more. Hand-expressing can help to relieve fullness without over-stimulating your breasts.
- Night-weaning can happen before full weaning.
- Babies under six months of age should not be night-weaned.
- Don't try night weaning if your baby is sick.
- Stick to a routine when night weaning.