Transcript: Guide to Night Weaning Your Baby
Welcome back to the Breastfeeding Talk Podcast. I'm your host, Jacqueline Kincer. And today I'm going to be talking about a topic that comes up very often. And it's a little bit different than the episode that I did on weaning way back when episode 17. And that's night weaning. So this comes up a lot because you know, moms are sleep deprived, right, and they're just feeling really over it when it comes to these nighttime nursing sessions or pumping sessions and I get it, I totally get it, I had a first baby that really never slept. And my second baby was, you know, a lot better as an infant. So, you know, I spent many years being a sleep-deprived parents. And it's really, really hard.
And what I want to tell you is that first and foremost, if your sleep is so disrupted by your baby, not your own independent sleep issues, like difficulty falling asleep, or waking up early or something like that, it can often be a sign that something is actually wrong with your baby. Not that you know, they're trying to annoy you or they're super needy, often it's a feeding issue. So what I always try to encourage parents, whenever there are some sort of sleep challenges going on is, you know, let's make sure that feeding is going well, because of feeding is not going well sleep is not going to go well. And so when you're trying to implement various behavior management strategies, and sleep training, and all of these things, but the underlying problem was never related to that, then you're kind of you know, looking past some issues. And I've honestly seen it in my practice where I've had parents, and they've come to me at seven months, and they've said, well, their baby didn't gain any weight in the last month. And nothing else has changed other than the fact that they decided to do sleep training. So you know, that's really unfortunate, and that patient education needs to happen. And then, you know, we resume a perfect feeding plan for that baby for that family. Right, and we get the weight gain back on track.
So what I wanted to say first and foremost is that every baby is different. Every single baby, you could have 10 kids, and they're all going to be different, I promise you. So I'm talking in generalities. And you know, I'll describe some of the nuances. But truth be told, there is no reason why I would ever expect a healthy, well breastfed, well, formula fed baby, and baby means up until a year old to sleep through the night. I really would not. That's not biologically expected. Now, will some babies do that? Yes. But what is sleeping through the night? Right. So that actually depends on the age. So if you did not know this, sleeping through the night, and the newborn period, which is the first month is basically four hours. So we don't generally want babies going longer than a four hour stretch, maybe maybe five, depending on how weight gain and all of that is going.
And then really, you know, for the entire first year, I would say it's six hours, we're not expecting babies, infants, anybody under 12 months to go longer than six hours of an uninterrupted sleep stretch. And so this is where we need to be sure that we're defining the right thing is here, sleeping through the night is not waking up, and then going back to sleep that is not sleeping through the night. So we're talking about an uninterrupted sleep stretch. So sometimes parents define sleeping through the night in different ways. But when we're talking about an extended period of sleep, right, what parents seem to be trying to get to is their child not waking up at all. So putting your baby down to bed, and then, you know, they sleep through without interruption until the morning.
And it's just, um, you know, just to be real. It's very rare. It's It's exceedingly rare. And I don't know that families always talk about this with one another. I still think there's a lack of transparency about this for a lot of parents. And so if you don't have realistic expectations for your baby's sleep, when you hit that three month mark and you're just over it right Yeah, this kid, you know, only sleeps three, four hours at a time. Yeah, well, that sounds really healthy and normal. But if you didn't know that that's normal, you could somehow see that as a problem, right? And then of course, you know, there's always somebody, a friend, somebody on social media that's like, my baby sleeps eight hours, and you're like, what's wrong with my baby? Why can't find sleep that long. So you know, nothing is wrong, necessarily, very unlikely that something is wrong. So first of all, I just want to, you know, set the stage with what's normal, what's not. Even toddlers are still expected to wake up during the night, once, maybe twice. And that's very, very normal. I have a six year old and a nine year old. And for the most part, they sleep throughout the night, but there are many nights where they don't now they're able to put themselves back to sleep.
But you know, even think of yourself as an adult. Do you ever get up to go pee in the middle of the night? Do you ever roll over and kind of wake up a little bit or you know, something happens, and you just wake up, and then you go back to sleep? Right? So this is what our children are doing? Our children are not, you know, able to sleep better than we are really. And if you have sleep issues, if your partner has sleep issues, then it's more likely than not that your child will also have inherited some sleep issues. So sometimes just taking a step back and going, huh, yeah, sometimes I do wake up at night, or sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep. Or sometimes I wake up too early, and I can't go back to sleep. Like, if there anything, if there are any issues that you've experienced yourself regarding sleep, then I would just say, you know, come at this with a bit of grace for your own baby. Because I can tell you that I really have not known any adults to tell me that they just have a perfect sleep all night long, we could either be getting more sleep, because we're not getting enough or you know, something like that, right. So that's important to remember.
But really, again, I would say there's no magical dates, by which your baby should be sleeping a certain amount of hours, again, every baby is different, and there is no expectation that they should not be waking up. And from a biologically normal perspective, you know, children really need to be parented to sleep through the age of four. But I will tell you, I saw this Instagram post yesterday. And it was some responses from children about observations that they've made of their parents. And one of those was from a six year old, I think, I think the age was six. And the six year old said, I don't something along the lines of, I don't feel like my parents care about me anymore, because they don't even tuck me in to go to bed anymore. And I thought that was just one of the saddest things that, you know, these parents had an expectation of, you know, this child is six years old, and she can go to sleep by herself. Whereas this child is interpreting that to mean that the parents don't care about her. I think the comment was, well, you know, it went a little bit further, and the child said, I could run away from home, and my parents wouldn't know, because they don't check on me at night.
And that's very, very sad and disturbing. But these are real thoughts that you know, real children are having. And there were some similar thoughts that were being expressed by these children that, you know, this child isn't going to vocalize that to their parents, but this is something that she's feeling internally. And I just want to remind you that you will be tucking your kids in for bed for a while. And if you have not hit the toddler stage, yet, then you may not know what to expect, but it's there's a lot of resistance to bed time, a lot of the time. How many times do they need to get a drink of water or go pee or get their favorite stuffed animal or whatever, right? So this is, you know, a constant battle with my kids too. It's very, very normal. Okay? You know, the end of the day is when your child is looking for the security, to know that you are there from them to feel more connected and attached to you. And sleep time is a vulnerable time for us, biologically speaking. And for many children emotionally, it's a vulnerable time, especially if you're, you know, transitioning your child from being near you, or sleeping in bed with you, or what have you to being further away from you and their own room. And so if that's a baby going in a crib, and now suddenly, you know, they're further away from you, as opposed to like a co sleeper right next to the bed or something of that nature.
You know, those kinds of changes might be something that your child has a hard time with. So I just like to remind families of that because it's really important to remember that your child is looking for a connection with you. And they are looking to feel safe and they are looking to feel cared about. And it's your actions more than your words that demonstrate that to your child. So sleep training in and of itself. I have a whole Episode with the Rachel from my sweet sleeper on this. And so we can link that up in the show notes for you. But when you do sleep training where you deny meeting your child's needs in hopes that they will somehow just fall back asleep on their own, that breaks a lot of trust between you and your child. And it changes things on a subconscious and emotional level in your relationship with one another. So I'm not an advocate of that, again, if you are experiencing some sort of severe sleep challenges, it's very likely that there's an underlying health or feeding issue going on. And that's the first place you need to start.
So I really try to tell people this too, I have children and that are neurodivergent. And, you know, there were many times over the years where I simply thought they were just making some poor behavioral choices. Now I know better. And it turns out that their brains just work differently. And these were not things that they were consciously deciding. And if we can always make a point of remembering that children by their very nature, and I would argue adults as well, but especially children, by their very nature, of being humans, they are hardwired to, you know, want to be a part of a societal group, right to be connected, to want to grow, to learn to do all of the things we expect our little human children to do. Right? If they are not doing those things, if they have resistance to those, if they are seemingly purposefully doing things that are very negative, it's usually not because they're a bad kid, it's usually not because, you know, there's, there's, you know, something that they're choosing to do, they're, they're just being you know, resistant or difficult. Like your baby is not trying to be difficult, your baby does not want you to be sleep deprived, your baby does not want you to feel resentment towards him, none of those things are actually happening, right, your baby is communicating, or your child is communicating. And the best way they know how to let you know that something is wrong, and that they have an unmet need.
And if you can come from that place as a parent all the way through teenagehood, and your kids are grown adults and move out, like the things that people do, you know, that come from a negative place, often have a root cause. And it's not to excuse, you know, behavior or whatever. It's not any of that. But it's just to say, like, you know, when someone's really angry, and very triggered by something, there's something else that preceded that. And it's the same for our babies. You know, if your baby is crying all of the time, and you fed them, and you've changed their diaper, and you've birthed them and you still can't figure it out? Well, all your baby can do is cry. That's the only way they can let you know something is wrong, right? So it's not that your baby loves to cry. They don't it's obviously very distressing for them, it does not feel good, okay. They just, they're uncomfortable. They're in some sort of pain, they don't know how else to get this need met. So they're going to cry. The goal is not to stop the crime. The goal is to figure out why is the baby crying. So your life will be much easier? If every time your baby has a an undesirable behavior that they're exhibiting? If you just get curious, right? You get curious, and you just ask that question of what could possibly be wrong, right? Like with a genuine curiosity, like what need is my baby not having met right now, sometimes it's just as simple as being held by you.
Other times, it's, you know, something more involved. So all of that to say that we're going to talk about night weaning, and one thing that's really important is that you and your partner, if you have one are on the same page about this, I would never suggest that you approach this on your own and not have support. If you don't have a partner or a partner in the home with you. Maybe they travel a lot or something is going on, I would absolutely enlist the help of a supportive family member or friend, maybe even work with a gentle sleep coach or consultant to guide you through this process. Because you can very much get in your own head about this. And you can question yourself and you can just you know, second guessed a lot of things. And so if you have a discussion ahead of time with somebody who can support you in night weaning or, you know, even weaning in general, but especially night weaning and you have a plan, then things are gonna go so much smoother. You've got to prepare yourself. And this is what this episode is really about is that preparation piece. So I've already talked about just some of the things that you really should know going into this. But then this is really the other stuff that you need to prepare. So create a plan, I would honestly encourage you to write it down.
And I would also say that you need to just If when you think it's the right time for your child, like is your child now a toddler, and they're getting up a lot of the time and, you know, kind of seems like they're goofing off a little bit like, Hey, I just need another cup of water, but like you already have a cup of water there for them, or, you know, something's going on where it just seems to become a habit, right or your baby, your toddler is like nursing every two hours, and you just cannot get enough sleep. And you know, their weight gain is good, you know, they're well fed, they're getting milk during the day, like, all of the needs are being met, but they just have kind of fallen into this habit, that's a good time for you to decide tonight, when I'm not going to give you a particular age range of where you should do this, some people will not do this. And before their child is 18 months old, some people wait till they're two, I would just say that doing this before a year old is not something that I would recommend as a health care provider. So again, every baby is different. Maybe there's an 11 month old that this is appropriate for, but I would say for the most part, it's probably unlikely. So the next thing you want to do is start planning out your schedule for night meetings. So this is going to be a multi week plan.
It is not an instant fix, it is not an overnight thing, right, you have to introduce some changes slowly, and you have to get your child's buy in with this. And the way that that looks is that you're going to pick a window of time, where you decide that you're going to commit to getting your child to stop nursing, or you're going to stop pumping during this time. But we're going to be talking about nursing really here. So let's say you know, for you, I'm just going to give an example, you go to bed at like 10pm. Okay, and then your baby constantly wakes up at 11pm. And so you're like, Oh, I just finally fell asleep. And now my kids waking up and nursing and it's a whole thing. This often happens with co sleeping, it doesn't have to be just because you're co sleeping. But you know, if you're nearby and the buffet is there, like hey, you know, they're gonna go for it. A lot of the time, the instant fix is not to take your child out of the bed, I will say that you're going to approach this with some time intervals for so I usually say it depends on the kiddo. But maybe start with three hours, you could try a four hour span, but you decide what those hours are. So like from 10pm to 2am, no nursing is going to happen.
Okay, if you have a toddler, I would really highly encourage you to talk to your toddler about this beforehand. There are some really great books on night weaning out there that are excellent tools for getting these concepts and ideas across with visuals, and then you reading the words to your child. So no more nurses when the sun shines, I think is one of the titles. So I'll link those up in the show notes for you. But using that as a great tool to get your child's buy in. And I really wouldn't make a big deal about it. I wouldn't spend any lengthy amount of time explaining it. But you know, usually have a pet name for nursing at this point. Nurses boobies milk ease, what Todd TAs, I don't know, whatever you and your child have agreed on. And so use that language, right and say, you know, you're getting older, you're getting bigger. Oh, you're so big now. And mommies milk us are starting to go bye bye. And not they're not gone yet. They're still here, but they're starting to go bye bye. And they need to go to sleep at night now. And you know, just just say that see if your child has any reaction, right? And then, you know, if they have a question, and they'll be like, you know, go sleepy, yes, go sleepy at night. And so you know, you just want to let your child know you're still going to be there for them. Even though the milk isn't. This is the most important thing.
I think one of the biggest fears that parents have about going through weaning or night weaning is that they're going to disrupt this bond and connection that they have with their child. But I promise you that if you have been meeting your child's needs, and you have, you know, created secure attachment between you and your child, that if you go about this process the right way, that secure attachment is going to be the foundation that carries you forward, that gets your child's buy in and they become an active participant in the night weaning process alongside you. I can't promise it'll always be rainbows and unicorns, but it will be a lot easier. And you will not disrupt your bond if you already have a secure attachment in place. So the times that I just generally don't recommend doing any kind of weaning at all, or if you're going through something traumatic, like I know I have had a client where we did a weaning consultation and then very shortly after that her husband got diagnosed with a very serious and rare form of cancer. And I had followed up with her like Uh, you know, a couple months later and I said, Hey, did everything go? Okay?
Like I never really heard from you. So I don't know if you decided to implement the weaning plan. And that's when she let me know about her husband's illness and diagnosis. And she was like, so yeah, I decided, you know, not to pursue, you know, weaning yet. And I was like, Oh, absolutely, I wouldn't 100% on board with that, because there's so much going on. And you want to be in a really good place mentally to deal with this. What I will say is that, ideally, you want to go through the process of night weaning, before you get to being completely burnt out, and just losing your mind. So that's the ideal. So if you're listening to this, then I would just say, you know, hopefully, you're, you're just forward thinking, hopefully, you're not on your last legs, and you're just like, I am so ready to get this kid off the boob at night, I need some sleep, like, don't let it get to that point. And you know, you can, you can have better success with it. So be resilient, you know, for this, if you're really struggling, it's usually not helpful to go through night weaning during that time.
So that being said, I would just pick a timeframe, you know, three, four hour timeframe, nothing too crazy, and you decide that you're going to enforce that. So what does that mean, you don't change anything about your child's sleeping location, you don't change anything about the bedtime routine, you nurse them to sleep, if that's what they're doing, most kids are. And you know, you're going to nurse them back awake and do all of that you're going to cuddle with them, read to them, whatever your normal routine is. And you may just want to remind them gently, that the milk is going away in the middle of the night. So when they wake up, you will be there to comfort them to hug them, hold them, snuggle rock them, whatever it is. And you're going to try this out, you're going to see how it goes. Some kids are more strong willed than others. So this is where you get to really see that in action. So let's say you decided 10pm to 2am. Okay, and your baby toddler, I'll use the word baby here just to be generic wakes up at 11pm. What do you do?
They're gonna do it, I promise you. They're not they don't know what time it is. They don't know how to tell time on the clock yet. So they're going to wake up? And what are you going to do? Well, you're going to do the usual things you would do to comfort your child, hug them, you know, rub their back, rock them, whatever it is seeing to them, you know, whatever it is something that's in line with what you might normally do to comfort your child. If they start to throw a fence about having to nurse what I would tell you is you let them nurse. Here's the deal, though. It's for a short time. Okay. What you ideally want to do is cut off that nursing session before they fall asleep. So they're getting relaxed and drowsy. Okay. And then you're going to say, oh, all done. It's time for milk ease nurses boobie what, again, whatever your pet name is, to go to sleep, it's time for you to go to sleep to, I will hold you, I will come for you. I'm here with you. I'll help you fall asleep. That's it. It's not up for discussion, you're not going to ask if it's okay. I want you to come at this from a calm, but like assertive tone. So you're simply telling your child what's going to happen. It's not up for negotiation. It's not one more minute of nursing. It's not we're all done now. Okay?
This is where the kids get angry. This is where they really tell you they dislike what you're doing. And they're gonna, you know, depending on the kiddo, they might freak out, they might just be really sad, they might cry, they might just feel really insecure. And that's okay, you can acknowledge all of those feelings. And you can, you know, just I would avoid saying things like it's okay or dismissing their feelings, I would just be there to comfort them and say, I know you want milk ease. It's okay to be sad. And just That's it. Just keep it really simple. You don't need any long, lengthy explanations. A child this young is not going to absorb that and just comfort them back to sleep. They will eventually fall back to sleep. But this is where you need the help of in support of someone. If you like know that you need that right. This is the person you lean on. Let's say your child is having a full on freakout Okay, temper tantrum. It is it has just gone south. I don't want you to give in after that initial like letting them nurse. I would, you know say that that's going to be creating a negative, you know pattern that you're going to end up reinforcing. If you get emotionally overwhelmed. What we don't want is for you to suddenly get stern with your child. Right and say, You know what, I'm not nursing you and that Sit, like, I don't want you to have to get started with your child, that's when I would say, if you're feeling that way, you just want to call in reinforcements.
And this other person, you're going to wake them up, but grudgingly if they have not already been woken up by the drama, and you're going to just ask for them to take over. And I would just simply communicate to the child, hey, you know what Mommy's gonna take a little break, but Daddy's here with you, or whoever, right Grandma's here with you, whoever it is, you know, just take that break, and let this other person be the one to comfort the child. And oftentimes you find great success with us. So this might be happening for a few nights, you know, they may wake up again in two hours and do the same thing, it's the same routine, you know, you can let them nurse a little bit, but then before they fall asleep, you're going to enlarge, you're going to let them know, ahead of time that you're going to enlarge them, nursing is done. And that's it. Okay, so you're going to just do that, then once you've done that, for like a good few nights, I usually see like three nights, sometimes five, depending on how resistant the child is, then what you're going to do is you're going to have that same timeframe. So let's use the example of the 10pm to 2am. same timeframe. And then what you're going to do is you're going to not allow your child to nurse at all during that time.
So you're not going to give in and let them nurse for a little bit. And then you know, make it stop before they fall asleep, you're just going to not nurse them at all, you're going to prep them for this. So ideally, that day, you say something about it, and again, at bedtime, and just say, you know, hey, we're going to be doing something different, you know, you're not going to be able to nurse during that time at all. So I'll cuddle you and this and that, you can have a drink of water. If you are, you know, if it's a toddler, and you want to give cow's milk or something, that's fine, but like, you're not going to, you know, for dental purposes, I would probably avoid cow's milk at night, but just, I would just say, you know, water or something like that, but you're not going to give in, you're not going to nurse this time, that's not going to happen. And you just reinforce that. Sometimes, depending on the age of your child, like a lot of times I've done consultations for this with like people who have three-year-olds, and the three-year-old is just nursing all night long, and it's driving them crazy. And clearly, there's just, you know, no, like real health need for that to be happening. And I'll have you know, the mom take the child shopping for some sort of a lovey, so that could be a stuffed animal, it could be a special pillow, a blanket, whatever it is something that the child actually picks out something they don't already own, unless there is something they are already very attached to.
But usually the novelty of something new is great. And you give that to your child at bedtime, and you make it this comfort item that is slowly going to replace the comfort of nursing. So depending on the age of the kid, if it's you know, if they're closer to a year, they're not going to have very much of an object attachment yet. But if they're a bit older, that tends to work really, really well. So once you kind of get your child used to like maybe a three, four hour stretch of not nursing at all, now, that's when you can start to try to expand it, some kids will automatically go a longer stretch, like they won't wake up at night at all. And you're like, Oh, well, that was easy. Other kids, they're still going to do it, they're still going to wake up, right. So that's where you can start to add, you know, two hours to that stretch to go from four hours to six hours, it's the same routine, it's the same deal. You know, if you have to enlist a partner or help her for support, great, you know, go ahead and do that. You can do little variations of this as well, right, you can choose the hours of time that work best for you. You know, you can use something like you know, a song on your phone or a timer on your phone to kind of like have a time limit for nursing or something like that.
You can use things like you know, once you start to stretch it out and get to like all night, you can say you know what, you can't have any you know, you're not you can't nurse until the sun comes up again, like something like that, that there's some other visual cue that your child can receive or an auditory cue, like a song or an alarm or something like that, then that lets them know, okay, now I am once again permitted to nurse, the thing that you want to be doing during the process of night weaning, though, is not try to restrict any daytime nursing sessions. So if you are home with your child all day, if you're with them, you know, nurse on demand or what you would normally do, you're not changing that routine at all. And you're always still nursing your child when they fall asleep. And when they wake up. So the last sessions to go in terms of complete gaming are the bedtime and wake up sessions of nursing for most kids. So anyway, back to kind of just the nighttime routine and what that looks like, once you've finally gotten your child to a place which you know, I would say this is really looking like a two week process, sometimes three weeks depending on the child. Once you've gotten them to a place where they can go six, eight hours without nursing. You know, I wouldn't say eight hours is like a really, really good goal.
Some kids are not going to do well. didn't push past eight hours, I don't advocate for you doing night weaning for longer than eight hours, if your child chooses to sleep 10 hours at a time without waking up, that's totally fine as long as their growth is good, and their daytime intake of food and milk is great. But I would not say that that is a requirement, I think eight hours is totally fine. Once you get to that mark, then you can start making other changes. That's where I would say, now you can change to a different sleep environment, or where you can start to do something different in the nighttime routine or the wakeup routine. But those are changes that I would hold off on making until you've actually completed the night weaning process. Now, even though you've gone through all of this, and it's, you know, worked out well, and maybe you've gotten in a good rhythm, it's been a few weeks, and your baby is no longer nursing at night, what I would say is that there can be relapses, and it's very, very common that, you know, you'll your child will have an illness, there'll be going through a developmental leap, something big is happening during the day, or what have you. And they will wake up at night, you don't need to do anything different other than just go back to that routine of cuddling, meeting their needs holding them comfort, comforting them, I would not recommend that you recommend that you resume nursing them. If you do that, you're going to reset all of this awesome work that you've done.
Now, I will say, if things don't go quite as well as what I'm describing here, let's say you go through a week or two weeks of going through, you know, night weaning and you're trying to push these timeframes longer and longer, and your child, you know, holding them and whatnot, they're really you know, they're grabbing at your boob, that region in your shirt, they're trying to really resume nursing, what you can do is you can try a little bit of a different strategy with them. So you can not hold them, you can not pick them up, you can just leave them in wherever their sleep situation is rub their head, touch them, you know, pat their back, something like that. But then just creating a little bit more distance. So it's you want to have some physical touch, but instead of holding, and you know, that maybe encourages a pattern of nursing, you can just touch your child, again, really just your hand on them somewhere, reassure them, talk to them, stick to them all of that, but then they need to fall back asleep with you doing that. So it just depends on the kid, I want to give you guys some options. So that way, you have some different strategies. I'm really not a purist about this, I don't like creating concrete sleep schedules, unless I'm working one on one with a client. And I know the family and I know the situation because otherwise there's just you know, so much variation.
So if you start this process as well, and it is just too hard on you, like you were just like, I can't do this, it's very emotionally distressing. You don't maybe it's not the right time, maybe your child truly is not ready for night weaning, and maybe you're really not ready for it. And that's okay, you can just decide to try this again in a month and three months, somewhere down the road. So I would really not encourage you to beat yourself up about this. I also wouldn't say that just because you've begun the process that you necessarily have to keep going through with it. You don't you can say you know what we're going to take a break from this. Let's try again at a more appropriate time. And that's totally fine. You know, there's a lot of different strategies that you can throw in here. If you've listened to this episode, I would encourage you to also listen to episode 17, which is really more about like complete cleaning. But some of those tips and strategies are similar to what I've shared in this episode. But this is really more specific to night weaning. So I'd love to hear what your experiences with night weaning. If you do try some of these ideas. If you learned anything new from this episode, definitely share that by leaving a review. If you enjoy the podcast, you can leave a review on Apple podcasts, send me a message on Instagram, take a screenshot of the episode and share it to your stories and tag us We always love to hear from you about how you're enjoying these episodes and what you're learning from them. So thanks so much for listening, and I'll see you on the next episode.