Posts Tagged ‘alternatives to crying it out’

Gentle Night Weaning IS possible!

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Night weaning is the process of weaning your baby from having breast milk during the night. There are several different approaches to night weaning. Most of the tips here are for older babies (approximately one year and up), however you could possibly adapt for a younger baby. One important thing to keep in mind is that gentle night weaning is a process that takes time, patience, creativity, and flexibility. It also takes a certain readiness on baby’s behalf.

There are different reasons for wanting to night wean your baby. Obviously a primary incentive is for mom to get more quality sleep. However other factors can influence the decision as well. Sometimes family planning/fertility plays a role. For example, some woman’s monthly cycle does not return until she stops nursing through the night. “The milk-making hormones that suppress ovulation are highest between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m” (Ask Dr. Sears, Breastfeeding and Fertility). A pregnancy may encourage a mom to night wean as sleeping comfortably becomes more and more difficult. Or if a new baby is on the way, a mom might decide to night wean so she only has one night time nursling. Another situation might be if baby needs to spend the night under the care of someone other than mom (due to any number of circumstances) having baby night weaned becomes necessary.

A first step would be to examine baby’s current night time sleep and nursing patterns. This will give you an idea of where to begin and what is a reasonable expectation. For example if your baby is still waking up several times a night to nurse every day of the week, then you might want to start with the goal of reducing night time feedings rather than eliminating them altogether. If baby is only nursing one to two times a night, your baby might be more ready for night weaning.

Once you have determined what your ideal outcome is (number of feedings, length of time between feedings, or to completely eliminate feedings, etc) the next step is to talk to baby about it. I feel like this is a really important step regardless of baby’s age, developmental level, and understanding of language. Breastfeeding is a relationship you share with your baby and if you are proposing changes to that relationship, explaining that to baby is honoring and respecting the reciprocity of the relationship.  You might pick a time when baby is calm and use really simple langague. For example when my oldest was 15 months, we decided it was time to night wean (sleep deprivation peaked for me at that time and we wanted to start trying for baby #2). One day while nursing him I gently told him that mama’s milk was going to start sleeping at night because we all needed to get better sleep. Using simple, kind language I explained that I knew it might be a hard for transition for us, but that I believed it would be okay. The conversation was obviously one sided since he was so young, but definitely think it helped going into the process by providing a sense of peace/comfort to us both.

Night weaning is typically much easier if you have the help of someone else to comfort baby during the night when he/she wants milk. It is typically very difficult for mom to offer alternative comfort to a baby who really just wants mama’s milk. Often this may be a spouse or a partner, but it can be anyone the baby has a close, trusted relationship with. For example, a friend of mine who is a single mom, had her mother help with night weaning. My husband would be the one comforting baby back to sleep during the night weaning process, so we started by inserting daddy into the role of providing comfort during non-sleep times. For example if baby tumbled, daddy would be the one to comfort him. Whatever the reason, if baby was upset and daddy was present, we had daddy be the one to comfort baby. This was to help establish him in that role both for himself and for baby. We did this for maybe close to two weeks before beginning night weaning. If you have the opportunity to do something similar with whomever your support person is, it can be a helpful step in the night weaning process. It’s a conscious shift in providing alternate comfort by an alternate person.

Another important factor to consider is that baby is accustom to getting some of their nutritional and calorie needs met during night time feedings. Therefore providing a dense, high calorie, protein snack before putting baby to bed starting a week or two before night weaning might help re-adjust baby’s food intake needs.

Now that you have done some preparation for night weaning by talking with baby, eliciting help from a support person, and establishing the habit of a bed time snack, you might feel more prepared and at ease about approaching the night wakings. How this looks for each family is going to vary greatly. Sometimes this entails a new sleep arrangment. I personally find it’s easiest to only make one transition at a time, however some families do use night weaning as an opportunity to transition baby to his/her own sleep space.  Another important element is timing; trying to night wean a sick or teething baby will be far more difficult so be sure baby is healthy, well, and comfortable when night weaning begins.

When baby wakes up asking to nurse, have daddy (or whomever the support person is) offer baby comfort by holding, rocking, offering a sippy cup of water, talking to baby, singing to baby, etc. Here’s the hard part…baby is probably going to cry. BUT while some may disagree with me, I do feel this is a different practice than crying it out. In this process someone is still offering comfort to baby and assuring them they are loved and safe. Another important factor is knowing your baby’s cries and assessing the intensity of it and responding accordingly. My husband and I had agreed ahead of time we were comfortable with about 10 minutes of daddy trying to soothe baby and if crying continued to esculate I would nurse baby back to sleep and we would just try again next time baby woke up. It really was a delicate balance of imposing our desires on baby while still respecting his needs.

With my fist son, night weaning was relatively easy the first go-around. After the prelimanary steps we took and a few nights of daddy providing comfort he was night weaned. I think a big factor in the ease of the process was readiness on my son’s behalf as well as his adaptable nature. With my second son, the process was a little more difficult. The first attempt ended after a few days of trying. We decided he wasn’t ready and that we would try again in a month or two. About six weeks later we tried again and in just a few relatively easy nights of soothing from daddy, he was night weaned. We have yet to approach night weaning with my 3rd son as he is only 11 months old. He still needs/wants access to mama’s milk at night and I am happy to provide that for him.

Have you night weaned in a gentle way? If so what tips or suggestions do you have? Would love to hear your experience! 🙂