Night Limits, Nighttime Breastfeeding or Night-Weaning

Sleeping through the night is one of those things like walking or first teeth… it happens at different times for each child and there is really nothing we can do about it.  It also seems to happen in a fashion similar to the ocean tides, a little longer stretch, back to a shorter stretch and finally longer still.  There are courses and books for parents on training babies to sleep but can you imagine if we had classes on getting our baby’s teeth to come in “on time”?!  Yes, we do have Early Intervention and help for children who are “late bloomers” but before a certain time or age we just watch and enjoy the show and take photos along the way.


When families discuss night weaning I often wonder first if they are asking for advice or just wanting permission to parent their children in a way that works for them?  Parenting is a full-time job and sometimes we just need to complain about it and feel supported. It may not always mean there is something that needs to be fixed. Most often parents just want to be listened to and are able to sort out their own solutions.  In fact there is a book and website entitled Permission to Mother devoted to the idea that we all need this permission.

Nighttime parenting is hard work, just as daytime parenting is hard work.  And it is tiring! Does that mean that babies who are sleeping “through the night” have parents doing something right or wrong?  I say no…just as we wouldn’t judge a parent for when teeth come in or when baby learns to crawl or walk, we should not judge or worry about their sleep routines and habits any more than a mother bird would fret over teaching her baby to fly.

Sometimes we just need to support each other and help each other find ways to cope.

We should be earning badges or bragging rights when we are asked about sleep – “I pulled an all-nighter and still passed that exam” in college somehow didn’t transition into “I pulled an all-nighter and was the best comfort to my baby at 2 and 3 and 4 am – go me!”  Blurry-eyed parents are susceptible to any advice…some helpful and some harmful and most of which doesn’t work either way. I have already written about sleep books here.

I feel there should be no judgment in parenting and no right or wrong approach to setting limits around night weaning anymore than there should be for weaning in general.  It is a personal choice that should take into account your child’s developmental age and your personal body boundaries. I understand how tired you are and how much you need sleep because I have been there as a parent too. I would not encourage anything less than responsive parenting for children, especially under in their first few years. This will mean as you wean, you find other ways to comfort or enlist a partner or support person when possible so that your child is still supported during the weaning. Perhaps you can start working on a bedtime routine where nursing happens before a back rub or massage?  Or perhaps where you nurse and then a partner rocks or offers a sippy cup?  You will find what works in your home.  Be gentle with yourself and your child. I know it seems overwhelming now but it truly is such a short phase of life in the long run. Allow yourself to take things one night at a time.

I hate to encourage parents to think so far ahead but sometimes a little hindsight from a parent in the next phase of life is helpful.  Long after your child sleeps through the night, they will need you for illnesses, bad dreams, noisy rooms, strange hotel beds, teething, overnight trips, worries about friends and many other things that now keep my not-so-little kids awake.   This means that I will have days and nights where I feel rested and refreshed and days and nights where I feel worn out…

I never personally understood night weaning because for me, it was almost always easier to roll over or pull a little one up into our bed and nurse. I do understand the need for personal space and boundaries and feel that part of teaching our children our limits can help them learn theirs and to respect other’s down the road.  I simply “night weaned” as our children slept through the night in longer and longer intervals. There were times I wasn’t sure if this was the right path (it always seemed to be around the ½ year and year marks as there were developmental changes) but in hindsight and with several full night’s sleep under my belt, I can say for us it was.   All of my children sleep in their own beds now on most nights.

For me, especially if I was having a hard time with frequent night waking, what has worked was to limit when I need to… whether it be more attention and less nursing in the daytime or having a part of the night when my children were in their own bed or with their father.  Sometimes, after being woken by my toddler or preschooler to nurse for the umpteenth time, I’d realize they didn’t really eat dinner well, or they were getting molars or they had a fever, or that had a hard day, a bad dream… you get the idea anyway…they had a reason, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

My one caveat for setting these limits would be this… your baby will need to nurse just as much in the 24 hours… if you are working/not nursing days and weaning at night, you are weaning your baby… they still need you so take time for them and for yourself.


Unbecoming Baby Lies

What If I Want To Wean My Baby?

Nurshable Wait It Out Method of Sleep Training

Nursies When the Sun Shines

What I will miss about nursing

KellyMom Night Weaning

La Leche League – Setting Limits on Night Nursing

La Leche League – Dealing with the Seepless Nights of Motherhood

I Am Not a Human Pacifier

Can I Night Wean My Child and Still Breastfeed?

The Mule – While I Nurse You To Sleep…

Nighttime Breastfeeding and Depression

Attachment Parenting International Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

This entry was posted in Attachment Parenting, Boundaries, Breastfeeding, Child Development, Nighttime, Weaning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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