NO MORE BOOBIE IN THE NIGHT | HOW I NIGHT-WEANED MY TODDLERS
BY MARCIA LEONE
As most new mums can attest, establishing a breastfeeding relationship can be one of the hardest physical and emotional challenges of becoming a mother. Those early days were difficult for me with both my babies, for different reasons. Archie had emergency surgery after birth so I was not able to breastfeed him for his first three weeks of his life. I hand expressed until my milk came in and then pumped every three hours for three very long weeks. We went on to nurse for 2.5 years.
Being an “experienced” breast-feeder, I was surprised how difficult those first few weeks were with Poppy. It was so painful I would cry leading up to a feed. To be honest, if she was my first I may have been inclined to give up, but from past experience I knew the pain would eventually subside and we would find our rhythm. We have continued to feed on demand to this day at almost 20 months.
Thankfully there has been growing support to #normalisebreastfeeding in our western society as many more women are opening up and sharing stories and pictures. By sharing my journey, I am hoping to support those who choose (and are able) to breastfeed; and also those who continue to feed into toddlerhood. I thought I was the only one who fed my son as a toddler, and felt so isolated on that journey, but I now know there are so many of us out there- a lot of us just keep it quiet for fear of judgement- but I can feel this is starting to shift.
For those of us who continue to feed past 12 months, what is not spoken about often is how the hell to stop! For me I have found this one of the most challenging parts of my motherhood journey. I had/have a beautiful feeding relationship with both my children, but by about 2 years with Archie and about 18 months with Poppy, I started feeling like it would be nice to get my body back. I feed on demand (and my kids demand a lot- I’m talking 10+ snack feeds a day - and through the night), and that takes it’s toll physically and emotionally. I am a working mum and because of the night feeding I haven’t slept through the night in 18 months. It’s been wonderful- and co-sleeping (after 6 months) made it much easier for us, but I am bloody tired, and my body is telling me that I need to sleep.
Of course it is incredible and ideal if you continue to feed until your child self weans, but there are many reasons why you may be ready before your child- it could be work, planning for another baby, or you may just want your body back. All are valid reasons, because as we know a happy mama means a happy baby.
So HOW DO YOU WEAN?! I hear you screaming at the screen…. I did so much research on different ways to wean with Archie, so I basically went back to the same methods with Poppy as they worked really well. Archie was night weaned and sleeping through in 3 nights. We had a false start with Poppy where I stayed away one night and she didn’t feed the second night, but then my hubby went away for a few nights and we regressed, because I didn’t have the willpower to do it on my own. We started again a week later and now she is night weaned and last night slept through the night- YAY!
As soon as I decided it was time to slowly wean my first step is “Don’t offer, don’t refuse”- but this can go on for months- especially if they ask a lot- but it’s good to take a step back and see if they are really asking or if you are offering (maybe for a bit of peace and quiet on the couch- I get it!)
After a few weeks of this I start thinking about night weaning. Here are the steps I have taken with both my kids. Please note I am not an “expert” I found a few helpful tips from experts that I resonate with and then kind of put it all together. This is me sharing my experience that fits with my very gentle parenting style. It is also a method for a toddler over 12 months, i haven’t had any experience weaning a baby. As always, please do what is right for you and your child- there is no right or wrong way- just the right way for you and your baby. I will put some links to some helpful experts below.
1. TALK TO YOUR TODDLER | Once I made the decision to night wean I started talking to Poppy about it. I can assure you they understand more than you realise. I explained what we were planning to do every night as I put her to bed. “Pretty soon we will only “boo” when the sun comes up- not in the night when we sleep…” There is a great book called “Nursies when the Sun Shines” which is a great way to get them to understand the concept. I started doing this for about a month before we started.
2. FALLING ASLEEP | If you’re child only feeds to sleep, try getting him/her to sleep in other ways- even if it means a walk in the pram, rocking or a car ride. If you feed them to sleep they will likely wake up wanting to feed. Poppy will often just lie next to us to fall asleep and I now have my husband put her down more so the temptation isn’t there. We have also driven her to sleep a few times and transferred her so she didn’t go to sleep on the boob.
3. INTRODUCE A SLEEP COMFORTER | My son had a blanky and Poppy has a soft bunny. I started giving it to her a month or so ago when I would cuddle her to sleep or feed her in the day so she would associate sleep/relax time with the bunny (instead of grabbing my boobs) now she asks for it and looks for it at night if she wakes. She also has a dummy - we’ll deal with that at a later date lol.
4. NO MORE BOOBIE IN THE NIGHT | We blocked out a 6-7 hour window at night where I just wouldn’t feed her. This is taken from a great gentle weaning recourse by DR J Gordon where you pick a 6- 7 hour block during the night - any time that works best for you - we chose 11pm-6am. The idea is you can feed as much as you like before 11 and as much as you like after 6 but in between those hours you don’t feed and settle in other ways.
5. LET’S DO IT | When I was ready to start the process (Please note you have to really BE READY to do this- I half heartedly wanted to night wean for a while, but then I was like OK - this is it- I’m done we are doing it! I feel that the child can sense when we are committed or not.)
I had my husband sleep in the room with Poppy. I personally find this easier on her and me, because the temptation isn’t there- she can’t smell the milk and she can get cuddled back to sleep. You can also do this method yourself by gently refusing and patting or settling in other ways, but I feel this would take longer in my case, as I would probably find it easier to feed her if she asked. I had to prepare myself to hear some crying, but as I read from Pinky Mackay, a child crying in the comforting arms of a loved one is different to a child crying alone. I still remember hearing Archie cry that first night for a good 5 or so minutes twice in the night, the second night a few minutes one time and the third night he slept through. Surprisingly, Poppy didnt cry. She did wake for a full hour the first night from 3.30, winged a bit and asked for me but then played in bed with Dad. She woke at 6.30am- I came in and fed her and we both fell back to sleep until 9am. The second night she woke for half an hour about 3.30am then woke at 7am I came in and fed her and we fell back to sleep. The third night she slept through, waking at 8am and happily sat in the lounge with Dad until I woke up half an hour later (I was up working until 1am).
So I hope I don’t jinx myself about sleeping through, but I do know that there will be no more feeding in the night! Side note: We also have the Glow Dreaming sleep aid this time around- so not sure if that is the difference in calming Poppy a little more. I have had it for about 2 weeks and the red light, sound and aromatherapy combination helps settle babies and kids to sleep- so maybe!