Are you looking for breastfeeding support with how to night wean a resistant toddler, gently? Below are the exact steps I took with my eldest daughter. And they worked: night two she slept through, and one or two hiccups aside, we never looked back. 

When we thought about starting a family, I knew my ideal was to breastfeed. I knew there was an enigmatic ‘art’ to it, but I knew very little else. (As an educated, extended breastfeeder, I now understand there’s a technique, rather than an art! You can find out about that and more in my ebook, if you’re interested.)

But a very important aspect of breastfeeding that I gave no thought whatsoever to was that there would also come a time when I would have to wean my child, aka boob monster.

How to Night Wean - Sleeping Baby

I think if I’d been pressed to give it due consideration, I’d have first said that I could hardly imagine my baby reaching that milestone and didn’t wish to tempt fate. I may have naively gone on to suggest that it would take its natural course, or be a simple case of switching from breast to bottle – ET VOILA!

Ahaha. Ha. Naïve is putting it mildly.

As with every other surprise thrown at us by our precocious daughter, I didn’t take into account the fact that I was dealing with another human being, a headstrong and tenacious little girl – with her mother’s blood coursing through her veins.

But I did get there, and surprisingly simply…

Time to Gently Night Wean My Resistant Toddler

A close friend’s daughter is eight months ahead of our Devil Pixie. I don’t think I’ll cause offence by saying that her daughter has been at least as bad, and very possibly worse in terms of clinginess and (lack of) appetite. We’re both strongly pro breastfeeding, anti CIO, and pro gentle parenting.

So imagine my surprise when she told me she was night weaning! And imagine my shock when shortly thereafter she announced that her little princess had gone through the night for the first time ever!

How to Night Wean - Sleepyhead Grand Baby Pod

This came about because her daughter, like mine, was: a bad eater; constantly over-tired (read miserable and bad-tempered); often clingy. Or, in pain language, hard work!

Neither of our girls understood the value in naps or the point in solids.

And it wears you out, physically and emotionally. (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we both weigh significantly less post-baby than pre-baby.)

So when my sweet girl decided to revert from her improved waking of twice a night back to SIX-TIMES-PER-NIGHT-PLUS-MULTIPLE-TIMES-IN-THE-EVENING – I decided to have a go myself. (She was also super-clingy in the mornings, refusing breakfast and instead wanting to be constantly fed.)

Disclaimer: I don’t have any magic formulas and certainly cannot make any guarantees that what has worked for us will work for you too. I simply hope that sharing my experience of how to night wean may encourage you to do the unthinkable and just get on with what you suspect needs to be done. If you’re contemplating it, it is time.

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How to Night Wean a Resistant Toddler, Gently

I didn’t really have a strategy in place, but I knew one hour after going to bed nursing was not for nourishment – and I therefore had to withhold at that point.

I also knew this first night was going to be hellish and loooong. But EVERY night had become a time to dread anyway, so what was the difference?

How to Night Wean - Kate Tunstall

Night One

She went down as normal, and – hallelujah – she stayed down through the evening (a rare treat!) until we went to bed. I was ecstatic she didn’t wake sooner because I felt it was acceptable to feed her at that point, which I duly did. When she next awoke, a couple of hours later, I knew it was time… So I went to her and told her ‘all gone’. She knows the words and I knew she’d understand the concept.

Several months ago, we removed the cot in the nursery. I was getting backache from leaning into it multiple times in the night to lift my growing daughter. Something had to give. At my wits’ end, I came up with a plan to try to improve the situation and make things as comfortable as possible while she cried and tantrumed for over an hour. I still use this technique today, and it has really made such a difference to the horrors of my nights!

But I held her and held strong: I did not give in. She eventually went back to sleep and didn’t wake again till the morning.

Night Two

She went down as normal. She woke the following morning.

Were you expecting more detail? Okay….it was blissful.

Baby Sleeping

Night Three

She went down as normal and woke around 3am, at which point I fed her. She easily went back off till 5am. I fed her again and we got up at 7am.

Subsequent Nights

Basically, how to night wean has proved that simple. There’s been a variation of what time/s she wakes, but incredibly (other than when she has been unwell) she has woken only once or twice since I started the process. Unfortunately, these episodes occasionally last for around an hour before she will sleep again, but otherwise? I have been impressed with her progress.

When she recently had another bad night, I repeated the original method; the following night she again went through. I’m convinced it’s about consistency – and this is a good place to add that I have followed through with the ‘all gone’ message in the mornings too. Perhaps this has helped her to fully comprehend the idea?

I’m not sure, all I do know is that she is sleeping better and eating better throughout the entire day. She’s also less clingy when she gets up in the morning. Win.

How to Night Wean - Woman Breastfeeding

The ‘This-HAS-to-Work-or-I’ll-Go-Insane’ Method

My technique, which started very crudely but I have now refined, is to refuse her feeds unless she has slept for a minimum of 3 or 4 hours. I was concerned she would be confused by this: sometimes rewarded with milk, sometimes not.

But I believe she is smarter than I gave her credit for; I think she understands more than I guessed and is more resilient than I allowed for. She’s caught on exceptionally quickly and is far happier for it – we all are.

Should I Have Done This Months Ago?

It’s impossible to say. Perhaps she wouldn’t have been ready, or maybe we’d have saved ourselves a few stressful months.

Perhaps it’s irrelevant because in order to follow through, I needed to be ready too.

Two months ago, the very idea of giving our daughter a sibling felt like a sick joke; following this process we began to seriously consider the possibility. I felt like a failure because I was losing control of a situation that I didn’t know how to handle. I was in a dark place when I took what felt like the absolute last resort.

And I have to admit that gently night weaning our resistant toddler has changed our family for the better – there’s light at the end of a restful sleep.

How to Night Wean - Couple Sleeping

How to Night Wean – A Caveat…

It’s only fair to make very clear that this process may not work for your child. I know, because I’ve followed the method precisely with my second daughter at 19 months old – and two weeks on she was still waking frequently asking for milk.

So, bear in mind that if being gentle is more important to you than ensuring results, then you may be disappointed. As I’m writing this update, I’m very, very disappointed: considering-adoption disappointed. I jest, I think, but I’ll take this opportunity to remind you (and myself) that regular waking is both natural and a safety mechanism.

Will My Baby Outgrow Feeding to Sleep?

I could remind you that you won’t get this time back and you should cherish every cuddle etc, but when you’re on-your-knees-exhausted like I am right now, I know you won’t want to hear it. You have my sympathy.

Perhaps it’s better in this moment to remember that in a few short years, it will be possible for you and your significant other to have weekends away again, just the two of you.

Anyway, as you embark on these steps, I wish you the greatest luck that you’re blessed with a more compliant child than my second-born.

Tags

Diet, Motherhood, Parenting, Self-Care, Sleep-Deprivation, Tips and Advice, Toddlers

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

2 Comments

  1. Voila! As simple as that… most definitley not. The same as with everything parenting related!
    I find the topic of night weaning a difficult one to tread. Being the gentle parents we subscribe to be it is sometimes difficult to fit night weaning into that parenting style.
    Indeed on some of the forums women are still in the throws of night waking beyond toddlers and sometimes pre schoolers and for that I applaud them, because they are doing what is right for their child, after all no two children are the same.
    I think the key to gentle parenting is mostly following the babies lead. Indeed that is what I think we can all say we do. Night weaning broke that mould and so was difficult to comprehend.

    Kate hits the nail on the head, our daughters were miserable for it. By giving them what they had grown accustomed too, the all night resteraunt; what we were actually doing was allowing them to stay in a sleepless, grumpy cycle. If something is affecting your baby for the worst, some things gotta give, that was certainly our opinion anyway!
    As Kate goes on to explain it’s not been easy, where sometimes a quick boob would have them drifting soundly in moments sometimes we are awake for up to an hour. In that time though there are no tears, no being left alone and no confusion. Mummy is there, here are cuddles and love but boobs are sleeping. It has truly been a revelation.

    I am so pleased to hear and see for myself the positive impact night weaning has had on our girls. Both are happier, less fractious children who have discovered a new interest in food.
    In having happier children we have become much more relaxed,happier parents. We both absolutley believe night waking is a norm of childhood and still do. If our babies cry we are most definitley there just as always.

    What a delight to read not only is pixie happier Kate, but your husband and yourself can begin thinking of expanding your family, something pre baby I know you both wanted.

    Thank you for putting into words something real and fresh from a true gentle parent. On with the next challenge…

    • Kate Reply

      Hi Jaime,

      I really appreciate your comments. Admittedly, since writing that article we have experienced continued teething problems. But at this point, I can honestly say that despite one or two epic tantrums, we have come a very long way thanks to standing firm and persevering.

      At night my daughter is now waking once on average; she sleeps more soundly; her daytime naps have improved (and reduced to once per day usually); her appetite has increased. But most importantly, she is undeniably a happier less clingy little girl. Except today, today was an exception!

      Having those exceptional days is like light and shade: it really allows me the benefit of perspective and I truly appreciate how good she is most of the time. I was so exhausted before, but I feel my life is finally beginning to regain some normality!

      (Please, no comments to suggest it’s time for a sibling!)

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