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I’ve offered to share my experience with night weaning our second child. I hope it can offer some peer support during a very bittersweet time.
On one hand, we don’t want our babies to grow up. On the other, it’s been years now and sleeping in weird positions with one boob out and we’re feeling okay with that changing - even slightly.
The process was very different to night weaning my first. I think this was a combination of the indeed bittersweet nature of feeding our last child in the night. Was I ready? Probably not to begin with. And just more learning. Always learning. Sorry, practice baby number one. (Kidding. Kind of.)
Let’s go back to October/November 2019. Initially, I was due to go away overnight for work in April 2020. This was a bit of a prompt. I wondered how my youngest would go overnight without boob if that’s all she’s ever known. I also thought Christmas time would be a good one to start the process - with Brad off work for two weeks and no strict routine. I thought it would be quite simple. I expected tears. Of course I did.
But for me, night weaning is one of those things where my children need to be ready. They just aren’t willing otherwise. I personally didn’t have it in me to pace the hallway for hours and hours. It seems to defeat the purpose. Why remove the tool of feeding to sleep overnight if it’s so simple in comparison to hours of screaming? Some children take to it straight away. I believe that this is because they are ready. No age can determine this as it is so relative for that child and that family.
I recommend removing that element of comparison with this process and look for readiness rather than age.
If your child is more reluctant to give up the nighttime boob than some, I don’t see this a reflection on their resilience or skills (or your capacity to complete a process - more on that soon). It just is what it is. And we have to work with that.
Christmas time was not a good time. She was too young (again, for her, 21 months). Do not compare to my experience. This age is indeed such a relative thing. I know babies as young as 18 months who quite happily roll over with a cuddle and without a feed - or who are already sleeping through the night so night weaning just isn’t a thing.
I have read a number of blogs and books on night weaning and my approach was definitely a combination of all of them. Elizabeth Pantley’s “Pull Off” Method from the No-Cry Sleep Solution was a stand-out. But I didn’t find it as simple as she suggested. Or as quick. My favourite little gem was from Meg Nagle (The Milk Meg) in her book Boobin' All Day Boobin' All Night, who said to view night weaning as a journey and a process. A long one. With many steps forward and just as many steps back. Take the pressure of yourself and your child to reach the destination within a certain timeframe.
April loomed. Two or three of my attempts spaced over the months of February and March ended with both of us in tears and me texting my husband furiously that I wasn’t cut out for this and that she can just have boob until she’s 20. It felt like no matter how many times we read Nursies When The Sun Shines or how gently I approached the process, it just wasn’t happening. This is a fabulous picture book, by the way. I highly recommend it. I cursed myself for not being consistent enough, for not being strong enough to listen to her cry, even in my arms when I tried the “30 seconds of boob before removing” trick.
The pressure of this date made things feel very intense. I felt like I was failing. I felt panic at the thought of leaving her. This wasn’t the truth, of course. But I had a plan and the plan just wasn’t working. I’m a planner and struggle with perfectionism. An interesting combination within parenthood.
And then guess what happened? Covid-19 meant that my work trip was cancelled last minute.
The pressure just melted away. But I was also now feeling ready - to just allow the process to begin and end naturally - as opposed to within a specific timeline. Feeding a two and a bit year old every few hours was quite tiring. Especially with the added complexity of having one working boob (you’re always welcome to ask questions about my medical history and difficulty breastfeeding for context).
I always feel the need to say that:
When we are looking at readiness, we need to look at readiness for the parent too. This is a huge process and it’s okay to grieve.
I’m grieving despite being ready. It certainly is bittersweet, as I say continuously as my truth.
With attempting a removal of the nipple just before she was asleep for about two weeks, I just bit the bullet and had the conversation with her. We talked about it. I told her that this was it. And I actually meant it this time. We fed to sleep as normal but as we did so, I told her that this was her last feed until the sun came up. It was tough. Really tough. But instead of crying for hours in my arms, she cried for ten minutes - max. It was so absolutely heartbreaking. But not in the same way. I knew that I was supporting her as best I could because I was ready. The ambivalence was causing more stress. I was very present and calm with her. This is not to say that it helped her - but it helped me.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
It’s been quite a few weeks now and we are still very much within the process. I liked to reassess after 6 weeks, as per Sarah Ockwell Smith’s advice. She wakes, she asks for boob (or asks if it’s morning). At first, we had tears. But at the moment, cuddles suffice.
I have noticed a reduction in night wakings *most* nights. At first, I chose 6am as the time that was our “morning time”. But we had a few weeks of 4am wake ups that lasted until 6am. That wasn’t overly fun - especially during the initial stages. She wasn’t always upset - but it was pretty tiring. Those moments make you question just how much more *work* whipping the boob out as a useful tool really is.
I changed this personal goal of mine to 5am. We now have a feed at 5am and she goes back to sleep - sometimes for hours if my alarm doesn’t wake her - which goes off at 6am. I’ve read a lot of things about needing to be stricter than this. But I just don’t agree. We can “wean” this 5am feed later. I’m still calling this entire process a win. It has been very respectful. I’m meeting her where she’s at - not where I think she should be. I’m meeting myself where I’m at - not where I think I should be.
So, although you may have been wanting a step-by-step list, this isn’t it. This is real. Kids don’t follow the steps.
TAKE HOME MESSAGES
This is a process. It may take longer than you think. I allowed for one month or six weeks of shenanigans whereas we are now possibly well past that. I haven’t rigidly kept track.
Communication is key. My little one took quite a long time to get this. But once she got it, she GOT it. Now, all she talks about is this process. “When I wake up, I have boobie in the morning.” I keep telling her that she doesn’t actually have to wake up (haha) and that she can just sleep. But it is lovely to watch her take ownership and participate.
Night weaning is not a miracle cure-all for sleeping through the night. If your child is not developmentally ready to sleep through the night, they won’t yet - even if you’ve night weaned.
You may have picked up on this already but I don’t actually believe that one must fall asleep without a feed in order to night wean. You’ll read this everywhere. In my experience, it isn’t true. Both children have fed to sleep long after night weaning. Sleep consultants, come at me. But I think that all families are different and therefore, all night weaning/parenting/life experiences will be different.
If it’s not working right now, surrender. Remember all of the months that you have invested in nighttime parenting and feeding. Draw on your strength and the resilience that has been found in consistency. One or two more months before trying again is absolutely within you. You have it.
Keep seeing feeding to sleep in the night as a temporary tool - rather than a demon. See it in this light and it will shift things slightly for you.
Trust your gut. You’ll know. You absolutely will know what the right thing is. The trick is to listen.
I want to know - did any of this resonate with you or support your own night weaning journey? Let me know in the comments or join the conversation via Instagram and Facebook.
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