BY KIRI VASALES
It’s a feat in itself if you’ve breastfed for as long as you can – however long that may be – although there might come a time where you have to make the decision; what’s best for me as well as my babe? And if you’re at that point where you think you cannot go any longer doing what you’re doing, then it might be time to night wean.
But let me tell you, night-weaning can be a real bittersweet bitch.
You don’t want to give up completely yet you need to regain some personal space. You’ve spent months perfecting the art of breastfeeding, devoting yourself to nourishing your babe, doing the absolute best you possibly can. You’ve wallowed in the intoxicating closeness shared between you two and only you two, and then as they reach toddlerhood they start to get a little more independent, perhaps a little more demanding during the night as they enter a new growth development and still require lots of comfort and connection from you. But holy shit things can get real! This, I have to say is one of the hardest stages of raising babies (for me anyway) I have never been as sleep deprived as I have been recently. I thought it was bad at this stage when I had just one, but now during the second time around it’s been quite the challenge… to even function…
Many of you might already know how passionate I am about breastfeeding with all of its incredible and healthy benefits but I’m even more of a supporter of being happy and healthy. And the funny thing is many people don’t realise or don’t talk about how difficult breastfeeding toddlers can really be. It can take an enormous toll on us; pulling, pinching, scratching, demanding tantrums and aching back, dehydration and the lack of good quality sleep (if any sleep at all).
I think many of us would ideally like to continue for as long as we can however if it’s detrimental to our wellbeing as mothers we should definitely consider what’s best for everyone. And just like many others, you may really want to stop altogether although just don’t know how to go about it.
Here we go. I’m attempting our 1st night of night-weaning Luna🤞🏼 and going by experience i know it can be a rough couple of nights! I don’t want to give it all up completely just yet but there is definitely a stage around 18-20months old that they get so dependent on their “mummy-dummy” right? Which ultimately takes a toll on us and our sleep. I’m already exhausted just thinking about it but determined to stick through it. Breastfeeding is such a special thing to us although tired cranky mummas are not very fun. Plus, hubby and I are going away without the girls for a couple of nights soon and I want to prepare her as best as I can for my poor Mum who will be looking after them! 😜💕😳 Pic via supermum @bytheseasidedaisies ✨ #NightWeaning #NoMoreBoobieInTheNight
Everyone needs sleep. And if you’re breastfeeding a toddler, chances are it’s mainly for their comfort, which of course is still such an important reason. They are just big babies after all but seeing as they now eat proper nutritional meals they no longer depend on the breastmilk alone. Although recent studies have shown that breastmilk contains a particular sugar that is digestible only by one certain gut bacteria in humans, crucial for optimal gut health and even more reason to continue feeding as long as possible. But as our babes are growing up so rapidly into real walking talking little people, adjustments to their routine habits is something we just have to keep up with. Continuously.
So after researching for myself, speaking to lactation consultants and sleep experts as well as my own experience I’ve created a basic guide that really helped us and I’m still following on when things start to get a little out of hand and old ways start to creep their way back in.
- Talk to your toddler about it as much as possible in the lead up to get them used to the idea. They actually understand so much more than we think they do.
- There are some great storybooks dedicated to night weaning which can be the perfect start. I also found it helpful to praise her “big girl” behavior and mention how all the bigger family and friends she loves don’t have milk at nighttime anymore.
- Try to cut down breastfeeding during the daytime as well. If you aim to stick to once in the morning and once in the afternoon or after dinner it can help ease the process. Make sure you give them plenty of cuddles and attention so they still feel very comforted or they could end up wanting to feed more for the close connection with you. There’s a helpful saying “never offer, but never refuse” during the day.
- Get everyone in the house ready for a few nights of not a lot of sleep. We moved Matisse into another bedroom (or on the floor next to us in our room) so she wouldn’t be disturbed. The last thing you want is to deal with another upset child.
- You’ll know when you’re ready as this is for you just as much as it is for your toddler. So when you know that it’s time to wean, either completely or just the nights, then stick to the plan and try not to give in. It can be really rough for a couple of days, but they will be ok, and they will survive (and you will too!)
- Set a goal to have them night weaned in one week. That way you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself and if you have to give in during the first few nights its ok.
- Know and be open to the fact that it could take longer, even a month.
- Set a strict bedtime routine.
- At least during the weaning process this is SO important. I’ve never been one for sticking to routines although in this case it helps!
Dinner, bath, breastfeed (not in the bedroom and only when she demands. Don’t offer if they don’t ask), quick play or story, then bed.
This prepares them for sleep so they know what to expect and makes it easier for you to settle them if they wake without having to breastfeed. If they go to sleep on the breast they usually remember it was the last thing they did so if they wake they expect it to be there for comfort.
- Eliminate waking obstacles
- I learnt this the hard way. Make sure before you put them to bed:
- They aren’t hungry. Give them a big protein and carbohydrate packed dinner, limit afternoon snacks so they eat more for dinner. Offer them another snack before bed or milk of choice.
- They’re not thirsty. Always have a water bottle next to their bed or bottle of milk. You’ll most likely need this on hand during the night so get them used to having a sip before they go to sleep. Luna rejected any drink I gave her for the first 4 nights although she slowly got used to it. Now she’s happy with water.
- Getting them to sleep
- Know your toddler’s comforts. They all like different things, Luna loves tickles on her skin and has to be cuddling her plush puppy and I recently discovered she loves me to sing twinkle twinkle (while Matisse liked a different song) so once you’ve worked out what can get them off to sleep, make it part of the routine. Dad can step in here and sometimes it’s easier for although it’s also really important for you to be able to replace the old habit of feeding to sleep with the new one.
- We play the same bedtime playlist ever bedtime so it acts as a trigger to fall asleep.
This can be so overwhelming for the first few nights but the longer you can hold up the better. Luna woke up and screamed for the breast quite hysterically and nothing I seemed to do could calm her down. The longest I let her cry like that (in my arms) was for one hour before I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t see the point of torturing us all so I fed her back to sleep in an instant. The next night was a little better and the next night again. Note that my girls have never slept in cots. They’ve always been in big beds so she could just hop on out hence why I had to hold her. If your toddler is in a cot then you might be able to leave them in there and just try to comfort them as much as possible without picking them up. Try soothing, calming reassurance, gentle back patting or shushing. The minute you become stressed the worse they will react. Get Dad’s help here if you need it.
Sometimes they’ll even go straight back to sleep with a little pat on the bum and some shushing so hopefully this is the case for you!
- Celebrate baby steps
- Always celebrate improvements no matter what the scale (even an extra 15 minutes more sleep is a win!) Praise and reward them in the morning when they go back to sleep on their own and do a little happy dance so they remember.
- Never sweat the set-backs. Just note what happened and try again the next night. You might need to tweak the routine accordingly but remember consistency is key.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- We all know repetition becomes habit so the more consistent you are, the better.
- Obviously it’s almost impossible to be exactly consistent every single night (I know I find it hard to be!) When they catch a cold or you’re away for the weekend or you all get home very late, any of these things can throw the routine right off. Although the quicker you get them back on track again, the better.
- They will get used to it! It takes 21 days to form a new habit so hang in there and remember to look after yourself too. If you’re getting less sleep trying to night wean for a week then consider taking a break and picking it back up again in a few weeks or if possible get hubby to take over for a least a night to give you a good nights sleep and then pick up it again.
Remember every one of our babes are different and will respond to weaning differently. I know for a fact that Luna isn’t ready to give up completely yet, she still depends on her milk so much! She’s still my baby and I also know that in a few more months she’ll probably change and be ready to move on from feeding completely. So until then, love and appreciate the time you have together whilst it lasts. Selfishly bathe in that oxytocin high a little bit longer, for once it’s gone our babies will be babies no more.
To see more from Kiri Vasales head to @Bazaarmumma