Nightweaning is the term used to describe ceasing nursing your baby through the night. Although many parenting “experts” say that 6 month old babies don’t need sustenance through the night, this is largely untrue. It is now generally accepted that children under the age of 1 should continue to receive milk during the night, if they want it.
Of course, when and if you choose to nightwean is completely your choice. If you are happy nursing through the night, then by all means you should continue to do so until your child outgrows the need (or until you grow tiresome of it!). However, some women find the night-time demands of their toddlers to be too much to handle, and so decide to cut down (or completely stop) feeding through the night.
Of course, we want to make this transition as easily and gently as possible. Night time can be a strange time for little ones; without the distractions that daylight hours bring, they will be purely focused on the num-num’s and probably pretty reluctant to give them up. There are plenty of gentle ways to encourage them, and if your child is moving towards being ready to nightwean, they will be more receptive of these methods. Many mums will start the process of nightweaning, and if it becomes clear that the babe just isn’t ready, they will halt it and try again another time.
Offering an Alternative
Make sure you have a beaker or cup of water by the bedside for your little one. They will find the transition easier if they have something to replace it with. However, very few toddlers will be fobbed off with a cup of water when they want lovely close snuggles and mummy milk! A good way to begin the transition is to offer a drink of water alongside nursing; either before or after, or both. Then they will start to see having a few sips of water as a normal night time habit. Then, as time goes on, you can try replacing one nursing session with a drink of water alongside big cuddles, or encouraging them to feed for less time than usual and finish off/start with a drink of water. Try to avoid offering drinks other than water throughout the night, as it’s not great for dental health.
Making the Breast Unavailable
If you are determined to start cutting out feeds during the night straight away, and you think your child is emotionally ready to do so, make sure that your boobs aren’t overly available to them. This means wearing high-necked tops and a good bra in bed if you are co-sleeping. They will likely not take to this very well. Depending on your child, they may be comforted by lots of big cuddles and verbal reassurances when they are unable to feed. Some children may adjust better by sleeping on daddy’s side of the bed, rather than mummy’s.
Even young toddlers have a pretty good understanding of things that are said to them (and in their presence!). It’s worth starting to talk about the process of nightweaning in advance of starting to do it. If your child is older, you can have talks with them about what nursing in the night means to them, and why they don’t really need to do it in the night any more. Parents feel very differently when it comes to little white lies, and you shouldn’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with, but some parents I know have found it very useful to tell their nursing toddlers that they don’t have very much milk left in the night-time any more — this can be particularly helpful if you are trying to cut down the frequency or intensity of night-time nursing.
Offer a Comforter
Some children take really well to a special cuddly toy or blanket as an alternative to night-time nursing. You can explain to them that it’s their special big boy/big girl toy that they get to snuggle now they aren’t having milk in the night any more. Granted, some kids won’t be interested, but it’s always worth a try. Let them pick something special for themselves (make sure it’s safe for them) and ensure you get one or two extra as a back-up, should they decide they cannot live without their comforter!
It’s important to remember that these things take time. The child has had access to the breast for their entire life, and now they have to deal with giving it up through the night. With patience, love and lots of understanding, you will both get through it.