Why are we night weaning?
I don’t like being squeezed into the middle of a double bed. I don’t like being perpetually touched out. I don’t like that I’m not free to decide how I want to position my body in sleep. I don’t like the nights where he wants to stay latched constantly. I don’t like the distraction of Rory’s preferred method of settling – to fiddle with my hair or to pick at a spot. I don’t like the mornings when it takes a good five minutes before I can unlock my back and move. I don’t like the side effects of years of luteal deficient cycles.
We are night weaning a toddler. Rory is two and a quarter, and, after five years of back to back pregnancies/breastfeeding/children who don’t sleep at night, I feel that it is time.
Before we made the change, he’d pretty much been allowed to feed on tap at night (unless I’d been out drinking) since he was born. I couldn’t tell you exactly how much he fed on any given night, but I had noticed that over the previous half a year he’d gone from feeding every couple of hours, to two or three pretty predictable wake ups per night. Towards the end of that time period, he’d started settling in a different way – he would latch off, roll over onto his other side and pull my arm over him into a cuddle.
This last part was key – most times, he wasn’t settling on the breast any more, so I knew he was ready for some gentle encouragement to resettle without milk at all. I felt he was ready and there would be relatively little distress caused, I decided to go cold-turkey on Rory’s night feeds.
My experience with Arlo was that the morning and bedtime feeds, being such a set part of our routine, were the hardest to drop. In light of that, with Rory I dropped those feeds a long time ago, so that was never a hurdle in night weaning him.
Timing was also very important in our decision to night wean Rory. We embarked on night weaning over the summer holidays, so we wouldn’t have the extra knackeredness of having to be somewhere early the next day. We could have lazy mornings and adjust our routine accordingly.
The planning stage
After two years of my boobs being my number one parenting solution in most situations, I was more than daunted by the prospect of going completely cold turkey at night time. To be honest, I couldn’t even fathom how it would work. I needed to go in with a game plan, or else the whole thing would crumble at my first inkling of stress or doubt.
I read quite a lot on the subject. (The most helpful thing by far that I’ve ever ever read on night weaning and weaning a toddler or older child is this from IBCLC Emma Pickett). I also re-read the Dr Jay Gordon night weaning method, and any other blogger’s experiences that I could find. Everyone does things slightly differently, but nevertheless it helped to read about a line of progress and any challenges encountered.
Initially, I thought the most effective way to night wean would be to hand over night time duties to Sam for a couple of weeks. We did similar with Arlo, which encouraged him to start sleeping through. But reading the article mentioned above entirely changed my mind on that one. It makes the very good point that teaching your child to settle in an entirely new way, whilst also suddenly taking away the person they are used to being with, will only cause more distress and confusion. Whereas Arlo wasn’t fussy, Rory has always only wanted me to settle him, and gets near-hysterical when it’s not me.
On top of this, it was important for me to know I could deal with it by myself. I didn’t want to rely on Sam, as that would cause extra stress during the weeks when he isn’t around. In all honesty, forming a reliance on other people stresses me out, I have to know I can cope by myself. So, it had to be down to me, I had to find my own method.
I made a plan that combined bits of different methods, and some of my own. A plan that I could be happy with, and that I knew Rory would be most open to.
What was our night weaning method?
Because Rory is two, and because of his previous signs of readiness, I decided to go completely cold turkey with the night feeds. It didn’t seem necessary to draw out the process with a slow withdrawal – we’d kind of been doing that naturally over the last few months anyway, and knowing Rory, I thought that would be more confusing for him.
When he woke, I’d get him from his cot and lie him in bed next to me. I know he still likes to be close to me, even if he’s not having milk, and the goal for the moment was just to stop with the feeds. We’d attempt to get him sleeping for longer in his own bed at a later stage.
When we started night weaning, he would cry when he realised he wasn’t getting any milk. He would get up and angrily stomp around my bedroom for ten minutes. When I next offered my arms to him, he would usually relent and snuggle back down in an attempt to sleep. The first five or so nights, he would have trouble drifting back off to sleep, so we’d have these repeated cycles of crying, stomping, and cuddling, until he was tired out. It took around an hour and a half per wake up.
I was probably the calmest I’ve ever been at night time whilst all this was going on. I knew I had to be. If I got stressed or fed up, Rory’s mood would escalate and the whole situation would become worse.
After a while, Rory began to settle himself a lot more easily, and the wake-ups were now just 20 minutes maximum. Our chances of getting him back to sleep in his cot after his first wake up increased by 100% Where there was no chance before, Rory was now deciding to let Sam walk him around his room with no arguments. Progress.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Rory had completely accepted that there was to be no more milk at night. At the time, this adjustment period felt incredibly slow, but looking back it really wasn’t that longwinded at all. I think when you are tired and you can’t yet see the end results, things can feel frustrating. Rory was now waking up, coming to lie next to me in bed, and falling straight back to sleep most times.
I did a day-by-day vlog of those two weeks, which you can watch here:
My vlog ends on a not-entirely-positive note, as one month later, Rory was still waking just as many times as he used to before we embarked on night weaning.
However, I may have been a little hasty in finishing that video, as a couple of days later, he slept through the entire night from 7pm – 6am. It was completely random, we hadn’t done anything differently, apart from introducing his new bed a couple of days earlier. He’s done a couple more all-nighters since, but he still mostly wakes once or twice per night. The good thing is that he is spending a lot more time in his new bed, and is open to Sam or me settling him, rather than it having to be me ALL THE TIME.
My cycle has increased by five days, taking me close to a ‘normal’ 28 day cycle, and hopefully balancing my hormones a little bit more. I have also cut down on Rory’s day time feeds so he now has just one feed a day, usually mid morning or mid afternoon. He will occasionally ask for extra feeds when he’s tired, but most days he doesn’t even ask. It seems he’s accepted the new rules fairly easily.
Now that Rory has a single bed that is big enough for me to climb in with him, the next stage of the plan is to settle him in his own bed rather than carrying him through to my bed when he wakes. My optimistic thinking being that the more time he spends in his own bed, the more he gets used to sleeping there – hopefully it will become the new habit.
I have more space in my bed, I’m getting a better quality of sleep. Our new night time routine definitely works a lot better for everyone concerned, and that it happened with no distress shows that it really was the right time.
It’s a weird one, talking about co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding. I tend to focus on the challenges, because the rest of the time there really isn’t much to mention. But these two things really have been my saviour, so remember to bear that in mind for when I get a bit moany and you start thinking “Why on earth would you want to do that?! It sounds like such a hassle”.
Recently I was ranting to Sam about how little time I’ve spent not breastfeeding, about how long I’ve had broken sleep for, and the daunting prospect of continuing that for another few years. Sam’s response was, “But really, you do love it though”.
I’ve thought about that statement a lot. Because I don’t really feel that I do love it. Not all of it. Certainly not the breastfeeding or the broken sleep. But I do love being physically close to my children when they are small. I do love snuggling up to Rory’s warm, sleeping body, inhaling his smell. There’s no clear cut answer. It’s what I’ve always done. Sometimes I wouldn’t have it any other way, sometimes I wish I had it any other way.
On a good night though, or in a big enough bed, co-sleeping is wonderful, and I know I will miss it.