Are you ready to Night Wean?
Deciding to Night Wean at any age can be emotional for both mum and baby
That love/hate relationship with getting up at 3am to nurse or warm a bottle is something all mums can relate to. Dragging our exhausted bodies into the nursery, desperate for more sleep, but then that feeling off a warm baby snuggled in your arms, there is something kind of addictive about that!
There is no right or wrong way to night wean, and there is no perfect age to night wean. We know that babies under 6 months usually require a night feed, so we don’t encourage night weaning before 6 months.
But after 6 months it can be quite individual as to whether your baby is ready to night wean, and whether you as the parent is ready! As with all things parenting related, there is no point starting out on a journey of change if you are not ready for that change, as this leads to inconsistent reinforcement, which we try to avoid in all parenting situations.
Some signs your baby is ready to Night Wean
Your baby is over 6 months old
Your baby is thriving in their weight and growth
Your baby has 4-6 breast or formula feeds a day (7am-7pm)
Your baby is NOT hungry or interested in their first feed of the day
Your baby has started solids and is having 1-2 meals a day
Your baby has started on protein (meat)
Your baby can self settle to sleep, and re-settle back to sleep
This list isn’t conclusive, but a guide for you if you are thinking about night weaning. Some babies will simply start to sleep all night and naturally night wean, this is another good sign.
All babies are different and your baby might meet this criteria at 6.5 months, but your best friends baby not until 9 months old, or even 12 months for someone else.
Some times we need to work on the self settling and re-settling skills as we work on night weaning as parents can’t re-settle without feeding. This is where a sleep consultant can be hugely beneficial.
Try not to compare your baby to everyone else’s, and just look through the lists and have a think about your baby as an individual.
What about Mum, are you ready?
When you do decide to night wean, you lose the breast-feeding hormones overnight. These hormones are Prolactin and Oxytocin.
Prolactin is produced as you breastfeed, its production also brings a feeling of well-being, calmness and relation, (helping you get back to sleep after a night feed). You won’t have this hormone present when you try to get back to sleep after re-settling during night weaning.
Oxytocin is also released as you breastfeed day and night, and it is a hormone commonly referred to as the love hormone, the decrease in both the prolactin and oxytocin when you drop night feeds can negatively impact your mood for a few days or a week as your body adjusts.
Some mothers feel quite tearful, or struggle emotionally with this decrease in hormones, which in turn makes them question the thoughts around night weaning. If you “cold turkey”cut all night feeds, you will likely notice this change more than if you gradually cut the feeds down over a few days.
Dropping night feeds can also mean encouraging your baby to re-settle themselves if they have previously been relying on your breast or bottle to get back to sleep. This can be stressful or at the least difficult, especially at 1am when you are exhausted and just want to get back to sleep ASAP! This is why it is so important to be committed and completely ready to night wean when you decide to start.
Some other mum’s won’t feel ready to night wean even though their baby is “ready”, as they are back at work, and the night feeding allows them to continue that quiet bonding time. This is 100% ok and you will know when YOU are ready to drop those night feeds.
How do you Night Wean?
Depending on how old your baby is, and how many feeds a night they have, and whether its breast or bottle, you have a few choices.
You can gradually reduce down the number of breastfeeds you offer each night, re-settling at the wake ups where you don’t want to feed. This can be were a sleep consultant can be useful, as we can help you come up with a strategy to re-settle your baby as they are learning to go back to sleep without a feed. This doesn’t mean we leave them to cry it out.
If you are bottle feeding, you can reduce down the volume of each bottle you are offering, and then re-settle your baby if they continue to wake after the bottles have been reduced to less than 50ml. Again if you need help with the re-settling and teaching your baby to go back to sleep without a bottle, we can help with this.
If your baby is only having 1 feed a night whether its breast or bottle, you could consider cutting it cold turkey and re-settling your baby, and teaching them to go back to sleep without a feed.
Just be careful when ever you are working on re-settling without a feed, it can be tempting to try to get your baby back to sleep as quickly as possible, which can in turn create new sleep props which have to be changed. Examples of accidental sleep props I see after night weaning is rocking to sleep, holding to sleep, and offering bottles of water. Any re-settling needs to be done with the mindset of how you can progressively do less and less in order to encourage your baby to put them selves back to sleep on their own once they are ready.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have helped thousands of parents night wean without cry it out, and we are all mum's ourselves, we understand the emotional implications of night weaning.
View our 3-8 month sleep and feed guides which contain comprehensive night weaning programs and gentle sleep strategies.
What about Night Weaning a Toddler?
So you still feed your toddler at night….. you’re not alone, and don’t panic. If you weren’t ready to night wean until now, that’s cool we are all different.
The first thing to think about if you want to night wean your toddler is how they fall asleep at bed time. If they rely on the breast or bottle at bed time to go to sleep, this is the first place for us to work on change. There is huge physiological drive to sleep at bed time which makes this process successful quickly. I am not suggesting you cut this feed altogether, but that your toddler is awake after this feed, you could brush their teeth in their bedroom, or read a story after the feed, then settle your toddler to sleep without feeding. This creates a disassociation between feeding and sleeping, which in some cases means the toddlers quickly night wean with no more intervention from mum or dad.
But many toddlers will still wake for a feed through the night. Assuming your toddler is thriving and healthy we can choose to only offer nursing as comfort as we teach your toddler to settle in another way without a full feed, or we can have another parent settle your toddler back to sleep so nursing isn’t even an option.
The goals when night weaning a toddler is to be clear with them and verbally explain that there will be no more night feeds, only milk during the day, and that you will support them through this big change.
If you need help with the settling without feeding, click the link below and book a chat with our team, we have helped thousands of toddlers night wean without cry it out.