Weaning from nighttime breastfeeding… the excruciating decision

I have loved breastfeeding. Avery has loved it. We have had such a lucky go of it. I always imagined I’d continue on-demand breastfeeding until Avery self-weaned. I was prepared to continue beyond her second birthday. But here I am, with a 15 month old, starting down the path of slowly weaning. For now I intend to keep 3 nursing sessions a day – wake up, nap time, and bedtime. But everything else is coming to an end.

The biggest influence was a combination of trying to protect my wife’s feelings (hear me out) and a hope that weaning would improve sleep.

Protecting my wife’s feelings is a complicated issue. My wife supports breastfeeding. She understands its benefits to the baby – to a point. She understands it as having nutritional benefits, but doesn’t agree with using it for comfort beyond a certain age. That age has turned out to be 1 year. She’s a big proponent of teaching independence.

However, it’s more than just my wife’s opinions at play here. It’s her emotions. It’s the fact that she struggles to feel like an equal parent. And because that is such a sensitive subject in families like ours – where one parent is genetically related and another is not – I feel the need to adjust my natural inclinations for mother-baby bonding and open up our bond to include my wife. I need to take some responsibility for bringing my wife into the loop, and for us, at this point in time, that means reducing MY importance as a parent over and above my wife. The only way I can think to do this is to slowly start the weaning process.

This whole idea came about because of night time routines. My wife wants to help out when Avery wakes a thousand times a night, but Avery would hit her in the face and scream and call for mama (me). She knew that as soon as I entered the room she’d get to nurse back to sleep. I was a human pacifier. I was ok with that. But I was preventing my wife from being able to pacify her.

More than that, I was exhausted and NEEDED my wife’s help at night. For the last 3 weeks I had felt nauseous from exhaustion to the point of not being able to eat dinner. Some days I’d just lay on the floor while Avery climbed on me and I’d feel like such a useless parent. I knew things needed to change. I had hoped they’d change on their own, but I couldn’t wait it out any longer. While it used to seem attainable to get up all night with Avery until she figured out how to sleep on her own at 2, or even 2 1/2 years old, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of being this exhausted for that much longer.

So my wife and I came up with a plan. It’s a gentle sleep training method that works for both of us – hopefully all three of us. Phase one is to eliminate nighttime feeds, cold turkey. I will still nurse her to sleep at bedtime and nurse her during morning cuddles in our bed anytime after 5am. I am NOT ready to completely wean. These feeds are very important to me.

My wife will take wake up’s up till 1am, I will take 1 to 5am. I will wear a crew neck shirt (wish I owned a turtle neck right now…). We will rock her back to sleep. No milk. We will offer her water if she is persistently asking for milk.

Phase two is about teaching her to fall asleep on her own, no rocking. I’m not ready to get into that yet. It’s too overwhelming. But this is our starting point. My hope is that she’ll have less reason to call us in when she wakes when she knows she won’t get milk.

Just as I documented the floor mattress adventure in a daily log, I’ll document the night weaning process here for anyone who wants to follow along (and offer support!).

At the time of publishing this we’ve already completed one night of this new program. I’m delaying posts by a day or two so I have time to process everything.

8 thoughts on “Weaning from nighttime breastfeeding… the excruciating decision”

  1. I night weaned Ansel at 14 months, and he basically started sleeping completely through the night as soon as I did. It took him 2-3 nights that were a little rough, but after it was amazing. However, we weren’t and never had Co slept… And I have heard that can make things harder. In any case, in sending you lots of love and strength and peace.

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    1. Thank you! Avery only bed shares now when she’s really sick, so it is definitely easier to keep the boob from her at night when it’s in a different room. I am soooo hoping our experience is similar to yours!

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  2. Good luck!! And well done. You have thought this out so sweetly and considerate. I’m part of the “gentle sleep training” brigade. We co-sleep and i gave myself a huge hi 5 the other day because i finally stopped having to rock Z to sleep (he’s 17 months lol). Small victories! You’ve got this x

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  3. I weaned my son at 19 months. If I were to point the easiest to wean, it was the night time routine where I nursed him to sleep.
    Since I nursed him to sleep feeding, he expected me to be there all night, which would result in tears and in the end, I would succumb. What we did in stead was I shifted out to another bedroom (We co slept), my husband took over night times(perfect time to start is the weekend- friday night). It was rough for 4 days, but he just realized mom is not going to give in to my demands and as soon as he woke up in the morning, I would nurse him (around 5 am). My husband had it rough for the few days, sleepless and exhausted , but hey, I did that for 18 months! so he can do it for 1 week 🙂
    Also, polo shirt, crew shirt or jute sack! no difference. Babies can smell boobies and they got the nose of a blood hound. Its going to take you a lot more strength to say No than just changing the style of your shirt.

    Good luck! Welcome to a nights sleep. it feels amazing…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am weaning my 23 month old right now, and also documenting daily on my blog. Like you I Nurse 3x a day. I have cut out the morning nursing sessions first. I am dreading weaning him from nursing during the night. It is so hard! Also I have no skills at putting him to sleep with out nursing him. He expects it from me. I never knew weaning would be so difficult. I like the tips you gave and will try to rock him to sleep and offer water when he wakes during the night. Best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck to you! Even with the rocking as a tool for us, it’s soooo much harder than just nursing back to sleep! Luckily it worked super well for us. The one time a night she still wakes (usually early evening or at 4am) it take almost an hour of back breaking rocking to get her back to sleep. Night weaning is a big decision. I hope it goes as well for you!

      Liked by 1 person

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