Night Feeds…and How We Stopped

A week or so ago, for World Breastfeeding Week, I posted my breastfeeding story.  I mentioned in that post that when we decided to night wean, Ian decided to stop nursing completely, and I continued pumping for a month before stopping all together and switching to formula.

I got a few questions asking how exactly we went about night weaning.  So, here it is- my story about Ian’s sleep habits, our attempts to stop night time feeds, and our eventual success.  It may not be a model you want to follow, but it is honest and real, and sometimes that’s just as useful.

When Ian was an infant, he was a great nurser and napper.  He would nurse on demand every few hours, eat for a solid 30 minutes plus each time, and nap every few hours.  Demand feeding was great for us, and it led to some really sound stints of sleeping.  Actually, we were shocked when at 8 weeks, Ian slept through the night for the first time.  And we were even more shocked when that lasted for 2 weeks!  He got his fill before bed (sometime around 8pm), and didn’t rouse to eat again until 7 or 8am.  We were amazed. 

But then things changed.  I had to go back to work, Ian had to start daycare, and demand feeding had to come to an end.  We still demand fed at night, but during the day, he was on more of a schedule for feeding.  I’m not sure if he got annoyed about the schedule, or if having a schedule meant that he ate less during the day, or if it was just a total coincidence…but the same week Ian started daycare, he stopped sleeping through the night.

We were bummed, but not all that surprised.  After all, we’d never dreamed or imagined our 10 week old baby would sleep soundly all night long.  And we didn’t know anyone else who had a baby this age sleeping all night.  So we sucked it up and dealt with the fact that he woke twice a night to eat.

Somewhere around 5 or 6 months, things changed again.  Instead of waking at midnight and 4am, Ian was waking just once- at about 2:30am.  This was a welcome change!  It meant two good sleeping periods, and so I was slightly less dead the next day at work. 

At about 8 months, Jon started to express frustration that Ian wasn’t sleeping through the night.  He raised the issue to the pediatrician, who wasn’t too concerned, but did indicate that Ian probably should be sleeping through the night soon.  [I want to take this opportunity to note that I think the “sleeping through the night” term used by doctors is a total misnomer… their definition is midnight to 5am. I have NO IDEA who ever thought that was “through the night”, and that person should be smacked.  That’s not my definition of sleeping through the night…I am talking an actual full night- going to sleep at bedtime and staying  asleep until it was time to get up in the morning]

Anyway, Jon was really stuck on the fact that Ian was waking up once and encouraged me to try to avoid feeding him in the middle of the night.  HA.  Way easier said than done.  His recommendation was to attempt to let him cry (uh, that didn’t work) or else go in there and reassure him without offering to nurse (again, that failed).  Since I was the one getting up and tending to Ian (since I was nursing and we didn’t use our pumped milk overnight- we saved it for daycare), I was a little less apt to try weaning; it was faster to just feed him for 5 minutes and crawl back into bed than to battle it out for 30 minutes or more.  However, I was ready to have him sleep all night…especially since I strongly suspected he wasn’t hungry when he woke up (a conclusion I formed after 2 or more weeks of night nursing lasting less than 5 minutes; I had a feeling he was just waking and nursing out of habit).

After a week or more of trying, and failing, to avoid nursing at night, I snapped at my husband one morning- “IF HE CRIES TONIGHT, YOU ARE GOING IN THERE!”  Surprised, but not willing to provoke the beast further, Jon agreed.

That night, as expected, Ian woke up around 2:30am.  I rolled over, poked Jon, and made him get out of bed and take care of Ian.  He grunted and groaned, but eventually slithered out of bed and plodded across the hall into Ian’s room.  I’m not really sure what he did when he got in there (if he picked him up or just rubbed his back until he fell back asleep or something else completely), but within 10 minutes, Ian was done crying and was sound asleep.  We waited for him to wake again, but he didn’t.  He slept until it was time to get up the next morning.

And the next night, he didn’t wake up once.  He slept all night long- the real “sleeping through the night” that we had been hoping to achieve.  And this repeated the next night.  And the next.  Somehow, miraculously, we had done it… Ian had done it.  And just like that, he was a 12 hour sleeper in time for his 9 month birthday.

As a disclaimer, I’m sure there were a lot of factors at play here.  For one, Ian had to be developmentally ready for this milestone.  He may have been ready for as much as a month or two.  Or maybe our timing was just PERFECT and he was only more recently ready.  We’ll never really know.  For another, I have no doubt that sending Jon into Ian’s bedroom that night was crucial.  Ian was so used to having me come into the room, grab him, plop down in the chair, and start nursing, that Jon must have been a slightly confusing disruption.  Something different enough to signify that things were changing; that nursing at night was over.  Because I’ll never really know what exactly clicked and resulted in a successful night weaning, I don’t want to mislead anyone… all kids are different, and our experience and situation is probably totally unique and different.  If you’ve been attempting to night wean for a while- take heart!  When your kid is ready, it will happen.  And I send all my well wishes and encouragement your way… this parenting thing is tough!

I also want to add that all this had the unintended side-effect of ending our nursing relationship completely.  The day after Jon tended to Ian at night, I couldn’t get Ian to nurse, period.  He wanted nothing to do with nursing.  He still wanted breastmilk, but he didn’t want it from me.  He was perfectly happy to get it from his bottle (I’m not going to lie- this hurt a little…it’s quite an odd and crushing experience to have your baby refuse you in this way).  Whether Ian was just being petulant initially or whether he truly was done with nursing, I’m not sure.  But regardless, he never nursed again.  Now I don’t want to insinuate that this will be typical of everyone who night weans.  I just want to share this piece of information in case it happens to anyone else- I don’t want you to be surprised, as I was, at this turn of events.  It can be surprisingly hard to endure, especially if you aren’t expecting it.

3 thoughts on “Night Feeds…and How We Stopped

  1. Mary Harrison says:

    When my first decided to wean it was also abrupt – and painful – since I was no good at pumping or expressing. Also happened at 9 months. Also surprising and sad. Nursing is such a special closeness; a memory I still treasure.

    • Fortunately, pumps have come a long way since you had little ones…but I still wouldn’t say pumping was pleasant or enjoyable. I also treasure my nursing memories and am glad we got to do it as long as we did!

  2. Dory says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I am so interested in hearing stories of how to night wean, and I’m amazed at how you were able to successfully do it! David and Audrey will be 9 months this Friday… maybe this is the week. 🙂

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