Chances are you have landed right here seeking information on how to gently night wean feedings. Like most of a babies milestones weaning baby from night feedings doesn’t need to occur at a set age or weight. You will know the right time when to begin gently night weaning because you feel ‘ready now’ and it’s highly likely that time is now if you here.
It will be when the constant night wakes and broken sleep is affecting more than just your mood but your little one too. It will be when the couple of wakes was okay but now it is a lot and you are feeling like something needs to change and that it is time to gently night wean your baby as it is the right thing to do for your family.
A lot of mums hesitate on night weaning as they want to be baby led and feel that their baby must need the additional calories to sustain them in growing.
How many times have you said “I want to night wean but my baby is still smaller than others so they must be hungry and just need the additional calories through the night”? There are a lot of guides available to assist you in night weaning your baby and educating you on when they should no longer feed at night but these guides don’t know you, your child and where you are mentally at right now.
It is important to begin by assessing the baby before you consider night weaning. The questions below are applicable to you:
- Are they over 9 months of age?
- Is their weight and growth thriving?
- Are they having enough milk feeds of a day to sustain them overnight?
- What is solid portion size like?
- Are they consuming protein as well as carbs?
- Are they not interested in the most important milk feed of the day? (morning milk feed on wake up)
- Are they using the breast for nutritive sucking (feeding) or non-nutritive sucking (dummy/comfort)?
Every child is different and some will drop night feeds at 8 weeks while others not until 3 years. It really depends on your child and what is working for you both. Please don’t compare your bub to your friends as the unique differences between your baby and their baby is a reflection of why each baby is ready at a different age to night wean.
If there is something on the checklist above that hinders us from being able to night wean right now, then we will 100% work on addressing this before we begin implementing night weaning. This offers Mum and myself the reassurance that throughout the day their little one is receiving the calories and nutrients they need to sustain them throughout the night and we can be confident that we can start gently and gradually weaning down their night feeds. If a child is ticking all the above boxes and still having multiple night feeds then more then likely this is more of an emotional/physical connection that needs to be met.
There is no point starting to try and make changes unless you are 100% ready for these changes.
If we start to make changes and introduce night weaning to a baby and not commit to the changes we began it only confuses our little ones and makes the night weaning process much harder for both baby and mum as their association becomes stronger to relying on night feeding. It is important to accept this is a very emotional change for a mum – especially if it has been in the routine for quite some time then this will also be an emotional change for a baby.
Breastfeeding releases two important ‘feel good’ hormones. These hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin give you a feeling of calmness. Stopping the night feedings suddenly result in a decrease of this hormone that can leave a mother feeling emotional and teary and wanting to go back on the night weaning they set to do (consider the hormones addictive).
Night Weaning From Breast To Formula
It is important to mention if you are breastfeeding your baby and have chosen to night wean them from breast moving them to formula in the hopes of having them sleep longer (the belief is that formula is thicker and will help them sleep longer) instead of night weaning all together that this will not solve the problems you are facing with night wakes and instead could introduce more night wakes as formula is harder to digest for a breastfed baby and can lead to further disruptions.
Fed is best – if weaning from breast to bottle is what you are comfortable doing then this is what you should do. It is only if you are under the assumption that introducing a bottle of formula to an established breastfed baby to get them to sleep through the night then this is not what you should do.
Step 1: Introduce your child to a comforter
I recommend slowly conditioning your child to a comforter so that this will in time become their sleep association while night weaning rather then your breast. A comforter is sustainable longterm and does become like their little piece of home wherever they need to go, dancer, grandparents etc. It will make their ability to sleep anywhere seamless.
Introducing a comforter will take a few weeks. I suggest allowing 4 weeks for them to form an attachment to this before starting the weaning process. Comforters should be made of breathable muslin style material and handkerchief size. I recommend placing this in your child’s hand whilst feeding this will help them associate it with falling asleep and also help get your scent on it. You may even like to carry it around and sleep with it yourself before introducing it to your child, this will also help the comforter smell like you.
Step 2: Introduce white noise
White noise would have to be one of my favourite sleep associations and it really does make a child’s ability to sleep longer periods and consolidate sleep cycles much easier. I recommend a consistent sound like rain. When introducing white noise, please keep in mind it does have to be quite loud to be effective, around the level of a running shower. I would encourage you to turn your white noise on as part of your wind down routine (I will take more about this below) and use it continuously for the duration of sleep.
Why is it so effective? Not only does it help to act as a buffer for the noises that go on in our houses, siblings, dogs barking, phones ringing etc. It also helps a child feel comfortable in their environment. If we start the white noise during our wind down, our little one will fall asleep hearing this sound and then when they transition between sleep cycles they will recognise the same sound they had heard and this will help reassure them as they transition into another sleep cycle.
Step 3: Implement a consistent wind down routine
Even if you are feeding to sleep, a wind down routine is really important. By creating a wind down ritual and introducing this into their day, it will prompt your little one to know what is happening and what will happen next which will work well with night weaning. It does not need to be long – just something as simple as going into their room, turning on the white noise, getting into their sleep bag, having a story or song and saying your usual goodnight phrase.
If your child is old enough to understand, it may also help at this point, when saying goodnight to them, also say that boobies or bottle are going to bed too and say goodnight.
When done repeatedly, this will all be enough to naturally prepare your bub for sleep. This wind down should be done approximately 10mins before being placed into the cot. Overtime, this wind down will become reassuring for your little one and you will more than likely be able to start feeding before the wind down and placing them into the cot awake and settling using your voice and touch.
Step 4: Set yourself rules
I would also try and set yourself some realistic feed times overnight. Feeding 4 hourly is more then realistic for a baby who meets all the above criteria so I usually recommend using this as your guide overnight. For instance feed your little one before they go to bed at 6.30pm, then the next feed would be 10.30pm and 2.30am if they woke. We wouldn’t actively wake them for these feeds, more use these as a marker to help put a plan in place. I find with a plan we have a more likely to be consistent. If they were to wake earlier then the 4 hour mark, I suggest resettling with their comforter, voice and touch. Yes your little one may put up a fight, but I promise after 2-3 nights of consistency you will see improvements.
These 4 steps are really important steps to implement and be consistent with for a good few weeks before you start your night weaning (if you want the process to be as seamless as possible).
Once your comfortable with how your little one is is responding to the above 4 steps and feel they are starting to associate this with sleep it is time to move onto the night weaning.
Step 1: Reduce feed length
Once your little on is established on just the 1-2 night feeds I suggest reducing down the time at the breast or bottle. We do this by reducing down the time at the breast by 2 minutes every night or 30mls of formula every night. This process not only helps your little one gradually regulate their calories from night to day, it also gives you reassurance they aren’t being deprived of substantial calories overnight.
Step 2: Replace feed with finger (read to understand)
Feed your child as usual, when you notice they are starting to slow down with the sucking and swallowing and the sucking is becoming more of a non-nutritive suck and its apparent they are falling asleep, quickly take your boob or bottle out of their mouth and leave your finger in for a minute or 2. Gently press down slightly to apply a little pressure to their bottom lip also.
Once your little one is in a nice deep phase of sleep (you will notice their little eyes moving under their eyelids) you can remove your thumb from their mouth and place it back on the bottom lip so their is a small amount of pressure (just enough so they feel you and are still there). Once you are confident they are asleep you can place them down with their comforter nice and snug next to them (ideally it should still be in their hand).
Step 3: Use Patting/Shushing to keep settled in cot
If you need to apply a little patting an shushing when placing them into their cot because they are stirring then please do. After a few days (3-5) of doing this try to place your child into the cot in a light phase of sleep and use your shushing and patting to settle.
Following implementation of the above three steps keep consistent and after 3-5 days we can move onto removing them from the breast or bottle less and less drowsy. Do be mindful that when we try to wean our little ones there will be periods that your little one may not settle was quickly and as easy as they normally would have with a quick feed and back to sleep.
Your baby will most likely cry but we are NOT in anyway letting them cry it out. You will be with your baby the entire process, guiding them and teaching them a new way to fall back asleep. They will in no way feel unloved or neglected.
It will seem harder before it gets easier when you begin night weaning but I can also promise you, that with a consistent approach you will achieve your desired outcome and you and your little one will be much more rested after successfully following this gentle approach to night weaning baby..
This process will take time, patience and consistency.
If you need my assistance through the process to tailor a plan to your personal circumstances consider a phone consult here.