There's no question about it, nursing a toddler is wonderful. It creates a beautiful bond between a mother and child, and it helps ease oh-so-many of those little person woes. For mothers whose toddlers wake up frequently at night to nurse, it can also be exhausting. At some point in the toddler nursing relationship, a mother may wish to night wean her child. It is for this mother that this book was written. This book will help a mother teach her child - through beautiful words and illustrations - that s/he should nurse during the day, and sleep at night.
Toddlers who wake at night to nurse are typically incredibly attached to nursing; moreover, to the comfort and love that they get from mother while nursing at the breast. Weaning before a child is ready can cause a great deal of fear, sadness and anxiety in a little person. Thus, night weaning - like any weaning from breastfeeding - needs to be done very gently, and gradually, and with the utmost compassion and love.
Here are some tips to help you gently night wean your little one:
Considerations prior to night weaning:
1. Make sure YOU are really ready to night wean. Night weaning a toddler can be emotionally and physically challenging for you. You will need to be able to compassionately handle your child's emotions when he wakes at night to nurse and you tell him he needs to wait until morning. Unless you are ready inside to go through with the night weaning, it will be very difficult; you'll find it easier to nurse than deal with your child's emotions, and your child will sense that you're not serious about the night weaning.
2. Make sure your child is ready to night wean. Babies should not be night weaned. Babies need the nutrition from your milk, and are too young to understand limitations being placed on their ability to nurse. Especially in the early days, you need to nurse on demand to keep up your milk supply. Toddlers, especially older toddlers, have at least some language skills, and thus can better understand what a mother is communicating. Using the technique below, give night weaning a try on your toddler. If s/he reacts with outrage (hitting, screaming, etc.) s/he is clearly not ready to be night weaned. Make another attempt to night wean in a couple of months.
A few weeks prior to night weaning:
3. Have lots of conversations with your toddler about the night weaning concept. Tell him or her how you are feeling, e.g. that you are so tired and that you would like him or her to stop nursing during the night so you can have lots of energy during the day to play. Talk to your child about night/dark and day/light. Read him or her Nursies When the Sun Shines; feel free to replace the word "nursies" in the book for whatever you call nursing in your family. Talk to him about the concepts in the book: nursing is for day time when the sun comes up. When the sun goes down and it's dark, then it is time to sleep. When you talk, use pantomime. At night before bed, point out the window and say "it's dark.. it's night time - it's time for sleep!" Pantomime sleep (close your eyes and lay down). When s/he wakes up in the morning, point out the window and say "it's daytime! see the sun? It's time for nursies!" During this time, you would continue to nurse on demand at night.
When you're ready to night wean:
4. Have the conversation about night weaning as usual, but this time make clear that tonight's the night. Let him or her know that when s/he wakes up at night tonight, the nursies will be sleeping, and that they'll wake up in the morning. Make sure to wear a top that is not nursing friendly and easy for a child to lift up. Have a sippy cup of water near by.
When your toddler wakes to nurse, point out the window and tell him or her that it's dark out, that nursies are sleeping, that s/he needs to go back to sleep. Tell him or her that you will hold her and give her lots of kisses instead, and then give her those hugs and kisses and cuddles. Tell her you love her lots. Tell her she can have water if she's thirsty and offer her the sippy cup. If your child is developmentally ready to night wean, she will probably fuss or even cry in your arms for a few minutes, and then calm down and soon go back to sleep. Do the same thing each time she wakes. When she wakes up and it's daylight, make the first morning nursing a big occasion. Show her how excited you are that it's day time and it's now time for nursing.
The Nights Following:
Continue having the before bed conversation as above, and when she wakes at night, continue to give her love and cuddles in lieu of nursing. Your child may continue to wake and fuss a bit for a week or two after you night weaned. Eventually, however, night waking to nurse should be greatly reduced or even eliminated.
You may want to make an exception and allow night nursing when your toddler is ill. They need extra love and comfort, as well as the antibodies in your milk when they're not feeling well. If you do this, though, do make sure to let them know that you're only nursing at night because she's ill.