The first thing that I want to say about night-weaning, is that I don’t even try it until 2 years old. This is because it is a priority for me to nurse until at least 2 years, and I worry that night-weaning might lead to a lower milk supply and/or premature weaning, and for me that is not something that I am willing to risk before 2 years. Besides that, night-weaning is a lot more effort than night-nursing while co-sleeping.
Though controlled crying methods of night-weaning/sleep-training seem to work for some people, and fairly quickly, this is not a strategy that I am willing to try. I am convinced that gentle, no-cry solutions also work, just more slowly. A lot of folks in my circle like to try Dr. Jay Gordon’s night-weaning method, which involves some crying, but importantly, no crying alone. One of the things I really took from Jay Gordon’s method though, was that he repeatedly says that if at any point in time you feel in your gut that the time isn’t right, then just stop.
I half-heartedly tried to night-wean Munchkin a few times before it actually worked. If she really screamed, I always just gave up and nursed her anyway. It just wasn’t worth it to me. I tried again when she was 27 months old, and she accepted it pretty easily then. I think that’s just when she was ready. I also think It helped a lot that she was old enough to really understand what I was telling her. And I also suspect that her willingness to cut down was also due to my pregnancy.
What I did was start by not letting her fall asleep nursing, but I would still let her nurse if she woke up. The way I accomplished this was if she wanted to nurse in the night, I would let her, BUT she had to stand up to nurse! I would stand next to the bed facing her and she would stand on the bed, which put her just at boob height to nurse. She could nurse as long as she wanted, but she had to stand up. Eventually, it was just too much trouble for her because she was too tired, so she dropped and went back to sleep. This way she wasn’t falling asleep latched on anymore. It did mean that I got less sleep while we were doing this, because I couldn’t just roll over and fall back asleep, but I never expected otherwise of night-weaning.
Just doing that cut her down to only 2 nursings in the night (which was an improvement – believe me!). After we got that down, I started trying to delay her. Just telling her that we would nurse a little bit later got her down to nursing only once in the night. Then I eliminated the last nursing by saying that we would nurse in the morning. When Munchkin would wake up I just told her that the “na-nas” were sleeping. She might complain for about a minute and then she would lay back down and go back to sleep. After 3 nights, she wasn’t even asking anymore, and that was that! After that, she still liked to sleep while holding my nipple in her hand instead of her mouth, but she was night-weaned.
Another point I want to make, is that night-weaning did reduce her night-waking, but it did not eliminate it. She would just wake up for different reasons. Until night-weaning, Munchkin had very rarely asked to go potty in the night and had just held it until the morning. Soon after night-weaning, she started waking at around 1 am and instead of asking to nurse, she would say she needed to go potty. So I put her on the potty and then she would go back to bed no problem. A year later, we now wake her on purpose to take her to the potty in the middle of the night – otherwise she has a wet bed in the morning. I think that waking for a drink, or to use the potty, or adjust the covers, or whatever, is perfectly normal, for children and adults. The trick is not to sleep through the night without waking, the trick is rather to be able to go back to sleep after attending to our night-time needs. Kids have needs in the night, and if it’s not nursing, it’s something else. So we’re still getting woken in the night, just for different reasons!