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Night-Waking and Night-Weaning; It’s Not All Night-mares

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Can you believe, she's wearing my little brother's snow suit that is over twenty years old! Margo is a real Aussie...always dreaming of the day she can see snow.

Can you believe, she’s wearing my little brother’s snow suit that is over twenty years old! Margo is a real Aussie…always dreaming of the day she can see snow.

The attachment parents (AP) always cop it hard on this one: night waking.

We don’t let our kids ‘cry it out’, we wear them, we co-sleep, we breastfeed on demand, and some of us even take our babies to the toilet (called elimination communication), and yet it happens to almost all of us… the constant night waking.  The little newborns start off great, they sleep for 3,4, 5, maybe even 6 hour stretches at night.  You start getting really giddy around 2 months, thinking that your baby is going to start sleeping through the night and then sometime around five months old BAM: constant night waking.

Constant night waking can leave you feeling quit exasperating, especially when everyone is already giving you flack for practicing all the usual attachment parenting philosophies, like feeding on demand and letting your baby sleep in your room or bed, etc.  After all,  so and so’s little Johnny is on a feeding schedule, sleeps in his own room, does cry it out… and he’s sleeping through the night!  But, your little Susie is 2 years old and wakes up ten times a night screaming ‘BOOOOOOBIES!!!!’  Yes, it’s enough to drive you mad if you’re unsure of how to handle it, or if you don’t understand why it’s happening.

I’ve only night weaned one child… She’s three now.  The little one is 7 months old, no where near ready to be night weaned in my opinion. We all sleep in the same room, and both are still breastfed.  Of course, I don’t have the answer to stop night time waking, and if anyone told you they have the ‘secret’ to getting your baby to sleep through the night, I would be extremely wary of what they are trying to sell to you…. But, here are some of the things I’ve experienced with night waking and night weaning.  It’s not all a nightmare, I promise 🙂

Some Legitimate Reasons for Waking Up

Tiny people have tiny bodies and lots of needs.  I always crack up when my 80 year old grandmother asks me if my baby is sleeping 12 hours through the night!  As if!!!  In fact, a friend of mine, who is nearly 70, asked me a similar question about my baby sleeping through the night.  I told her that many of the doctors now recommend waking with a baby and feeding on demand… She said, ‘Oh, that’s nice, we were told to just chuck them in their crib and let them cry‘.

  • Babies are NOT designed to sleep through the night.  It’s a good thing when they don’t sleep deeply for too long.  Part of the reason that the recent recommendations to put babies on their backs to sleep is so that babies won’t sleep as deeply and thus have a reduced occurrence of SIDS.  (This is not to say that you should be paranoid about a baby sleeping on their tummy, but still….).  I wrote a post all about night waking in our culture here.
  • The obvious… they could be hungry or thirsty (especially very young babies with very small tummies), cold, hot or wet.
  • Do they have to eliminate (in other words, pee or poo).  This one really gets most people, because most people in the western world don’t practice EC (elimination communication).  I find that about 50% or more of the night wakings are NOT because of boobies, but more so that they either have to pee, or have a wet diaper.  In fact, just before writing this, Goldie squawked, I tried to stick boob in her mouth so she would go back to bed.  She refused and was still complaining.  So, I took her to pee, and then she fell asleep instantly, didn’t even want the boobs.  BUT, she is very used to me taking her to pee since since birth, it may work differently with a baby who has never done EC.  More on EC here.
  • Where’s that warm body!  When a baby stirs or rolls around at night, and they don’t flop on something warm (like a person, mom or dad), they often wake up.  Ever wonder why your baby wakes up twenty times before you jump in bed with them?  There is a reason why many AP advocates say to go to bed when your children go to bed.  This is great in theory, but I know that, even I, sometimes need a break from being super mommy, especially when we don’t live in close proximity to family who might be around to help out during the day, etc.  I don’t expect my kids to stay asleep for long without me.
  • Pent up Stress and Milestones.  Babies and toddlers can get overstimulated very easily!  Babies and toddlers also tend to wake more when they are about to hit a milestone like rolling, crawling or even talking.  If you think that they have had a big day, and you’re sure all the other needs have been met, like been fed, changed, etc. I would be inclined to do something called ‘cry in arms‘.  Very different to ‘cry it out’.  I use the cry in arms method frequently, and since I’ve been doing it with baby #2 from birth, I notice a dramatic difference in the way she sleeps.  I also started cry in arms with my older daughter when she was 5 months and the night waking dramatically decreased as well.  Basically, if baby is waking up every hour and seeming to want boobs, that is when I think to myself, ‘ok, that’s enough, you’re not that hungry, what’s going on?’ and I would let the crying happen for a bit (while holding in arms, of course).

When is the Right Age to Night Wean

Nobody can tell you what age is the right age to night wean your toddler.  Obviously, you don’t want to go night weaning a little baby.  They are still tanking up on good nutrition at night.  I night weaned Margo when she was about 20 months old. I was just a few weeks pregnant and I wanted to give it LOTS of time before the new baby arrived.

Before even considering night weaning, you have to ask yourself, ‘are the night feeds even bothering you in the first place?’  If you’re going to bed at a reasonable time and don’t have to work, then maybe it’s not such a big issue?  Or are you tired from staying up too late on facebook 😉 Maybe the only reason you have thought about night weaning is because everyone is raising their eyebrows when you tell them that, Sally-Three-Year-Old is waking all night for boobs.  For me, I know, this second time around, I’m hardly even bothered by night time waking… I think it’s sort of cute.  (However, my little ones wakes up far less than her older sister did at this age).  Of course, right now, I’m not working.  When I was at work, I only openly complained about Margo waking all night long for boobies to my other female co-workers once or twice, until I got the hint that they thought I was beyond crazy to be ALLOWING my toddler to be waking up at night (um… sorry, I can’t control that one).

So, the age you want to wean, is really a very personal decision  And, you may think about it and find that there is no real reason to night wean at all!  (I promise, they won’t be going to uni and still waking up for boobies).

When to Night Wean

Night wean when it feels reasonably right for you.  This could mean, when you have had more than enough of the night waking and you’re going bonkers… Or, like it was for me, one spontaneous night, I just decided to try it and it worked!  My daughter was old enough to understand when I told her that ‘Mommy’s boobies go to bed at night and they wake up in the morning‘.   I said, ‘Do you understand?’.  Can you believe that she actually slept through the night?!  Like, FIRST NIGHT OF SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT EVER!  I was completely overjoyed!  Lucky me…  It’s probably best NOT to night wean when I child is sick, or going through something major, like a house move, etc.

How to Night Wean

I’m not saying that if you’re totally spontaneous and living in the moment, it will work so easily.  There are numerous techniques to go about the night weaning process.  You can just say ‘NO‘.  You may have lots of tears, but either you or your partner can hold them, and let them know that  you’re there for them, etc.  Make sure to offer them water (they might actually be thirsty… I know I get thirsty at night).  You may want to remove yourself from the room for a few nights and let your partner sort it out (although, I would feel better about them crying in my arms… but just another option).  You also may want to do night weaning gradually.  I noticed I’m already doing gradual night weaning with my 7 month old.  Like, pulling out the boob before I know that she’s asleep… less liquid, means less peeing at night, means less waking…  Also, you may want to say ‘No‘ to a few of the feeds, but maybe not cut out all night feeds.  There are many ways to do it… I’m am not a pro at this one, because my daughter night weaned so easily.  I would say to also explain to your child what is going on.  Little toddlers can understand way more than most adults would think.

Dr. Sears has a great link on ways to night wean or how to deal with constant night wakers: here.

And Then It All Changes!

There are lots of variables to consider when it comes to night weaning and night waking.  Every family has a unique scenario and every child/parent combo has their own relationship quirkiness.  Something might work for a while and then all of a sudden it changes.  For example, Margo was night weaned for over a year and as soon as Goldie was about 3 months old, Margo was waking up 3 times a night SCREAMING for boobies!  (I usually said no though… stubborn me…).  She has since stopped doing that, but it really did surprise me because here I had thought her night weaning was done and dusted!

The main thing to consider, when it comes to any annoyance  accompanied with a baby or toddler, like night waking (and I can attest,  there are a few annoyances, for sure), is to remember that all of this will pass… and it will pass soon!  Think about how old your child will be in another year or two, how different things will be.  They won’t be waking up all night, every night, shouting for boobs.  One day, when you’re old and gray and senile and can’t sleep anyway, you’ll be wishing there was someone to wake up all night with you.

I better go jump in bed with my little babies, they will be looking for that warm body 🙂

14 Responses »

  1. What a nice perspective on all of this. My 19 month old daughter goes through phases on only waking up a few times to nurse, to what feels like wanting to nurse all night long. But the thing is–and I know you’re familiar with feeling–I really don’t mind. I spend enough time in bed with her through the night that even with being awake a few hours I’m not tired the next day. I’m used to it, and maybe the nursing hormones help. 🙂

    • So nice to hear that you guys are cruising along with it 🙂 it’s easy to fall prey to other people’s opinions about waking up at night with a toddler 🙂

  2. Wow, this is a WONDERFUL article! My son is almost 19 months and still wakes multiple times to nurse. We co-sleep and he will wake up every 2-3 hours and sign “milk”. I have had no issue with the arrangement aside from knowing how others are supposedly having it so “easy” because they CIO or whatever. BUT, I am ready to night wean (and maybe wean altogether).
    We are ttc and may, in fact, be pregnant now but it’s a tad bit early to test. 😉 I have a few reasons to think I am. And I’m like you in that I would want there to be PLENTY of time for him to adjust before baby comes. But nevermind about that – I am wondering what I should do since I have tried “yes, milk…later” at night but it doesn’t fly with him. 🙄 I wonder if it is wiser to day wean, night wean, or both! Wdyt?

    • I read your post on TTC… I guess it depends on if you want to tandem nurse or not? If it were me, personally, I feel like 19 months is still pretty young to be weaning altogether. In my mind, they’re still babies at that age, unless he’s showing signs that he’s not interested (but if he’s having 2 or 3 feeds at night, he’s probably still wanting them). I think the thing to remember is to be relaxed about it and follow your gut instead of thinking too far into the future. You know how much children change at that age in a short amount of time. You might be pregnant and your son might wean all by himself, naturally! You just never know. Plus, there’s the option of tandem feeding, which can really ease the transition of a new baby in the house.

      • I am wanting to wean him soon after becoming pregnant. We aren’t going to wean him to increase our chances of GETTING pregnant, but once I conceive, I’d like to stop.
        I definitely still look at him as being very young and he enjoys breastfeeding still (and asks for it) but we also want him and the next child to be close together in age. With my history of multiple miscarriages, I don’t feel comfortable nursing through the pregnancy, and 19 months is a good run in my book. I do not plan on tandem nursing.

      • I’m not sure about the most recent studies out there, but when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I don’t recall reading anywhere that breastfeeding while pregnant actually increases the risk of miscarriage? I think there would be some GPs out there that would tell you that, but when it comes to hard core facts, I’m pretty sure that might be a myth… But, if that’s what you have in mind, then maybe that’s best for you? I’m sure you’re concerned, especially after having multiple miscarriage, but, you do have three kids, which means you also have a good success rate too 🙂 For me, I find breastfeeding a toddler the easy way out! haha! Fine, you don’t want to eat? Or, I don’t feel like cooking? Great! Boobs to the rescue! Maybe start with the night weaning and then when you’re pregnant, follow with the day time. Or, if weaning is going to happen anyway and happen soon, maybe it will just put your mind at ease if you do it now. Nothing worse than worrying about something like that! It’s funny what you say about having babies close in age… I feel like if I have another one, I want them at least 3 years apart, and that will be close enough for me! Phew! My brothers are 3 1/2 years apart and are very close. I’m even 7 and 10 years older than them, and we’re still fairly close. Although, once you get clucky for a baby, that’s it, isn’t it? Haha, 3 year old just asking for boobs now… hmmmm… she hasn’t done that in a while. Things are always changing 🙂

      • I know you are pro tandem nursing so you are basing your response on that view but I am not, and I don’t want to have even the slightest risk of miscarriage, and yes, I’ve read that there may be, it’s not just “in my mind” as you said.
        Also, we already have a 13 yr old, 9 yr old and now a 1 yr old…we would like two more children and because of the miscarriages I can’t afford to space them as nicely as I might have liked.
        It seems it’s hard for you to see that someone else might have an equally valid way of looking at things based on their own situation.
        I just wanted to know what you thought about the order of weaning, whether that be day first or night first, or both together, but instead, you told me that he was a baby that I shouldn’t wean yet. I’m sorry, but that was not very kind.

      • Oh dear… I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you at all! I could never judge any mother for doing anything regarding breastfeeding, weaning, TTC, etc. I know that everyone is just doing what they feel is best for their situation and their family. Maybe I should have reworded my response better. I was trying to say that if miscarriage is something that you’re concerned about, then maybe it’s best to wean earlier than later, to give your mind some ease, if you’re in those early phases of pregnancy AND trying to wean quickly, it could be crazy? That’s all. For me, I wasn’t concerned about breastfeeding while pregnant, because I had known many other woman whom had done it fine, but that’s just coming from my experience. Everyone’s background experiences and concerns are unique. But, anyway, from what I’ve heard, the night weaning can be harder… It seems that a lot of toddlers drop the day feeds (because they’re so busy playing, etc) but continue with the night feeds because it’s convenient. But, some mothers are going crazy with the nighttime waking and want some sleep, so then they cut out the night feeds. I guess it depends on how much they’re feeding day or night. Again, I’m so so sorry for saying something that seemed mean. Was totally not my intention and I was not judging at all. I was just sharing my experiences. I didn’t realize that your older ones were so much older, of course, if that were me, I may also feel differently about not spacing the babes apart!

  3. Thanks for posting about this! My daughter is 14 weeks and has started waking up a lot more during the night. By waking, I mean stirring around and sucking on whatever parental body part she can get her mouth on, including my husband’s arm haha… I think it might be because she has started day care and doesn’t eat as much when she’s away from me so she makes up for it when we are together! I am hoping that she will start sleeping more once she gets used to the schedule. Good to know we’re not alone in this!

    • You are far from alone! In my circle of AP friends, night waking that starts around that age is the norm 🙂 haha! Your husband’s arm… Mmmm… Sounds good 🙂

  4. Pingback: Your Questions About Getting Baby To Sleep | Baby Care Blog | All You Need To Know About Babies

  5. Have you heard of children’s book Sally Weans From Night Nursing on amazon? I am first time mom and suthor, be happy to send you a free book for review?


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