For babies, the association between sucking (the breast) and sleep is very powerful. Breastfeeding is so much more for them than just eating and falling asleep with breastfeeding is ideal for them. Sucking gives them pleasure, relaxation, and well-being, and that means they fall asleep quickly and effectively.
But then, as they grow up and for different reasons, mothers may feel the need for night weaning or have to wean them at night. And then, depending on the age of your child, you can try some strategies or others.
Why is the age of the child important?
As children grow, their cognitive abilities increase, and you will be able to talk and reason with them. The moment when you can start to ‘negotiate’ with your child will begin, depending on your child’s maturity, when they are between two and a half and three years old. Before that age, it is impossible to try and offer arguments to the child or explain why you want to stop breastfeeding; they simply cannot understand. Therefore, at certain ages, you can only deny breastfeeding and accompany your child in this process.
My baby is under one year old. How do I wean at night?
With night weaning, it is usually easier to maintain the first and last feeds of the night: the bedtime feed and the first one in the morning (if possible outside of bed). For the rest of the night feeds, there is no other option but to deny the baby the breast when they ask for it. This is not easy; it is very likely that your baby will get very angry, cry, or, if they are close to one year old, scream for the breast. It’s not an easy process for them, and it’s going to require you to:
- You put yourself in their shoes: you are denying them something you have given them so far, and they can’t understand what’s going on. Therefore, their reactions are going to be very emotional, and they are going to try to get you to breastfeed in every way. No mother wants her baby to have a bad time and cry, but we can’t tell you that it’s going to be an easy process with no tears. You have to be prepared for this.
- Prepare resources: What can you offer your baby in exchange for the breast? It may not seem like it, but this is a very complicated point; what is better to them than the breast and even more at night? Well, as we said, this is a tough one. So try to arrange resources: water, food, bottle (depending on the age of your child), and music. The smaller your baby, the more complicated this will be for them to accept other things, so the only thing left to do is to offer commercial formula milk in a bottle.
- Everything is easier with help: just as mothers need help when they start breastfeeding, it is highly recommended that you ask for help when you are weaning. If you can count on your partner’s involvement, that’s great, and if you cannot count on help from a partner, you can always ask another family member or a friend who knows the baby well. It should be someone the baby also knows.
- Be patient: no weaning is straightforward. It happens very easily that, for one reason or another, you take a step backward in the process, so you need to know that this can happen; be patient.
It is possible that babies don’t accept a bottle right away or don’t even know what to do with the bottle in their mouth. If you can pump or have some expressed milk available, try to offer your breast milk in a bottle first, as the change to the taste of formula can also be difficult for them. That your baby accepts the bottle can also require patience: offer the bottle when they are not too hungry or too sleepy, let them explore the teat and try different bottle teats until you find the right one. Sometimes, it is easier for them to accept it if someone else gives it to them, but if you want to, of course, you can give it to them yourself.
Then, when your baby wakes up at night, you or your partner can offer your baby the bottle and something else in return: kisses, hugs, rocking, and walking with them until your baby learns how to fall asleep.
Should we give a pacifier?
Some families wonder if this is the right time to offer a pacifier to their baby. If they have never used a pacifier before, they may have the same difficulties as with accepting a bottle. Babies need a lot of sucking, and the time feeding from a bottle or at the breast may not be enough.
It is possible that, as with bottle teats, you will have to try several brands until you find the one your baby likes. In terms of teeth development, it is recommended to choose a pacifier that is as narrow as possible where the gums meet and has an even shape on both sides.
Will my baby cry a lot?
As mothers, we don’t want our children to have a hard time, but we can’t prevent them from crying during weaning or finding it difficult to accept this transition. But it’s essential that you be there for your baby when they cry so they feel that you still love them.
When should I eliminate the two night feeds that are left?
Usually, you can remove the morning feed first once your baby has already accepted the change of all the other night feeds. Usually, you can remove the morning feed first once your baby has already accepted the change of all the other night feeds. You can do this by either not being with them in bed when they wake up or by offering the bottle directly before the baby wakes up too much. And lastly, the bedtime feed is eliminated, which is usually the most difficult to drop for everyone. If possible, try to have your partner put your baby to sleep and help them fall asleep at night so you can eliminate the last feed.
You will see that it is not a gradual process and requires a lot of patience. For some, the transition may be easier than for others. But in weaning, as in breastfeeding, you need help and information.