How To Night Wean A Toddler
The “Modified Jay Gordon Technique” Technique.
I think Jay Gordon’s advice about night weaning is a great place to start. I referred to it often when night weaning my son, however his weaning plan didn’t exactly suit our situation, so I adapted it to suit us better.
Keeping in mind my little boy was 3 and a normal night for him was being fed to sleep around 7pm in his own bed, then waking around midnight and coming into our bed to feed for the remainder of the night. Some nights he would feed continuously from midnight until 6am. When he started the day – it was very much like a “dummy” for him. He also had a single bed, so I was able to fit into his bed and sleep with him.
The main motivation for me weaning him and hopefully getting him to sleep through the night without me was I was pregnant with our second baby at the time. I really wanted him well on his way to be weaned night and day, and sleeping through the night, BEFORE the new baby arrived.
Here is what we did:
The First Few Nights:
My plan was for me to sleep in his bed with him and offer him a drink of water when he woke to breastfeed in the night. Aiming to not breastfeed him until after 6am when he would start the day.
I breastfed to sleep in his bed as usual. I fell asleep in his bed next to him (with my nipples taped down with Band-Aids so he couldn’t ninja-latch in his sleep!). When he woke, I offered him a drink from a water bottle I’d stashed next to the bed – which he accepted at first, but quickly realised what was happening and started to cry. While he cried I comforted him without feeding him. Singing, cuddles, patting, gently reassuring him etc. He only cried for about 15 minutes, though it felt like a lot longer. He woke another 3-4 times that night and cried for a little while each time. My main focus was staying calm myself. I told myself; He trusts me. So if I’m okay, he’s okay. It was my mantra. Be okay for him.
We talked about it in the morning – it was hugely reassuring for me that in the morning he was his happy self.
The second night was better. He still woke a few times, he woke with more of a jump and cried more angrily and louder, but for a much shorter amount of time.
The following night – I think he was getting tired – because he cried in his sleep. He didn’t open his eyes. He barely moved. He just quietly sobbed “Mummy… boobies” and cuddled into me. He didn’t even try to feed. That was probably the hardest night, because I felt like he was grieving. He also cried out “no water!” a few times, so I stopped offering him water.
The next couple of nights he slept well. Still stirred and snuggled into me in the night, enough to wake me, but not enough to even start to cry more than a quiet murmur.
The following few nights:
So, I didn’t plan to share a single bed with my 3 year old son forever; the next stage was getting myself out of his bed! I continued to breastfeed him to sleep in his bed, but then I would get up and go to my own bed to sleep. I got up to him as soon as I heard him stirring, and laid down with him until he fell asleep. He did start crying again in these nights, because he hadn’t fully woken before I’d gotten to settle him, so he was awake enough to realise he wasn’t being fed to sleep – he’d cry, I’d settle him, it was fine. I tried to go back to bed once he fell asleep (a few times I did fall asleep in his bed, but I tried to stay awake and leave him in his bed alone).
The last few nights:
Rather than getting into his bed each time he woke, I sat on the floor next to him to pat and sing him off to sleep. These nights were met with some renewed protest and a couple of times I did give in and crawled in beside him – I was getting exhausted by then myself (let’s not forget I was also pregnant through this! I was exhausted!) But once he was asleep I’d return to my own bed.
I’d allocated myself 2 weeks to night wean him. It took about 3 weeks until he wasn’t waking every night. While it took longer than I’d anticipated until he was sleeping through in his own bed most nights, it was also not as intense as I expected it would be – he did cry, but not nearly as long or as hard as I thought he would.
Completely weaning him from there was a casual and gentle process. I continued to breastfeed him to sleep in the beginning of the night for the next few weeks. Over that time I stopped offering and he stopped asking for it. His morning feed continued longer than his evening feed, but even that gradually came to an end.
Amazingly after 38 months of breastfeeding I can’t actually recall his last feed. I just woke up one morning and realised he’d not breastfed in a few days. That was it. The final days of our breastfeeding journey came to an end so subtly it slipped my notice.
My final words of advice:
When making major changes to your toddler’s life be realistic, set small achievable goals and celebrate ANY success!
Also, if you can or you feel you need it – get help! Talk to a health nurse, or Tresillian, or a family member.