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Is Night Weaning Necessary?

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You've decided to night wean your baby or child.

And unlike your friend's experience, it has not been going very well. 


How can this be? 

Children are all different in how they handle weaning. Some kids are easy going and others are not. Some parents are very sure that it's the right time for weaning and others aren't. They are exhausted and grasping for any end to their exhaustion. When you are tired, it's hard to think clearly and make a plan that will work for you and your child. 

Before you continue weaning, take some time in figuring out why your child is nursing so much, and also why it's important for you to wean. Often times we are so tired that we forget this essential step. When you know why it's important to your child, you can compensate for not nursing in a way that will eventually be acceptable to your child. 

And there aren't any "right answers" here. It's your family and your lack of sleep!

Here are some common reasons why children will nurse non-stop at night:

Is the child missing you during the day and catching up at night? Are they hungry from skipping meals or eating an early dinner? Are they scared of the dark? Or are they anxious when they are apart from you? Is your exhaustion or something else upsetting you and causing you to act in a way that makes them worried? Are they teething or sick? 

These are all reasons why babies and children don't sleep and not coincidently, they are also reasons why adults don't sleep. In fact, your own poor sleep habits or sleeplessness can be keeping your child in a light sleep that's easy for them to wake up from.

Breastfeeding is soothing and effective in easing a child back to sleep in all of these examples. It's completely fine to continue if it's ok with you and working for the child. It is the path of least resistence and at some point, your child will outgrow it and sleep for hours and hours. In fact, you may find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night wishing you had some company. But that is a little ways off.

If night nursing is not working, then night weaning may be the best, but certainly not the only, solution.

Spending more time snuggling or playing together during the day can create a secure bond that stands the night separation test. Feeding a meal right before bed can keep your child settled through the ups and downs of sleep cycles. Having a trundle bed or sleeping mat next to the parent's bed has also allowed everyone to get more sleep and decreased demand for night nursing. Snuggling, comforting and offering water or milk are all things that can be tried before allowing nursing. Often they work. Having the other parent soothe them during a stretch of the night so you can get a solid block of sleep can help you handle a four-hour nurse-athon in the early morning or late evening.

Here's the secret: when a parent decides that night weaning is simply the best course of action, a child will comply without a prolonged fuss.

When you are sure weaning is the best thing and have a plan of action, you are firm and clear. You will offer water or food, snuggles and empathy and be present if your child protests. When you know deep in your heart that weaning is the very best solution to your problem, you don't give in, not even when your child pitches a fit. And they learn that this is the new normal and they get used to it. Children know that life isn't perfect and that they don't always get their way. If they sense any wiggle room, they will explore it to see if they can get what they want after all.

You've probably learned how to handle many battles of will. Car seat refusal is a common experience where parents don't give in and children learn to accept it. When you are conflicted because you aren't sure refusing your child's demand is the very best option, your child picks up on that and will push until you give in.

Times when night weaning may not be the best course of action.

If your baby is under 12 months, they probably need a few feeds during the night in order to get enough calories. If you are working during the day, your baby still has vital needs to be with you. Night time is their only option to connect with you. If you have refused to breastfeed for a few nights and notice that your child is unhappy during the day or is regressing into behaviors like biting or tantrums, they may not have been ready. Its always ok to reverse your decision and apologize. You will probably have a clingy child for a few weeks before they resume their previous ways. 

If you are exhausted and not functioning, then something has to give. It can either be you, your relationship with your child or something else. Putting it into simple choices like this can help you clarify what is important to you and help you make a decision you can live with. 

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