How to wean a 1 year old from breastfeeding at night?
Or how to stop comfort feeding at night?
Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby and even toddlers still benefit from it.
Especially during the night (also called night nursing), it is comforting.
When you co-sleep night feeds are also very convenient because all you have to do is lift your shirt and your baby can eat and then dose off to sleep again.
Or even stay half asleep while night nursing.
No getting out of bed at all, no making a bottle in the middle of the night while still half asleep yourself.
Is your 1 year old still breastfeeding at night?
No worries, that is not unusual and you are not alone but I know it can get super draining both mentally and physically.
In some cultures it’s completely normal to breastfeed your kid up until the age of 6 years!
That’s a very long time.
I always wanted to go with the WHO recommendation of 6 months to breastfeed and then slowly wean off.
But it always comes different than you imagine and we’re currently at 18 months and counting but reduced the breastfeeding to once a day right before night time.
>> My toddler does not nurse at night anymore and we used to nurse every hour at night for a few months. <<
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And more than half of the time she wanted to feed it was more just sucking on my breast.
So basically she was using my breast as a pacifier rather than to fulfill the need of eating.
That behavior is also called “comfort nursing” and I can tell you it get’s old real quick.
While she would fall asleep doing so I was laying there wide awake not being able to fall back asleep with her still attached to me.
It was beyond exhausting and neither of us would get a good night’s sleep. That was the time I decided to wean my toddler from breastfeeding at night.
BUT – I wanted a method that is gentle and not completely cold turkey for weaning her off with letting your baby cry for hours on end cause who does that actually help?
Your toddler will feel like their needs are not met and you won’t get sleep either because your kid is crying.
Finding a gentle method to start the night weaning process is definitely a better way to go.
So what if you could have a few tough nights but still gently wean your baby off?
It is possible and I will tell you how I did it.
Extra TIP: If you want to help reducing your milk production give this tea a try.
So lets get to the bottom of “How do I stop my one year old from breastfeeding at night?”
Gently stop breastfeeding at night
The method was introduced by Dr. Jay Gordon and is a process over a few days or weeks with good success that is slow and gentle. You can read about the complete method with all the small details here.
I did not follow the method 100% but it is leaned on the method by Dr. Gordon.
I am showing you what worked best for me, it does not mean that it will work exactly the same for your baby.
It is recommended to use the method after your baby is one year old.
One year because by that time your baby’s stomach can handle going without food for 7 hours. This works especially good if you are co-sleeping with your baby.
The most important thing to successfully weaning your toddler at night is that you are sure you want to go through with it.
If you are unsure – try it a few weeks or even months later.
Your baby knows when you are not sure and it will not work because you will give in and still nurse at night.
If you are like I was – completely fed up with waking up for feeding every hour at night – give it a go.
How to stop nursing at night
This process is split up in different stages. Each stage is about three nights long.
It does not mean you do the three nights and it will work for you.
Some babies need longer and some are totally fine with the three nights.
However if you at any point feel like you might not be ready – you can always try it out and stop if it is not for you yet.
You can try again later or go with another method altogether.
Before you start this method it is important that you found a good time to lay your baby down to sleep for the night.
While kids around the age of a year still need about 12 hours of sleep your baby could need more or less.
My toddler for example only sleeps 9 hours. And no naps at all. And that is enough for her.
Eliminate any other discomforts your baby may have before it is bedtime.
Starting and sticking with a bedtime routine can also help your baby to understand when it is time to go to sleep and help with the weaning.
Is your baby teething? Give something to relieve teething pain and double check if the diaper is still fresh and not soiled.
The first three nights:
You will start by doing your nighttime routine as usual and put your baby to sleep.
Set a time frame for yourself when you want 7 hours of sleep. For me the perfect time frame was 11 pm to 6 am. I am going to refer to these times in my explanation.
Now that you have your time frame, nurse your baby until 11 pm no matter how often your toddler wakes up and even if it is just a minute before – Give the boob.
In between the set time you want to sleep and your baby wakes up you still nurse BUT you want to make sure you do not nurse your toddler back to sleep. The goal is to have your baby fall back asleep on their own.
This will be the goal during the whole weaning process – your toddler will learn to sleep by itself and you put your toddler back down while still awake.
You can gently stroke their back, talk quietly, give them a stuffed animal or any other measure that comforts your baby.
After 6 am you continue nursing as usual. Let your toddler nurse as much and as often as you usually would.
I am not going to lie – the first nights are hard but keep the goal in mind!
I did this for the first three nights and then continued to the next stage.
The following three nights:
Continue with your new schedule but now your baby does not get breastfed at all.
This is a tough time. It is very hard to see your baby crying for milk and most likely getting themselves more and more into crying.
This is why it is so important to be 100% sure about weaning your baby!
You need to stay strong and NOT give in. Keep in mind that your toddler is completely fine going 7 hours without feeding.
It helped me a lot to calmly explain to my daughter that there will be no more milk at night and she has to wait until the morning.
I would tell her that I understand her frustration and I’m sorry but I can not do this at night anymore. We both need sleep.
Kids around one year understand a lot more than you may think.
She would cry her little heart out while I was comforting her with cuddles, calm quiet talking and patting her back.
It was hard. But I didn’t cave!
This phase took us longer than three days. We were doing this for a whole week. And that is ok too.
It got better every night. We had less and less crying for the breast milk and more sleeping.
She would know exactly when it’s 6 am and wake up like clock work for her morning feeding.
And I can tell you she can be very demanding about that.
The last four nights:
Continue what you where doing but not you do NOT pick your baby up at all.
When your baby cries you go and comfort with a gentle stroke over the head, a pat on the back or calm talking but do not pick your baby up.
Even though this seems so far away – your toddler will start falling back asleep on their own.
I always offer a sippy cup filled with water right when my daughter wakes up and the sippy cup now seems to soothe her too.
You could say the sippy cup is her stuffed animal.
She will fall back asleep after taking a sip of water and holding onto the sippy cup.
How it worked out
I did not follow the method 100% all the time. We did what worked best for us.
I continued to comfort my toddler at night whenever she would wake up and offer a sippy cup with water instead of the breast milk.
It definitely took us a few weeks to completely wean off the breast at night but we did it.
We successfully went from nursing every single hour at night to no more nursing at all.
Now my toddler goes to bed at 7 pm, wakes up once around 11 pm but goes straight back to sleep with her sippy cup filled with water or when I gently stroke over her hair while talking calm.
At 6 am our night is over and she’s all up and ready to go.
No more morning feedings either. She basically jumps out of the bed in the mornings now while I am still sleepy.
The only time my toddler still nurses is that one time right before bedtime and I am willing to continue with that until she is ready to let go.
I know she does not NEED that feeding.
I can also give her the sippy cup filled with water or cold cow milk and rock her to sleep.
Of course, there are still nights where she would like to have the breast but that is not an option and she knows that. We had some frustration but now it works perfectly.
Overall I am very happy how it turned out and we both sleep so much better now.
That benefits both of us – I am in a better mood during the day and have more energy since I finally get some more sleep and she is ready to conquer the world right when she gets up.
I do recommend going with this method or lean onto it to all the moms I know with kids around the same age ready to wean. No unnecessary letting your baby cry and even less sleep.
With this method you are still fulfilling your Baby’s needs and that is fundamental for a good bond between you and your baby knowing it can trust you.
Frequently asked question:
Shouldn’t my breastfed baby sleep trough the night already?
Well, you can have a baby that is a great sleeper from day one and sleeps trough the night all by themselves. I hear so often that people say you should give your baby formula to sleep better.
That is NOT the case. It completely depends on your baby if it sleeps all night or wakes up a lot.
A big factor in sleeping trough the night or long stretches at once is comfort.
If your baby is able to self-soothe and comfort themselves it will fall back asleep instead of crying. This method of weaning at night should also help with self-soothing.
Sleeping trough the night is a big milestone that your baby will accomplish. On their own term. Sleeping trough the night should not be forced.
That being said – around 1 year of age your toddler is completely fine to go 7 hours at night without having to nurse.
Most of the time when they still want the breast it is more for comfort than actually drinking any milk.
So, in a nutshell, these are the steps:
- The first three nights: Nursing your baby but laying back down to sleep while still awake. Comfort your baby with soft and calm talking, stroking over the head or patting the back. Whatever makes your baby comfortable.
- Following three night: Three nights of not nursing at all. Comfort your baby back to sleep, pick it up, talk calm and soft. Explain why there is no more milk and that you understand the frustration.
- Last few nights: Four nights of comforting your baby but NOT picking up at all. Help your baby to learn self-soothing.
Did you try this method out? Did you have success to stop breastfeeding at night? Do you have any additional tips for other moms?
Let us know in the comments!
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