How To Night Wean An Older Child

I’m slow to process meaningful events in my life. Molasses slow.

Breastfeeding is one such event, well, experience. Hence, this post has been in my drafts since late Winter when I first started to night wean Max. He had just turned 2 1/2 and I felt like it was time. For him and for me. Not to be done with our nursing relationship, but to take another step in that direction by limiting our night time milk.

I think I first spoke with Dominic about it during Christmas. Max was consistently nursing 2-3 times throughout the night and I was weary. I would nurse him to sleep, sneak away and then return when he woke around midnight or 1am. I’d settle him and go to bed myself. Another short session would occur at some point in the night – a dream feed of sorts. And then when Dominic woke to get ready for work, Max would usually snuggle in for a little more milk so he could fall back asleep until a more godly hour of the day. Sorry honey, I seriously can’t bear that 5am alarm clock! 

Those were our nights. Two, three, sometimes four hour chunks of sleep for me. Not enough to really relax and truly rest. Hence, my desire to say goodbye to night time breastfeeding.

From my reading around the internet it sounds like most dads take a few night shifts to help transition little ones to no milk nights, but in our case, that wasn’t the best option. Dom sleeps pretty hard, gets up early and isn’t the most happy or comforting person when he’s woken during the night. So, we started brainstorming other options to guide Max and I in our night weaning :) how to night wean an older child

First step was a simple conversation. At 2 1/2 Max understood a lot. He explained that he could nurse to sleep, but when he woke up at night, we’d snuggle instead of having milk. He thought I was crazy and did not agree to my silly plan.

Next step, just to break up our routine, one he had known his entire life, we planned a sleepover with Mimi. We had a family trip to Leavenworth and another to the beach where Max slept with her instead of with Dom and I. This helped him get used to the idea of nighttime with someone he loved, but someone who didn’t have milk. It gave him a bridge to learn that he could receive comfort without nursing.

After that, it was up to me. We just had to buckle down and practice. This children’s book came in handy and I continued to talk about all the milk he could have while reiterating that nighttime was now just for sleep and snuggles, no milk. 

We had a few rough nights; whining and tears for milk. But nothing lasted for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Truly, the biggest struggle was cutting the mid-night dream feed. After 2 1/2 years of night time nursing, Max could pretty much find his way to my breast and latch on himself. To cut this session, I started wearing crew neck tees or a sweatshirt to bed so he couldn’t find his way to milk while I was sound asleep!

When all was said and done, it took us a solid month of conversation and practice to night time wean. My goal was achieved – we were still nursing during the day, we were both sleeping more and better at night and Max learned that other people (Daddy and Mimi, even Jemma a few nights!) and other things (snuggles, a sip of water, a stuffed animal) could soothe and comfort him when he woke. 

Personally, I feel like night weaning at an older age was beneficial to us all. Although Max wasn’t happy initially, for me to be at peace with our transition, I needed to be able to explain what was happening to our breastfeeding relationship.

As I write, Max is fully weaned now. It happened just a few days before his 3rd birthday; right around 20 weeks of my pregnancy with baby #3. Weaning was very gentle and gradual, just like I had hoped and so different than my weaning experience with Jemma. When all those emotions and thoughts get sorted out in my mind, I’ll be sure to share and link that post here.  

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  1. Bianca says

    Love! I also just night weaned Ruby and the plan is to transition her into Penny’s room in the next month or so. She also protested for a few nights but ultimately she was ok with it. We’ve added in one or two more day time nursings to make up for it (now she actually signs “please” for it during the day, so stinkin sweet!).

  2. says

    Awww…how sweet and gentle and loving! Sounds like even though it took you a while to process that part of your breastfeeding journey/relationship with Max, it turned out quite alright.

    I don’t know where we stand with Baby Boy and nursing right now, but we’ll surely discover soon enough once Baby #2 shows! I wish for whatever happens to be gentle and not sudden, like it was a few months back! :)