If you’re a new mom, you’ve likely seen the acronym ‘STTN’ in all the mommy blogs, articles and Facebook groups alike. STTN or ‘sleeping through the night’ might seem like an unimaginable feat that could never possibly be accomplished by your baby. One of the biggest barriers to sleeping through the night can be frequent nighttime nursing. Night nursing is a perfectly normal and healthy practice for babies. However, if night nursing is interfering with your ability to get sufficient rest or function in your daily life, you may be considering night weaning. Here are some tips for gently night weaning your baby or toddler.
- Don’t night wean until your baby is ready: Although there are various schools of thought about when babies are ready to give up eating at night, it’s best not to try night weaning before six months of age. Young babies are not intended to sleep through the night and need the nutrition as their bodies undergo rapid growth and development. Talk to your pediatrician to see if they feel your baby might be ready for night weaning and as always, trust your motherly instincts first and foremost.
- Increase baby’s intake during the day: Often it can be a cyclical effect when babies don’t eat very much during the day and then love to snack all night long. Try increasing the frequency of nursing sessions or number of bottles and solid meals offered to ensure baby is getting adequately filled up during the day. If your baby is older and on the move, this may mean taking time out of their busy play schedule to add an extra feeding.
- Introduce a lovey: Quite often, if your baby is nursing frequently at night it may be for comfort and not because they are actually hungry. Begin the process of conditioning other comfort items such as a small stuffed animal or muslin blanket. Try sleeping with the lovey yourself for a while to get your scent on it and hold it in between you and baby whenever you nurse or bottle feed.
- Give more snuggles during the day: If your baby is nursing at night for comfort, increasing daytime touch may help reduce the need for those midnight snuggle sessions. Try wearing your baby in a carrier or sling during the day and giving lots of extra attention and cuddles.
- Break the eat-to-sleep association: Although feeding to sleep is a healthy and natural practice, many babies can ONLY fall asleep if they are nursing. Breaking the eat-to-sleep association by finding other ways to soothe baby to sleep can help with the night weaning process. Try rocking, patting, shushing, singing, snuggling and other forms of comfort to help baby help baby drift off to slumber.
- Get your partner involved: Getting your partner involved with the nighttime routine and with night wakings can help with the process of night weaning. Although your baby may protest this change at first, eventually your partner will develop their own routine and soothing techniques to help baby get back to sleep without nursing.
- Feed your baby before you go to bed: As long as you’re still up, try sneaking in a dream feed before you hit the hay. A dream feed is when you feed baby late at night while they are still sleeping with the intention of filling them up. Adding a dream feed, particularly for younger babies, is a great way to get a few hours in before the next waking when you go to bed.
- Shorten night time nursing sessions: Rather than cutting out night nursing cold turkey which can be distressing to your baby and cause engorgement issues, try gradually shortening your nursing sessions a little bit at a time. Cut back each session by one or two minutes over the course of a week and begin to break baby’s latch when his sucking slows but before he falls asleep. Then try using other forms of comfort (see #5) if he’s struggling to fall back to sleep.
- Create new sleep associations: If your baby is accustomed to nursing to sleep, they may have developed the belief that they NEED to eat in order to fall asleep. Creating new sleep associations can help teach babies new cues that it’s time for bed. Try incorporating some relaxing music, soothing scents like lavender or a nice massage at bedtime as part of the new routine. Be sure to use these new associations every night so that your baby learns when he hears the music or smells the lavender, it’s time to sleep.
- Create distance between you and baby at night: If you room share or co-sleep with your baby, adding a little distance between the two of you may help with the process of night weaning. Whether this means staying in the guestroom for a few nights while your partner works on their night soothing skills or simply moving baby’s crib a bit further away from your bed, a little distance between baby and his favorite snack may help with the night weaning process.
- Stay calm if baby protests the new routine: It’s likely that baby will put up a fight over this change to his routine. Try to keep your cool and stay calm to demonstrate to baby that you are there to help him through this transition and you won’t be rattled.
- When in doubt, consult the experts: Here are a few of the most knowledgeable experts on the process of gentle night weaning. They’ve done the research for you and have step by step plans for the process.
- Talk to baby about the change: As silly as it may sounds, try talking to your baby during the day about the changes you intend to make. Your baby, and definitely your toddler, can understand more than you think. There are also a few great books on the subject like Nursies When the Sun Shines that can help your baby understand the concept that eating is for daytime.
Remember, that night weaning is a process that takes time, patience and a commitment. If something doesn’t feel right or your baby seems negatively impacted by the change during the day, consider waiting a little while longer before cutting out night nursing. Many babies still need to eat once or twice during the night at a year or beyond and there’s nothing wrong with that if it works for your family. For questions about night weaning, pregnancy, natural birth and more, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife or for a tour of our Birth Center. We are here to support you beyond the birth of your baby!