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There are many different reasons parents wean their baby off of breastfeeding at night.
Sometimes mothers need to stop breastfeeding for medical reasons, or perhaps you want to encourage your baby to sleep through the night.
Whatever the reason, gradually weaning your baby off of breastfeeding at night can be difficult for both the mother and the baby.
It is important to be patient and to remember that breastfeeding isn’t just about nutrition, it is also a source of comfort for your baby.
Do some research and ask people for advice
Many women begin night weaning around 6 months of age, but some women do it earlier or much later for variety of reasons.
Start by looking at your parenting books, talking to your doctor, searching the internet, and talking about night weaning with your family and friends.
All babies are different, and there are many methods for stopping breastfeeding at night.
This will help you get an idea of what to expect!
Keep in mind that you may also have to pay attention to your baby’s cues to find the best way to stop breastfeeding at night.
For example, if you usually wake your baby up to do a nighttime feeding, then you might start to skip this when the baby is sleeping.
Nurse more during the day
In order to wean the baby off of breastfeeding at night without sacrificing needed nutrients, start nursing more during the day.
If you usually breastfeed every 3 hours, you can try nursing every two hours instead.
This will help to fill the baby’s belly up during the day and reduce nighttime hunger.
However, keep in mind that if your baby is not hungry, then he probably won’t want to eat, so trying to feed more during the day may end up being more frustrating than anything else.
Minimize distractions during daytime feedings.
Some babies need to breastfeed so much at night because they are too distracted during daytime feedings to take in enough milk.
Studies have even shown that babies older than 6 months take in 25% of their daily intake at night due to distractibility during daytime feedings.
Some tips for minimizing daytime distractions:
Nurse in a quiet, dark room with the door closed and the blinds pulled down.
If you have older children or pets in the house, be sure they are not in the room while you nurse.
Try nursing lying down, which can be a more relaxing position for both mother and child.
Either nurse in silence or talk in quiet, soothing tones.
Watch your baby for feeding cues.
In order to help increase feedings during the day, it is important to keep an eye out for clues your baby is hungry.
Many breastfeeding experts advise that an initial pulling away is not an indication that the baby is done feeding.
Rather than assuming that your baby is finished, try coaxing him back onto the breast a few more times to be sure.
Start introducing solid foods.
It is typically recommended to introduce solid foods around 6 months, which is also when moms often begin weaning their babies off of breastfeeding.
Depending on your baby’s age, start by replacing one breastfeeding session with either a single formula bottle or solid food.
Some babies do well with food, such as cereal in a bottle, before bed while others do not.
See how your baby reacts to food before bed, and if it works, then continue with it.
Nurse often in the hours leading up to bedtime.
In the early evening hours, “tank up” your baby by nursing at least every 1 to 2 hours.
This will fill your baby’s tummy with milk and nutrients, and a full tummy typically means a sleepy baby.
It is also recommended that you only nurse on one breast during these feedings so that the baby gets milk with a higher fat content, which helps the baby go longer between feedings.
Start getting the baby ready for bed early.
It seems counterintuitive, but many babies have a hard time going to sleep if they are overtired.
Look for signs of sleepiness in your baby, and begin settling him in early on.
Dress him comfortably so he doesn’t get too hot or too cold, and change his diaper to a nighttime diaper.
Be sure to keep the atmosphere relaxed and soothing during this time.
Some signs your baby is getting sleepy:
- Loss of typical
- Rubbing eyes or nose
- Pulling ears or hair
- Fussing or whining
Feed your baby one last time before bed.
Sometimes called “dream feeding,” nurse the baby right before you go to bed even if the baby is already asleep.
This usually takes place in the time between getting the baby ready for bed and when he is deeply asleep and actually put down.
Breastfeeding the baby one last time while you are holding him in your arms or in a sling will fill their stomachs and help increase the amount of time you have to sleep before he wakes up again.
Get your baby used to other nighttime comforts.
Especially if you have introduced solid foods into their diet, a baby doesn’t need mid-night feedings, they want them.
Your baby wants to be held and rocked back to sleep more than they want to eat, so try using other forms of comfort besides feeding:
If you have a partner, get them involved in the bedtime routine.
Having your partner put the baby to bed will help your baby associate sleep and comfort with someone else besides you.
Feed your baby a bottle with just a few ounces of water in it.
Give your baby a pacifier to suck on.
This suckling motion is extremely comforting to babies even without getting any milk.
Give your baby a comfort item like a teddy bear.
Make your breasts less available
When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night wanting comfort, it is important to deter breastfeeding with your clothing as well.
Cover up and wear clothing that makes it harder for your baby to access your breasts while you comfort him.
If the baby cannot find the nipple quickly, most will often just fall back to sleep.
Try alternative sleeping arrangements.
Sometimes the distance between the baby and mother can affect their nighttime waking patterns.
If your baby is still having difficulty not being breastfed at night even with the other techniques, try other sleeping arrangements until you find one that works for you and the baby.
Co-sleeping is discouraged by many pediatricians, so you may want to steer clear of this.
However, you can try moving your baby’s crib into your room for a few nights to see if this helps with weaning.
It is important to remind yourself that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that different babies will reach at different times.
Weaning a baby off of breastfeeding at night will take time and a lot of patience.
Stick to your daytime and nighttime routines as much as possible and you will start to see results eventually!
Expect to feel mixed emotions when weaning your baby from nightly feedings.
You are closing a chapter of your life together, and this can result in some feelings of sorrow.
Seeing your baby in distress over being weaned off nighttime breastfeeding can also cause you to feel guilty for making him experience this anguish.
Expect to feel frustrated, angry, and sad from time to time as the changes occur.
Massage the breasts if you have breast discomfort.
As you start breastfeeding less and less, it is possible that you may have some breast discomfort.
If this happens, gently massage the entire breast area in slow, circular motions.
If you see or feel any lumps or have areas that are especially sore, you may have a clogged milk duct and should contact your doctor.
Pump extra milk from the breasts at night.
If your breasts become engorged or leak significantly at night, try pumping the breast milk that is no longer being consumed during nighttime feedings.
Be sure to only pump enough milk to prevent discomfort; pumping too much milk will trick the body into producing even more milk to compensate.
Sleep in a firm, well-fitting bra to help with any discomfort that may occur during the evening.
Refrain from sleeping in a bra that has an underwire, but also be sure the bra you are wearing is fitted enough to give you some support.
If leakage becomes an issue during the night, place a nursing pad in your bra for extra absorption.
Sleep when you can.
Weaning your baby off of breastfeeding at night helps your baby get more sleep, but it also helps you get more sleep during these breaks too.
This is equally important, with some studies even indicating a relationship between sleep deprivation in mothers and postpartum depression.
In order to maximize sleep for everyone, be sure that you go to bed soon after putting the baby down at night.
And enjoy the longer periods of sleep!