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Night Wakings, Nursing & Weaning, Oh My!

By Amalah

I have a 10-month-old, who can put himself to sleep fine at bed time, but wakes at least once at night, but it’s usually 2-3 times. And he’s such a loud crier! I have a 3 year old, so I usually jump up to feed him so he will go back to sleep and not wake his brother up.

And I’ll be honest, I’m tired, and it’s just easier to feed him instead of listening to him scream. I’ve tried going in there and patting him, but it just seems to make him mad. I’m hoping to wean the boy in another couple of months too, but I’m nervous about that because he’s so dependent on nursing as a relaxant.

Any tips on getting him to sleep through the night?

Tired and grumpy from Arkansas

Try the “Drowsy-but-Awake” sleep routine

Do you nurse him completely back to sleep after each waking? Like, he’s sound asleep while still latched on? If so, I’d start trying to get him off the boob and back into his crib juuuuuust before that point. Go ahead and nurse him down from screaming and waking his brother, but try to unlatch him before he’s completely conked out.

I’m assuming that since you say he can put himself to sleep just fine at bedtime, something similar is happening then as well — i.e. he’s going in the crib drowsy but awake, and getting himself over that last final settling-down hurdle. If I’m wrong there, and you’re nursing him completely to sleep at bed time as well, then I’d DEFINITELY recommend you tackle bedtime first. You’ll be able to better set expectations for night wakings if they’re the same as at bedtime, and any crying or protests will be less disrupting for your older child.

If he DOES have the drowsy-but-awake routine down at bedtime, fantastic! The trick is to make that consistent throughout the night. I know this is definitely easier said than done, especially when you’re exhausted and fighting your own urge to doze off while nursing. Because it IS so much easier to just give ’em the boob and be done with it, since it’ll get you back in your own bed so much faster. But if you’re hoping to wean him in a couple months, it’s probably better to start with some baby steps now vs. trying to force 12+ month old to go cold turkey on his long-established sleep crutch. He’ll be miserable, you’ll be miserable, EVERYONE WILL BE MISERABLE.

How to use the “Drowsy-But-Awake” sleep routine

So. Unlatch when you suspect your baby’s not actually getting any milk and primarily comfort sucking. You can (at first) continue to hold or rock him at this point if you sense he’ll protest or jolt awake if you try to immediately transfer him to the crib. After a couple nights, try to omit this step and have him go right from boob to bed. (This is when I always found a crib soother or other gentle/quiet musical toy to be incredibly useful as a secondary sleep cue.)

IN THEORY, the drowsy-but-awake routine/response to nighttime wakings is supposed to slowly reduce or even eliminate them as he beefs up his own self-soothing skills. (But you know, babies! They don’t read the same books we do.) One nighttime waking/nursing session at this age is still pretty developmentally normal from a hunger/appetite perspective, but hopefully if you can slowly and gently break the expectation that breastmilk = knock-out drops he’ll skip the second and third wakings. And then you’ll have less nighttime nonsense in general to deal with when the time comes to eliminate the session altogether. (Start with eliminating daytime feeds, though, which can be more easily replaced with solid food and playtime distractions. Usually, the bedtime and overnight feeds are the last to go since they are so intrinsically tied up with comfort and soothing and sleep.)

Good luck and good sleep to your entire household.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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