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The End of Night-Nursing

The End of Night-Nursing

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Hello, it’s Milk Freak here again! Thank you, thank you for your wise words to my last question. We ended up going with Organic Cow Milk, and guess what!? My baby didn’t die!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI have another question for you. My daughter is now 16 months, and we’ve co-slept/bedshare/whatever term you’d like to use since day 1. It has worked out fabulously. Until now. My daughter still wants to nurse all night. Like, half-waking every 2 hours wanting to nurse. I guess I had hoped that by this point she would have weaned herself. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t taken efforts to nip this in the bud sooner, but it is what it is. I know at this point she doesn’t NEED to nurse, it’s just for comfort/safety/what she’s used too. I’m at a loss for what to do now. We aren’t totally opposed to moving her out of our bed if that’s what it takes to end the all night nurse marathons. Mama just wants some sleep! Any insight would be so greatly appreciated!

THANK YOU!
Milk Freak who is now Sleep Deprived

Okay, so we co-sleep with our babies as well, at first. I did not choose co-sleeping because of any grand parental ideal or philosophy or hardcore dedication to Attachment Parenting or ANYTHING like that. I co-slept with my newborn and young baby because THAT’S HOW I GOT THE MOST SLEEP. Full-stop. Only reason.

Sure, there were side benefits that I really liked — the closeness, the knowing for sure that my baby was safe and secure in my arms and mmmmm, the smell of that teensy little bundle — but really, it was all about the sleep. The not having to get up or out of bed or even move and exert my post-c-section self in order to lift the baby out of a bassinet or crib. Roll over an inch or two, stick boob in baby’s mouth, done, back to drifting half-sleep for Mama. Glorious.

But sooner or later, I wanted more sleep. I needed more sleep. Even the half semi-waking of co-sleeping and nursing becomes too much, especially once you know your baby doesn’t NEED those calories in the middle of the night — once you know he’s just waking up because you and your boobs are THERE and CONVENIENT. So honestly, the instant I sensed that the night wakings were happening BECAUSE we were co-sleeping (and for us this happened sometime between four and five months old), that was the end of co-sleeping and the beginning of “sleeping in your own bed and learning to self-soothe and sleep through the night on your own.”

I know other co-sleeping parents are much more dedicated to the practice as A Thing, and don’t want to even consider moving their babies to their own beds until two years old or so, and I remember looking up methods for stopping the night nursing online and finding dozens and dozens of parents trying to convince themselves that the every-two-hour thing was NOT the fault of co-sleeping but was…molars or another growth spurt or SOMETHING ELSE, and maybe it was, for some of them. For us, it was all about the location. And since the mere THOUGHT of still being woken up four or five times a night for another solid year made me want to burst into exhausted tears, we opted to go with the most obvious-looking solution to night-weaning: Change of venue, to one without the boobs being *RIGHTTHERE.*

Ezra was my more hardcore night-nurser, but once we sacked up and got the bedtime routine going (bath, book, nursing in a chair and not the bed) and made it through the first few nights of regular trips down the hall for mostly milk-less comforting (Jason and I took turns, the further the idea that the Boobs Were Not Always Imminent), he has slept through the night beautifully ever since. I mean, you would DIE if you knew what a good sleeper that kid is now. It really ended up not being that big of a deal at all (like so many other things we parents get ourselves needlessly worked up about) and wasn’t the least bit traumatizing to anyone involved. The middle-of-the-night wakings stopped, and we’d bring him back to our bed for that early-morning first breakfast and then some more dozing, and that was that. It was also SO WORTH IT, because sleep! Glorious sleep. For both Mama AND baby.

Of course, moving a four-and-a-half month old to a crib is nothing like moving a toddler to a crib — particularly one who is old enough to understand that things are changing and vocal/mobile enough to truly protest the change. So…you can either do it like a band-aid — peruse the many, many sleep-training books at the store until you find one that advocates whatever level of crying you personally think you can live with and throw yourself into it — or try a few initial baby steps first and see if they have any effect. Baby steps could include having Dad put the baby to bed instead of you, or have her sleep next to him, AWAY from your body, for a few nights. Or move her out of your bed but continue to roomshare with a small toddler bed or Pack-n-Play. Some parents recommend trying a cup of water or a pacifier instead of the boob (though know that you’re then possibly setting yourself up for a Pacifier Battle down the road), and some simply refuse to offer the boob despite co-sleeping, reasoning that their presence and closeness is enough comfort to soothe the baby through the inevitable crying protest.

My problem with the baby step approach, honestly, is that it can often lead to a LOT of inconsistent behavior…from mom and dad. That kind of…”okay, let’s try this, oh, I don’t think it’s working and she’s crying and I’m tired, oh, let’s just go back to the way we were doing things before and try again tomorrow night maybe” trial-and-error approach. Which can sometimes lead to teaching your baby the exact opposite lesson of what you’re really going for, and one that’s not even sleep-specific: If you cry and pitch enough of a fit, Mom and Dad will cave and give you what you want, if it’s easier. I mean, we’ve all been there, in the middle of the night, when we’re exhausted and our parental reserves are shot. OKAY FINE WHATEVER JUST SLEEP GAAAAAH.

I hope I’m not sounding too harsh and unsentimental here, or like I’m in favor of making bedtime some regimented, military-like activity all because your baby dares to want to nurse at night, like omg, the unheard-of horror. Again, I LOVED co-sleeping, and we have no plans to do anything but with baby #3…for awhile. To a point. My other children are old enough now, though, for me to fully appreciate just how big of a gift a good night’s sleep is FOR THEM — learning to sleep through the night is IMPORTANT. It really IS. Being “a good sleeper” sure is nice for Mom and Dad and all, but it’s also so, so good for the child, so don’t let anyone make YOU feel guilty for deciding that enough is truly enough on the round-the-clock waking. Toddlers have a lot more energy than we do, but they also need MORE sleep than we do. A lifetime of healthy sleep habits is a good thing, even if it sucks for awhile. If you’re worried that the co-sleeping is the reason your child isn’t sleeping through the night, well, it sucks, but it’s time to react and do something about it.

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

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Maggie
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Maggie

Just wanted to say you’re not alone… my 18 month old is the exact same, and I know it’s simply because I’m right there. The kid can’t be hungry every 2 hours on the hour! But my need to sleep is bigger than my resolve, so I end up nursing him just to make him shut up and go back to sleep. I think the big thing is moving him OUT of my bed, we finally ordered a toddler bed for him this weekend. I’m hoping it goes as smoothly as Amy says… maybe he won’t think it’s as big… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

I’m thisclose to taking the steps to move my 22 month old into her own bed, but so far haven’t found the resolve. She nurses at least 2 times every night, and I nurse her to sleep. Every time she has a particularly restless night I think I’m ready, but she is soooo attached to the boobie. Like, if I just roll over with my back to her she senses it and starts rooting and asking for it. *sigh* We will probably just have to go cold turkey, and I dread that.

Brooke
Guest

Heh, well I am just now laying down the law with my 27-month-old about the night nursing. It didn’t really bother me much until recently since I could still sleep through it. Plus we moved and traveled a bunch, so my first attempts were kind of half-hearted. About a month ago, I just could NOT sleep while he was nursing, so something had to be done. I still nurse him down in his bed, and he still crawls into our bed at some point in the night, but there is no nursing between bedtime and morning. Some things that have… Read more »

Samantha
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Samantha

Well, I can say this – that in my experience having them in their own bed doesn’t necessarily end night waking. My 29 month old still wakes once during the night almost every night to nurse. I nurse her before bed, she sleeps on her own the first part of the night, and then at some point (and it’s a different time every night) she wakes up and wants to nurse. She goes back to sleep in her own bed and sleeps until morning. Could I break her of this? Probably, but I have no inclination to do so. The… Read more »

Spicy Sister
Guest

At 6 months, our son began doing the same thing.  We were room-sharing, and he woke every 2 hours for nursing.  Eventually I became so sleep deprived I developed serious ppd. What worked for us was first moving him away from our bed, then to another room.  Room darkening black out shades. And the godsend…..”Good Night, Sleep Tight” by the Sleep Lady.  Google her.   Her approach allowed us to find the balance in the transition that worked for us, and helped us to understand that so much of what was happening was that our son had only every learned… Read more »

bethany actually
Guest

If you think the band-aid method is what will work best for your kid, I say go for it, and I am jealous. 🙂 If you think the band-aid method won’t work for you, then keep reading and take my advice for what it’s worth. With my older daughter, we co-slept till she was about 15 months old. She actually slept for 3-4 hours at a time from one month on, but around 7-8 months she started waking up more frequently. By the time she was 9 months, she was nursing to sleep, I would creep away, and she would… Read more »

Kathleen
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Kathleen

Not a cosleeper, but I did have to convince my kiddo that the middle of the night nursing/bottle wasn’t coming any more – we did sort of what Amy suggests, switched him to bottles of milk (no nursing) and then to bottles of tepid water (much less interesting). It took about a week (of him hating us at 2 AM) and then he decided this was so not worth getting up for.

Jessica
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Jessica

I did the “band-aid”method only to find out there wasn’t even a band-aid  — there was no problem at all. My son was younger, though. He co-slept with us until 9 months. He was tossing and turning and waking every 2 hours to nurse. I thought he needed to nurse to go back to sleep; instead, as it turns out he must have been waking up to nurse. We moved him to his own crib, still in our room. The first night I nursed him to sleep, placed him in the crib (with maybe one or two false starts before… Read more »

Jessica
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Jessica

This is the same Jessica as above. I forgot to say — the way that we figured out that my son was ready to move out of our bed was that we had some test runs the preceding month. I’m a doctor, and every few months I am “on-call” from home 1-2 nights a wake. To avoid waking folks up, every time my pager goes off I sleep in a different room on those nights. When we were still co-sleeping, it rapidly became obvious that my husband was only getting me to nurse the baby 1-2 times a night when… Read more »

EW
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EW

We weren’t co-sleeping, but my little girl woke up once or twice a night to nurse until she was 13 months old.  At that point, we had mostly weaned her during the day (other than first thing in the morning and before bed).  We switched to having her dad get her and give her a bottle of cow’s milk, which she had to wait for (since he had to get it, heat it, etc.).  The first night she wailed.  The second she fussed a little, and the third she didn’t wake up.  It wasn’t worth it for the bottle.  So,… Read more »

ras
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ras

I co-slept with my second daughter until she was 13 months old, then moved her to a crib for the same reason as the OP — I was tired of being an all-night milk bar. I have to admit, the transition was not easy. For the first few weeks, she was PISSED. She didn’t like sleeping alone and she would wake up every hour or so to remind us of that fact. She eventually did calm down, but slid right back into the pattern of nursing every two hours, except now I had to haul my exhausted self out of… Read more »

Ms. K
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Ms. K

Just want to concur with everybody above…all children are different. I get comments all the time about my DD being the “most lovely laid-back easy child ever!” But those people do not try to sleep in the same house with her at night. Basically she refused to take ‘no’ for an answer when it came to nursing at night. And we didn’t even sleep in the same bed after she was six weeks old. There were really bad periods (teething, illness, growth spurts, cognitive growth spurts, whatevs) during her first two years when it was every two hours…no matter WHAT.… Read more »

Sara
Guest
Sara

We also struggled with night-nursing while co-sleeping. We eventually managed to teach our daughter that we would nurse once when first got into bed and then not again until the morning. There were a few tear-filled nights (on all sides) but we got through it. I would rub her back a little or give her a snuggle at first. Now she sleeps through the night and we are still co-sleeping. If you would like to keep co-sleeping, as Amy said, there are lots of methods on the web so you can see what sounds best to you. It can be… Read more »

Christine
Guest

I came here to recommend the same link that Bethany posted above. Though I have to admit that I’ve never actually used it – at least not yet.

My 26-month-old is still waking often to nurse and one of these days I’ll get fed up and do something about it. Or maybe she’ll just start sleeping through on her own, like her brother did… I can hope, can’t I?

Lizzie
Guest
Lizzie

Not necessarily nursing related, but just a suggestion if you do anything that might involve tears…my daughter was a great sleeper (almost all night, in her own bed) until about 7 months when she got a bad cold, 4 teeth in quick succession, and started crawling all at the same time. After weeks of congestion and frequent waking (and of course equally frequent soothing from us) she got better, but her sleep continued to get worse. The more we tried to help her sleep the more she woke up, cried, needed more help to sleep again, and so on and… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

Lizzie, I certain the parents’ level of stress affects baby’s, but I’m chuckling a little at your story because the last time we tried the “eyes closed, see we are all sleeping” trick, my daughter tried to lift my head to get me out of bed, lol.

Leanne
Guest
Leanne

i co-slept with my 18 month old until just about a month ago and he also night nursed until about 3 or 4 months ago. it was too hard for me to do nighttime weaning AND the transition to his own bed at the same time. i’m a single mom and co-slept pretty much because it was just HOW I GOT SLEEP! but i’m also into the granola-crunchy kind of stuff 🙂 anyway, my strategy for nighttime weaning went like this: -do a nice big nursing session right before bed. preferably in a place OTHER than your bed (but if… Read more »

amy v
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amy v

My son will be 2 yrs old near the end of this month and yes, I’m still nursing….and YES (!) co-sleeping and waking every couple hours in the middle of the night,  Some days I’m so tired I can’t think straight, but mostly I’m so used to it I guess.  I don’t know what to do because I really, REALLY miss my sleep but I don’t think I can listen to him cry in his own bed.  I know- my issues, not his.  My heart breaks at the thought of him crying but I think once he’s 2, he needs… Read more »

toni
Guest
toni

Human children are designed (whether you believe by millions of years of evolution, or by God, it doesn’t matter) — to nurse *very* frequently, based on the composition of the milk of the species, the fact that all higher primates (Primates are the zoological Order to which humans belong, higher primates include monkeys and apes) keep their offspring in the mother’s arms or on her back for several years, the size of the young child’s stomach, the rapidity with which breast milk is digested, the need for an almost constant source of nutrients to grow that huge brain (in humans,… Read more »