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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!

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]

Published January 17, 2011. Last updated October 29, 2017.
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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