Night Weaning from Breastfeeds: TBSTP Perspective
At The Beyond Sleep Training Project we encourage mothers who are breastfeeding to consider waiting until around 18 months of age as a minimum before beginning night weaning. This is merely a minimum starting guide – always follow your own individual child. Many children will be becoming ready around this age; many will not be ready for much longer. Some children will wean relatively quickly, others may need a longer, slower period to adjustment. As always, listen and respond to your individual child!
We acknowledge that this stance will not apply to all families for a multitude of reasons. If you are breastfeeding, waiting until around 18 months or beyond to night wean isn’t something that everyone will be able to, or wish to do. We do ask however, that all of our members consider embracing these ideas as we feel that one of the strengths of this group is the ability of our members to support each other. We encourage those who either haven’t breastfed, or are no longer breastfeeding, to play an active role in supporting our breastfeeding mothers.
We believe that loving gentle parents nourish their babies in a variety of ways, and the members of this group are a testament to that. If the original poster is breastfeeding, comments should keep this stance in mind. We also recognise that any amount of breastfeeding is a success and would never wish to diminish the achievements of mothers.
We see the value in sharing these ideas with breastfeeding mothers as another step towards a more baby and child-friendly future. We hope to do this by helping provide recognition that breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond is the biological norm as humans.
There are a few reasons behind this idea that are worth considering.
The first is that night weaning does not guarantee an improvement in night wakings. Continuing to breastfeed throughout the night is often the easiest way to get through intense periods, as breastfeeding helps both mother and baby get back to sleep the quickest.
Night weaning should therefore not be something parents feel they ‘need’ to do to get their child sleeping ‘better’. Babies and toddlers nurse and wake at night for many reasons and nursing meets many of those needs.
The second is that night weaning is often a gentler process when the child is old enough to understand a little more and can communicate with you as changes are negotiated. As their comprehension skills develop you can involve your child in the process, it as gentle and respectful as possible. It is well documented that this level of understanding is beginning to occur from around 18 months. They can be a part of the process and let you know when you need to ease off or when they are having days when they do need some extra comfort nursing.
These resources may be useful for you to explore with your child as a part of working together towards weaning:
The third is that it respects night feedings as the biological norm. This is important in moving away from sleep training culture as we are working to promote biologically normal infant and child sleep, ensuring that these behaviours are respected.
All of that being said, we realise that every family is unique and we encourage you to research and make a well informed decision as when to wean. ANY amount of breastfeeding is a success and we congratulate you and are here to support you in your journey. The linked articles provide some good information as a starting point, with information on the benefits of continuing feeding, and ways to approach gentle weaning.
Some more useful information for mothers breastfeeding, or considering continuing to breastfeed into toddlerhood:
Breastmilk provides valuable nutrients and antibodies to the child, meeting many nutritional needs and boosting immunity through infancy and beyond. The World Health Organisation emphasises the benefits of nursing to two years and beyond (WHO, 2002).
There are countless benefits to breastfeeding beyond infancy – toddlers and preschoolers continue to benefit from breastfeeding for as long as it is provided. Breastfeeding benefits toddlers and young children nutritionally, immunologically and psychologically. See this link for more detailed information about the amazing benefits:
Some more useful links for those feeding, or considering feeding a toddler or older child:
The Beyond Sleep Training Project continues to support and advocate for natural term breastfeeding. From the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine:
“The average age at weaning ranges anywhere from six months to five years… Claims that breastfeeding beyond infancy is harmful to mother or infant have absolutely no medical or scientific basis. Indeed, the more salient issue is the damage caused by modern practices of premature weaning.”
The global organization of physicians further notes that “Human milk contains nutrients, antibodies, and immune-modulating substances that are not present in infant formula or cow’s milk. Longer breastfeeding duration is further associated with reduced maternal risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart attack.” (ABM 2012)
*Please note that true self-weaning from the breast before 12 months, is extremely uncommon. If your baby is weaned (for any reason) before 12 months, they will need a suitable milk alternative such as expressed breastmilk, donor breastmilk or infant formula.
There is a wonderful Facebook support group you may wish to join called Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond.
If you are worried about your child’s teeth as a result of night nursing, there is much evidence that breastfeeding is not the cause of cavities. In fact, research suggests that breastfeeding may actually protect against tooth decay, whereas formula may play a role in its development (ABA).
If you are experiencing nursing aversion then know you are not alone – this is experienced by many breastfeeding mothers at some time. Nursing aversion or agitation can be a very confronting and difficult experience. If your feelings about nursing have changed you may find some of these articles helpful:
If you are wondering how breastfeeding impacts on fertility, there is a lot to consider. Continued breastfeeding is not necessarily prohibitive to conceiving. This, from KellyMom – “Many moms can conceive without deliberately changing their toddler’s nursing patterns. There is no “magic” threshold of breastfeeding that will allow you to conceive — every mother is different. Some moms need to stretch out nursing frequency and/or shorten nursing sessions to make it easier to conceive — babies naturally do this themselves as they get older, so one of your options is simply to wait a bit… If you decide to make changes to your nursing pattern, the time of day that you make the change (e.g., cutting out or shortening a nighttime nursing session as opposed to a daytime nursing session) should not make that much of a difference. Current research indicates that nursing frequency and total amount of time at the breast per 24 hours are the most important factors, rather than the time of day that the suckling occurs.”
Sometimes, weaning naturally occurs, or is fast tracked, during pregnancy. Many mothers/babies wean during pregnancy due to nursing aversion, supply disappearing, change in milk taste, etc. You may feel that this was not a choice or something that you or your little one were ready for. This can bring up a lot of feelings of guilt and regret, especially if the weaning occurs before 18 months and you planned to feed for longer or if you are aware of our stance and reasons behind it. Please be reassured that this is not a failure – just the beginning of a new stage in your relationship with your child.
“It may feel strange to think of your breastfeeding relationship as vulnerable to the influences of pregnancy. As parents there are so many things that we cannot control. Starting with pregnancy, the new baby will change family life in many unexpected ways, some more welcome than others. If you can, open yourself to the various possibilities and trust that you and your older child can make it through no matter what. Remember, your fundamental relationship with your older child is not at stake.” (Kellymom).
There is also the possibility of tandem nursing once the baby arrives and of the toddler weaning during pregnancy and starting back up again after baby is born, so there can be many outcomes that mothers may not be initially aware of. This can be an emotional time, and we are here to support you in all instances.
With all of that to consider, the decision of if and when to begin weaning is highly personal and will depend on many factors that apply to only you and your own unique situation. Here are a variety of articles that we recommend if you are weaning, preparing to wean or considering when to wean:
*if you need support to establish or continue your breastfeeding journey, please reach out. Help is available. We recommend contacting a registered IBCLC. If you do not have access to this, the following organisations/IBCLCs can assist via phone or Skype.
For more support on your journey, join us on Facebook at The Beyond Sleep Training Project