I am keen to try some gentle night weaning with my 18 month old. What are your tips?

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 will however reiterate that night weaning is not a magic cure for sleep problems. In fact for many parents night weaning increases their frustration and problems as they have eliminated the most effective method they had of settling baby who continues to wake.

So we encourage you to look at the reasons for night weaning before beginning. Are you doing it because you think it will improve sleep? Or are you doing it because you’ve got nursing aversion, or your child is showing signs of being ready or some other reason that isn’t a desperate hope that night weaning will solve all your problems?

Still ready to wean? Great, read on.

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TBSTP’s Night Weaning Stance

As with any change it’s important to take things slowly and scaffold the change.
You need to first introduce and firmly establish other comforting measures before you even consider reducing feeds. Otherwise you leave yourself with an empty toolbox and an inconsolable child.

This process may take a number of weeks, so if you’re starting from a point where you are feeling desperate, you might need to put in some additional coping strategies to get you through the transition time. Meditations, affirmations and reminders that you are one step closer every day, (even though there may be days you feel like you’re going backwards), support from your partner or an IBCLC, the ABA/LLL hotline on speed dial, and something to squeeze hard when the aversions are stressing you.

Over a few weeks you want to introduce new soothing tools alongside nursing. It might be a stuffie, a bottle/cup, dad/partner, or a combination of things. Let’s use a song as the example.

Every time you feed or hug your child and for every bedtime; sing or play the song. You want your child to associate the song with love, safety, warmth; mum. Once the child has started to show signs of making that connection, then you can start imposing small limits on feeding. E.G. instead of feeding completely to sleep, you’ll feed for two rounds of the song. Talk about this change with your toddler. Don’t make it a big deal or warn them far in advance. Just talk about it at the beginning of the routine, and hold space for your child if they are upset. Once they have accustomed to that change you can work on feeding during the first play-through, and just listening during the second.

That might be enough for you for now, knowing that there’s a set time limit on nursing. If so you can come back to the process at a later date if you need to.

If you want to cease nursing all together, then keep repeating the process of reducing the length of the feed.

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