Weaning from Night Nursing: How We Made it Through the Night

The time had come to wean my healthy toddler from night nursing. He was down to just a couple of times of nursing at night, but it was still disruptive for all of us.  No one was sleeping well.

I had napped during the day and had mentioned to my son what the plan was. I was ready to begin that night.

When he awoke to nurse, I held him in my arms instead, and used Staylistening to care for him.  I said, “I’m sorry, Honey.  I love you, but no more nursing tonight.  ”

He cried out his anguish and longing.  I held him and listened. “I’m right here. I love you. I am changing things, you’re right. I know it’s hard.”  I said. I held him and walked with him while he sobbed his little heart out.  It was heartbreaking.

He seemed confused and almost panicky. I held him and walked with him.  “It’s a very big change for us.  I’m right here. Right here with you. We’ll nurse tomorrow, but not tonight. I love you.  We’re ok.”  I told him.

His cries went on and on into the night.  We were up and down.  Asleep, then awake again. He became desperate.  He panicked. He mourned. He seemed so confused. His crying felt almost unbearable at times.  I felt scared.  It seemed to never end.  I felt so powerful and that scared me, too. But I was determined to offer my power in the form of confidence.

I had grappled deeply with the awesome power to give or withhold the most primitive, basic longing of a child—to connect through nursing.

During the 3-4am awake time, I was reassuring both him and myself, “We’ll make it through this sad time together.  I’m sorry this is so hard.  I love you so much. You are just right, and I am right here with you.”  I told him.

These nights felt endless.  They were hard, hard work.  The fatigue made the grief heavier, and vice versa. We were both sad to say goodbye to this time in our relationship.

We had three or four nights of heavy crying and sleeplessness.  I kept listening and continued offering confident reassurance.  I would never have asked him to go through it alone.  Even though I held him, and we walked, and slept together and stayed close in other ways, I worried that I was a bad mom by withholding myself physically.

I talked about my feelings with my husband during the days.  I cried hard.  I talked about how scary it is to feel so powerful.  “I have the power to hurt him. I have the power to give or withhold. I hope this isn’t hurting him. I don’t know if we’ll be OK. Am I a sadistic person by stopping nursing and being the cause of these intense feelings of despair for him?”  I asked my husband.

By talking with my husband during the days, I realized that I felt conflicted about how much power I’d felt in my relationship with my own mother, as a child.  I had been given too much power to make her feel better or worse, and that job was very confusing and overwhelming as a child.

After those conversations, I felt better about continuing to wean.  I still have some lingering regrets about how sad and anxious I felt about weaning by kids.  If I had felt more solid and secure within myself, I’m sure it would have been easier on my son during those long nights of weaning.  The fact that I wasn’t able to feel calmer and more confident must have made it harder for him to get through it.   But we made it.

We felt very close during the days that followed the nighttime weaning, and we feel close now.  We connected and bonded deeply through those nights.  We went through that mourning process together and enjoy a deep and honest connection to this day.

Join Beth Ohanneson in her upcoming class, beginning April 13.

2 thoughts on “Weaning from Night Nursing: How We Made it Through the Night

  1. Thanks for sharing. This is very timely for me as I plan to start night-weaning (DS is 26 mo) next week. I’m scared, nervous and sad, but I think it’s necessary for both of us to get better sleep, especially him. I’ll remember your words as I struggle through the 3 a.m. crying for milk. Yikes….but at least I know we will make it through. Thanks again.

  2. My third baby is now 22 month old and still nursing on demand, anytime of day except for while I eat my dinner. I remember the agony of deciding when to wean his older siblings and how much heartbreak I went through before each baby had any idea what was about to happen. My first son had one hard night and then two or three more less hard nights. My daughter was fine after the one night and I made a point of being available to her all night long while my first son, my husband tended to him. The key I think to both was talking to them about it for a few days before hand and not waffling. I mentioned that Mr. Sun had gone to bed and now mama and papa and birdies and nummies (milk) go to bed til Mr. Sun shines through the window in the morning. They understood that it wasn’t totally over, they’d get their milk in the morning. I really think this was key. I like to prepare my children for changes, by telling them ahead of time what will happen. I believe it has made such a difference in what could have turned into a bad situation…ie. weaning, ending a playdate, moving onto a new activity, etc. Soon we will begin to think about night weaning my last baby and I have the experience now to know this too shall pass.

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