I posted not long ago about how I was ready to stop breastfeeding, but my toddler wasn’t! I was trying to gradually wean him and wanted to stop feeding him at night. I’ve had some partial success, I have stopped feeding overnight.
Does this mean he sleeps through? Well, sometimes. Most nights, he starts the night sleeping in his bed, then at some point, usually some time between 2am and 5am he comes in to our bed. He can open his door and ours, and he trots round to my side and climbs in. Sometimes I hardly wake up and just chuck him in the middle, where he tosses and turns a bit and then goes to sleep.
It didn’t go from feeding at night to this though.
Night weaning – how I did it
Every child is different, and what worked for me might not work for others, so this isn’t me saying this is what you should do, it’s just me telling you how I managed it. You can just go cold turkey and refuse totally, and just deal with the tears and tantrums, but I preferred to do it gradually. Whatever you do, once it’s done, don’t go back. I started by refusing the first feed as he came in in the night. I said the key words I’d chosen, “It’s night time, sleep time.” and offered cuddles and water if he persisted. Most of the time he refused the water, now occasionally he’ll ask for it. He tried to lift my pyjama top or pull it down to get access, but I either stopped him or faced down. We had tears, protestations and it took longer for him to settle. The hardest times were when it was past 4am and he would be tired but not as tired as before and we had a few early wake ups. If it was 5am or later, I’d give him his morning feed and then get up.
Gradually, he stopped asking for ‘Boo,’ as he calls it in the night, and he accepts a cuddle. It’s still annoying, especially when he insists my arm is underneath him and he puts his face right up to mine, but I prefer that than have him attached to my nipple half the night and then trying to extricate myself. What was more important than I realised was the key words. I began to notice it working a couple of weeks in, he came in and asked for boo, when I told him “It’s night time, sleep time,” he immediately rolled over and accepted a cuddle. I realised the power of the words, repetition and consistency, and I’m now using it to get him to go to bed without the boob.
I still breastfeed in the evening, and in the morning most mornings. We’ve cut the afternoon nap, as he goes to bed better without it. If he sleeps even 20 minutes in the car, he won’t settle until 9/10pm when I go to bed and lie with him. I want to cut the morning feed, as I’m beginning to feel like it’s a personal space invasion. There’s nothing wrong with extended breastfeeding for as long as the child needs it and wants it, it’s a personal thing. Once they’re past the age of 2 it’s no longer such an important nutritional factor, but children do still get a lot out of it in terms of bonding and comfort. I’m happy to still do the bedtime feed, but I don’t want to have to rely on it to get him to sleep.
Going to sleep without the boob
More and more, if he doesn’t fall asleep on the boob, it takes forever to get him to sleep, he either falls asleep on the sofa with me, or I go up to bed and he lies down with me. Once he’s asleep I put him in his bed. Now he’s more aware of the concept of bedtime and night nights, it’s getting easier. He sees the others do their bedtime routine and wants to join in. We go upstairs and brush teeth, have a little story, I give him a cuddly toy and I put his music box on. I repeat the key words, “It’s night time, sleep time.” He stays there for a few minutes, then he’ll creep out. Crucially, he doesn’t cry or seem desperate to follow me, this has been a change to what it was. He would immediately want to get out and it became a huge effort to keep putting him back to bed, I’d end up giving up because I was starving, or my husband would come and take over, leaving us all unhappy in the evening. It was easier to let him stay up and potter about while we ate and watched TV.
If he creeps out, I repeat the phrase and put him back to bed. He can creep out again, see me and puts himself back to bed. He falls asleep eventually, but it doesn’t take too long. He has to be tired though, and not overtired for this to work. I know it won’t be long before he won’t need the boob, and it won’t matter which one of us puts him to bed. I’ll be sad when our breastfeeding journey is over, I’ve only ever made it to 5 months before, so this has been a revelation and a really positive experience for me.
Does it matter if we carry on breastfeeding?
I’ve become such a breastfeeding advocate (more so than before), not just professionally but personally. This hasn’t been to make formula feeders feel bad, or mothers in general – it’s a bit like a religious nut who wants to spread the gospel so everyone can see the light. I want everyone and their babies to feel the positive effects I’ve felt through this journey. If you get through the initial pain, frequent feeds and lack of sleep then it becomes something so magical and rewarding that the two of you have. I know if he’s tired he’ll feed and go straight to sleep if I give him boo. It’s something only I can provide, which can be a bind when you’re the only nourishment, but when it’s a comfort, it’s just an extension of a cuddle. I don’t think of it as food or drink so much anymore.
Daniel is my last child so I’m not in a massive hurry to stop, I know if I really wanted to, I can just stop – he’d get used to it pretty quickly, there’s no big mystery. But I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for him, and at the moment, it’s not affecting my life – it can be annoying at times and sometimes I really don’t fancy my nipple being sucked thank you, but it’s a fleeting time and if I’m really not feeling it I get him to stop. Our feeds don’t last very long nowadays, there is still milk there, but not loads. There’s nothing better than at the end of the day, when he’s tired, and he crawls onto my lap, gets himself in position, latches on and his eyes go heavy and he falls asleep in my arms.
So there it is, I breastfeed my 2 year old and can’t see us stopping anytime soon. It’s on the winding down phase, and we don’t feed at night anymore. I go between wanting to stop completely to thinking I’ll let him wean himself whenever he’s ready. I thought I’d have stopped by now, and sometimes I feel like I have to defend myself, other times I am so proud of it. I see it more as the norm now and a non-issue rather than the exception I used to think of it as, and this is probably down to me doing it, and my circle of friends. If I had a different social network I may feel differently.
What are your opinions on extended or natural term breastfeeding?