Your Ultimate Guide to Night Weaning Your Baby

Night weaning is a big milestone for both parents and babies. This transition can lead to more consolidated sleep for the family– which is always a plus! It may happen naturally over the first year, or parents (and baby) may reach a point where they’re ready to nudge their child away from feeding overnight. Reaching this transition can happen at various ages and stages. There’s no race to the finish line or a definitive point where every child will night wean by a certain age. That can be one of the most challenging aspects of baby sleep and weaning in general – never knowing when it’ll happen, if it’ll happen naturally, or if you’ll need to be the catalyst to that change.

This blog will cover all the aspects of night weaning parents should consider, before beginning the process of night weaning your baby.

Understanding Night Weaning

Night weaning is the process of reducing the amount of feedings overnight either gradually (one feed at a time) or weaning completely.

Night weaning is not synonymous with complete weaning (though that can be part of the process). Most kids will naturally consolidate to fewer feedings overnight, but you may find that 1-2 sticky wakings continue past the time you thought they would. 

This is why it is very important to note that each child is unique and this process is not the same in all children. While some babies may stop demanding food at night as they grow up independently, others require some sort of encouragement and direction.

When to Start Night Weaning

When to begin night weaning depends on various factors, such as the age of your baby, nutrition, and readiness to stop feeding through the night.

Age

In most cases, pediatricians advise night weaning to be done when your baby is between 6 to 12 months of age since your baby is likely to have their nutritional needs catered for during the day. The amount of solids they take in may help to reduce the caloric intake overnight, but this isn’t always the case; some babies will reduce their night feedings before they ever start solids.

Growth and Development

Check that your baby is putting on appropriate weight and progressing through the correct stages of development. Night weaning should only be done after consultation with your pediatrician to make sure your baby’s growth is on track.

Feeding Patterns

If your baby can take in all their 24-hour caloric needs during the day, then they may not require feedings overnight to meet that goal.

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Preparing for Night Weaning

For a smoother transition and process of night weaning your baby, I suggest preparing for as many scenarios as possible and going in with a clear plan. This will help with consistency, which means the process may take less time overall.

Gradual Reduction

Depending on your child’s temperament, you may have more success with night weaning when it is done gradually. Changing too much at once may interfere with your ability to stick with it and cause confusion for everyone. Begin by gradually decreasing the portions of milk you give during nighttime feedings, in small steps. For instance, if you have been nursing your baby for about 10 minutes, you can try and shorten that time to 8 minutes for several evenings, then to 6 minutes, and so on. If you’re bottle feeding, you can reduce by 1-2 oz. You can speed this up (reducing ounces/minutes every day) or slow it down (taking more time to reduce ounces or minutes).

Start with the earliest night feeding and work your way to the later ones.

If your child has not been sleep-trained to fall asleep or initiate sleep without assistance, simply replace the night feeding with a different method of support to get your baby back to sleep (for example, rocking).

Monitor Daytime Feedings

Check and ensure your baby gets enough nutrition during the day. Provide additional feedings and maybe an extra feeding before sleep to fill your baby's tummy so that you’re confident in their ability to go back to sleep without feeding.

Have a Solid Sleep Routine in Place

Research has found that by simply introducing a sleep routine, nighttime sleep improves very quickly (even as quickly as a few days). Having this puzzle piece in place can lessen the amount of work you have to do overnight when starting the night weaning process.

Have a Response Plan for Overnight

Deciding to night wean is not the key to night weaning. Creating your plan and following through with it is when you see the magic happen. The goal is for your child to go back to sleep without feeding, so how you approach that may be totally different than another parent! If you have sleep-trained and your child can put themselves to sleep, you can apply your sleep-training method to your overnight wakings; and if you haven’t sleep-trained yet, you can replace feeding with rocking, rubbing their back, walking around with them, etc.

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Implementing Night Weaning

Once you’ve prepared for the process of nightweaning your baby, you’re ready to start! Here are some strategies to help you implement the plan effectively:

Reduce Feeding Time Gradually

As previously mentioned, try to decrease the amount of time feeding (or ounces in their bottle) during the night gradually.

Offer Water Instead

If your child is over the age of 12 months, you can try to replace breastfeeding or formula/milk with water. This is a less desirable response for them and it can help them naturally move away from milk feeds overnight. The downside is that they may continue to wake or replace the formula/milk feed with drinking water overnight so keep that in mind!

Partner Support

Ideally, it is important to discuss the night weaning process with your partner and reach an agreement to stop night feeding. Occasionally, it is better if the non-nursing parent tries to comfort your baby since it may not be as confusing for the child if milk isn’t an option. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a breastfeeding parent to night wean their child if they don’t have partner support. However, a team approach may increase success simply due to consistency.

Stay Consistent

Consistency is crucial during night weaning. Stick to your plan and avoid reverting to old habits, even if the process seems challenging at times. Consistency will help your baby understand the new nighttime expectations.

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Handling Night Weaning Challenges

On the same note, night weaning can be accompanied by certain difficulties as well. Here’s how to handle some common issues:

Resistance and Crying

Babies may fight changes in their routines, and that is why they cry. Reassure your child, soothe them in a way that doesn't involve feeding, and comfort them throughout these changes. 

Teething or Illness

If your child is seeking extra comfort during the night weaning process, know that you may have to go back to feeding temporarily, especially if dehydration is a concern. You can jump back into night weaning your baby as soon as they’re well again.

Emotional Impact on Parents

Night weaning can be emotionally challenging for parents, especially breastfeeding mothers. It’s important to remember that this is a positive step towards independence and better sleep for both you and your baby. Reach out to a supportive community or seek guidance from a sleep consultant if needed.

Conclusion

Night weaning is a gradual process that requires patience, consistency, and compassion. By preparing adequately, implementing gentle strategies, and handling challenges with care, you can help your baby transition to a more restful nighttime routine. Remember, every baby is unique, so trust your instincts and proceed at a pace that feels right for both you and your little one. Restful nights are within reach!

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