5 May 2012

Night Weaning, and Why We're Not Ready for it

A friend asked me the other day if I have night-weaned Jacob yet. Barely even thinking, I responded with an emphatic, "No! That's definitely not a good thing for him right now."

Pillows on a bed
This Mom went on to describe her reasons for night-weaning her youngest child and how difficult it had been. She had to go back to work and was simply exhausted from being woken up frequently to nurse at night. Sounds familiar to many of us, I'm sure. "The first night he cried for five hours. My husband had me wear head phones so that I could get through it. The next night he only cried for about three hours. Pretty soon we got down to ten minutes."

Since embarking on this mysterious and beautiful parenting journey, I have come to understand why sleep deprivation can be used as a torture technique. It genuinely feels horrid. I have been known to say when I'm getting to an extreme of exhaustion, "I want to die I'm so tired!!"

But I also cannot picture night-weaning anytime soon, so I guess it's all the more fortunate that I do not yet have to go back to work. Jacob just turned one, and he is going through an extraordinary developmental stage that is demanding for everyone involved. Frankly, he thinks he is too busy to nurse much during the day, and I believe him! He is learning to walk, to climb stairs (though not to go back down them), to eat solid foods, to share toys, and to cope with strong emotions. And he will soon surpass his dads in his confident use of electronics. During the daytime he is rushing to grow up, which leaves only the nights for being a baby with an intense need for both human milk and touch.

I understand why people night-wean their kids, and I don't blame them for wanting to do it. But I think about my poor little guy trying so very hard to explore and establish his independence in his waking hours, and I know that now is definitely not the time for us. If it is painful for me as an adult to lose sleep, I am sure it would be even more so for him to go without the comfort of nursing while he attempts to process the huge adventures of his days. It is hard work to be a baby.

As my many attachment-minded friends love to remind me, we will get through it, and this too shall pass.


  1. That has been my parenting mantra for the last 11 years ;-)

    "From swallowed coins to sleepless nights, always remember, this too, shall pass!! "

  2. I can totally understand the night weaning - we did it when my son was 15 months. I was pregnant again and just beyond exhausted and had to think about all 3 of us. It sounds a little though like the mom you describe didn't offer any alternative form of comfort, which probably made it a lot worse for all of them. I think people often equate night-weaning with 'no more nighttime parenting'. It took about 3 nights for us, and I still went in as soon as he woke, but instead of milk I offered cuddles and songs, so he was a bit perturbed, but his need for comfort was always met. Then once he was used to not having milk, my husband took over the cuddling so I could get my sleep. A year later, he wakes some nights, but not all of them, and he still gets his needs met when he does, so we're all happy all night long.

    Anyway, I'm guess what I'm saying, is if you ever do get to the point where you think it's necessary, you'll know there are much gentler ways to achieve it!

  3. Is that a photo of your actual bed? Because if it is, my, what impeccable taste you have!

  4. I just found your blog via the Out article, I already knew you totally rocked but omg you really totally rock!! You are a parenting hero in every way. Keep it up! :)

  5. Your blog was shared on a facebook group page I am a member of and I wanted to say "THANK YOU!"

    It is so precious that you are sharing this journey, especially as attachment parenting and breastfeeding in general are getting some very very bad press. You are an amazing father. Your son (and partner) are very lucky to have someone so sensitive and dedicated to the health of your family.

    Much love and support to you all. I wish I was more capable of pumping, I would send you milk in a heartbeat. Alas, I was never all that successful and now don't bother. But I'll send all the best wishes I can.

  6. this weekend i discovered the magic response. my second child is 6 months, and someone asked us on sunday if she's sleeping through the night. instead of making excuses for sleeping with her and nursing on demand, then listening to well-meaning but useless advice, i said, "she's a good baby." everyone was happy, especially my baby, who only heard people smiling and praising her. the best part is, it's the truth!

  7. I nursed my daughter for 27 months, after 11 months it was mostly at night because I went back to work during the day. When people asked if she was sleeping through the night I always just said: "yup, with a few brief re-fueling breaks". Oh and I hate to be the bearer of some bad news but she's almost 3 now and she still doesn't sleep through the night (thankfully people have stopped asking). I don't complain though, we got her a very comfy double bed and I never mind crawling in for a snuggle :)

    I love your blog by the way. You're an excellent writer.

  8. Night weaning? lol Is this something new? That is the last nursing to go. If they don't need to nurse at night then they are done as far as I knew. Absurd idea to me. If you are tired enough you can sleep with a baby on your boob. As a mom working outside the home night nursing was very important.


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