Gentle night-weaning at 18 months

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I am a big fan of attachment parenting – and more generally, doing what feels instinctively “right” to me. As such, we have bed-shared with Frida from birth (genuinely from birth – the midwives in hospital were horrified at my shunning the cold plastic crib in order to have my new baby sleep on my chest).

Our aim with Frida has always been to be as child-led as possible. Breastfeeding, weaning and eating, sleep-routines, play – since day one we have endeavoured to let Frida guide us as to her needs and truly “follow the child”. She is still breastfed, with no plans to stop until she is ready or I decide I don’t want to do it anymore.

That’s why the decision to night-wean Frida (rather than waiting for her to give up night time boob by herself) wasn’t an easy or quick one. But I am so pleased that I decided a week ago that it was the right time for us, as it’s been such a genuinely smooth process. I thought I’d share a little bit about our journey with you, in case anyone finds it reassuring or helpful or normalising in any way.

As a newborn Frida’s sleep was fantastic. Oh how smug I felt to have a three month old who woke only once or twice a night! What an amazing mother I must be to have such a great sleeper! Pat on the back. Then the four-month sleep regression hit us and Oh. My. God.  Her sleep never really recovered from it. At its worst, she was waking every 20-30 minutes all night, and at best I would maybe get a two or three hour stretch, if I was really lucky. I was exhausted, permanently (still am actually). During the worst times, I got ill, picked up every bug going, triggered my labyrinthitis, and generally sported coldsore after coldsore, accessorised with lovely eye bags and grey skin. Frida would spend huge parts of the night latched on, sucking, not for milk but for comfort, and I kept waiting for the magic day when her sleep would improve. Except it didn’t.

I think it’s important to say here, I don’t think there is anything wrong with comfort sucking or feeding – what could be more vital to a baby or toddler than comfort? I also don’t believe that babies or young children can “self-soothe”, or that they are physically capable of “sleeping through” the night, and I am not a fan of “sleep training” of any kind. The Gentle Parenting Facebook group I’m a member of definitely kept me sane at the times that I questioned myself, as did Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s writing on infant sleep.

Despite this, and despite my initial hope that night weaning would just happen naturally for us, I was starting to feel like breastfeeding was definitely hindering our nights rather than helping them. A week ago, after a particularly exhausting night, I decided I needed to take the next step and night wean.

After reading up on night weaning, I decided not to go for any structured method – they looked like too much work – and that I would just explain to Frida that we no longer breastfed at nighttime. One of the factors in deciding to wean was that I felt that Frida’s understanding is so good that she would understand me telling her that night-time boob was no more, and quickly adapt to the new norm. Cuddles, water, singing, soft taking – whatever she needed, I would give her, but breastmilk after bedtime was no longer on the cards.

The first night went much better than I had expected – she woke a lot, but wasn’t sad, and was ok with being cuddled to sleep. Since then, things have just gotten better and better – she has stopped asking for milk in the night, and has even mostly stopped asking to be cuddled back to sleep, often sitting up and then lying herself back down and closing her eyes again. She totally understands that we no longer have “mummy booboo” at night time now, and we often talk about it.

She is still waking a few times in the night, but no where near as much. I honestly can’t quite believe how much of an improvement I’ve seen in her sleep already. It’s also had a knock on effect on bedtime, and for the last two nights my husband has put her to bed – a huge milestone for a toddler who until a week ago would always boob to sleep (unless in a sling). My mum was also able to babysit for us meaning we could go out all evening and not worry about rushing back for bedtime.

I think that waiting until the time was “right” for us made a huge difference; I am sure that even a few months ago she would have found night-weaning upsetting and difficult. I do wonder if we should have tried sooner, but I have to trust in my gut feeling and hope that we have done the right thing at the right time.

Frida is still sleeping in our bed, so the next step will be to move her into her own room. I don’t feel a huge rush to move her though – I really, really love co-sleeping – so I think we will just wait and see what feels right for our family. I will miss her when we move her, although I will also relish having more space to sleep in! And she will always be welcome back into our bed if she wants to.

If you have got to the end of this post – well done! How was your night-weaning journey? Did you co-sleep?  Have you struggled with sleep, or were you lucky to have a baby who settled easily and slept long stretches?

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10 thoughts on “Gentle night-weaning at 18 months

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your night weaning experience with us.

    I’ve been waiting for this post with much anticipation, so I really am grateful. ❤

    I am so glad to hear that it has been much simpler and smoother than you first thought. It is very encouraging indeed.

    It will come as no surprise to you that we are on the same page as you guys. We've coslept since day 1 and we try to be as child led as possible. Whilst our sleeping arrangements still work really well for us, we have been discussing the natural progression of night weaning in the near future and much like you we don't want it to be anything but gentle and respectful. Your account really does makes me hopeful that we too could achieve this one day. I think I just need to be brave and take the plunge? hehe

    I agree with what you said about their understanding of things being quite important in this process. I might have to wait a bit more but hopefully we're not too far off from that point here.

    Please keep us updated about this is going as it is so helpful to know. Also, when you decide to move her to her own bed – what a milestone! 🙂

    Hope you get to rest a bit more now!

    Big hugs xxx

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  2. Lovely to hear your experience. We have also shared a bed since birth. I didn’t even intend to just natural instinct took over and 14 months later he’s still there. We have attached an ikea cot to the side of our bed to increase the mattress area but he only spends the first part of the night there, once I come to bed it’s all about the cuddles!

    Still breastfeeding in the night, sometimes it’s every 2-3 hours, sometimes more but we’re all ok with it for now.

    Nice to know that it can go smoothly though when the time is right! 🙂

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    • Thank you! All I’d heard was horror stories (why do parents never feel they can share their successes?) so hopefully this post will do a tiny bit to reassure people that’s it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom. Xx

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    • Sorry that was rushed! We’ve been cosleeping since the start and have loved so much of it, I couldn’t imagine it any other way now. And I’ve been lucky as my son sleeps very well (not latched on) between waking maybe once or twice a night for a quick feed back to sleep. So I keep putting off night weaning but I’m pregnant now and finding it harder. He seems to be waking more too. So your story gives me hope. The reason I asked about feeding to sleep was because I am currently the only one who can put my son to bed. Was it immediately possible for your partner to put Frieda to bed once night weaned? Do you have to be out of the house? Thanks!!

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      • Hello! So I do mainly still feed her to sleep although my husband can now put her to bed quite easily (yay!! Huge milestone for us) as can my mum (double yay – more dates are now possible!). I think this would have been really hard even a month ago, it’s like it’s all clicked together for her. Good luck with whatever you choose to do and of course wishing you a very happy and healthy rest of your pregnancy xx

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  3. Pingback: Sleep, and the family bedroom  | Frida Be Mighty

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