Category Archives: Night weaning

When the all-night snack bar is closing: Some strategies for night-weaning

Several readers out there are considering night-weaning, with the potential that this may make it easier to sleep-train their babies. I want to emphasize that night-weaning is NOT necessary for sleep-training, but your child may get the sleep lesson faster if he isn't SOMETIMES fed and SOMETIMES not. I wouldn't recommend night-weaning until your baby is eating solids during the day. So, probably not before 4 months and I'm more inclined to suggest 6 months or so. This is mainly because most babies' tummies before 4-6 months are still quite small and they need the round-the-clock feeding to continue to thrive. OK, let's talk about some strategies that might help.

The first consideration is if the mother is breast- or bottle-feeding at night. If you are bottle-feeding (either expressed breastmilk or formula) during the night, then there's a handy little trick that works for a lot of us. Oh… and if you're NOT bottle-feeding and you're dying a slow and painful death from sleep deprivation, you might want to consider handing your partner the bottle and showing him/her the way to the baby's room at 3 am — pump or mix up some formula and away he/she goes (and 3 or more hours of uninterrupted sleep could be yours). Ahem… I digress.  If you ARE bottle-feeding at night or you COULD be (in other words, if your baby DOES take a bottle and you CAN pump or are OK with formula), try this "graduated weaning process":

1. Plan on about 10 days for this process to work.

2. On the first night, prepare the bottle with one less ounce of milk than usual, and replace this ounce with water. This way, your baby is getting the same amount of liquid, but one less ounce of milk. (For example, if your baby usually gets 6 ounces of milk, put 5 ounces of milk and one ounce of water in the bottle instead).

3. Feed baby this amount every time she wakes up in the night, for the next 2 or so nights. Guaranteed, the child will not notice this first stage. Soothe baby back to sleep

4. On the third day, take out another ounce of milk and replace with another ounce of water (so now you have 2 ounces of water and the rest milk). Soothe baby back to sleep.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the baby starts with the HATE. In other words, continue to replace more and more milk with water. At some point in this gradual process, most babies start noticing and protest. Some protest A LOT. Others, remarkably, very little. Most kids will take a few sips of the now water-with-a-tiny-drop-of-milk and give up, but many will finish the water. Soothe back to sleep.

6. Usually, by the time the baby does start to notice (around the 10-day mark), you will be giving her almost NO milk and you will have been doing this for several days. That means, the child hasn't been getting much nutrition at all from these night feedings for days now.

7. Continue to give the baby water every time she wakes up. Or at this point you can substitute with a soother/pacifier if she takes one and if you're into that sort of thing. 

8. At the same time you're doing this gradual weaning, you should be trying to up the baby's caloric intake during the day. This can be through nursing, formula-feeding or solids.

9. That's it. At the point that your baby is waking up and only getting water from the bottle, your baby is night-weaned. If he's going back to sleep with your help after the water, then he is no longer getting hungry. The whole point of this process is to get to a place — GRADUALLY — where you know that the baby no longer NEEDS the nutrition that he usually got at night. He will compensate during the day.

This is a slow, gentle process by which the baby's body becomes gradually accustomed to getting fed only during the day. At night, the same hunger pangs need not arise anymore. For me, this process was critical to go through before I started sleep-training so that I could ensure that when my boys did wake up at night during the sleep-training phase, they weren't hungry (and I wasn't filled with doubts/guilt as to whether they really needed the food or not). 

Night-weaning is quite a different ball game if you're exclusively nursing during the night. In this case, transitioning usually requires a whole lot of support from your partner, if you have one (and if you don't, I would enlist the help of family or a close friend; otherwise, this can be a very painful process for one person alone… not impossible, but HARD).

Your partner needs to start doing more night soothing during times when the child is used to being nursed. Also, because it's very, VERY hard to just offer the breast for a couple of sucks and then take it away, it's harder to GRADUALLY decrease the amount of milk the child receives. So, sometimes, this is a more hard and fast weaning process. Many mothers report that cutting off the night feedings entirely was much easier than trying to cut them down to just one or two. Mostly because the baby doesn't get the idea that sometimes you're allowed to nurse at night and sometimes you're not. So, when the baby does wake up, the partner starts to soothe. As usual, it always depends on your child, but the partner's soothing could involve back- rubbing or cuddling in bed (especially if you co-sleep) or in the crib or, more likely, the process will involve being out of the bed, rocking and/or bouncing the child.  The first few days are going to be the hardest. Sometimes, mom needs to be out of the room every time the baby wakes up and wants to be nursed. If the child is old enough to understand words and some more complex ideas, saying things like this might help:  "boobie is empty now and needs to make more milk and will be ready in the morning", "you can have it when you see the sun", or "boob is sleeping".  In the morning, you'll need to be prepared to nurse for a long time.  The soother is a big help here, again, if your baby takes one and you're into giving her one.  Singing also has helped many women.  Instead of nursing to sleep, some kids quickly switch to being sung to sleep, some favourite songs help, but introducing some new lullabies can be helpful too. Some kids adopt new soothing behaviours like belly-rubbing (the baby's or yours), playing with mommy's hair, sucking their thumb, and so on. You can also try to introduce new items to soothe with like lovies, stuffed animals, blankies, etc.  Lots of love, affection, cuddling and discussion of what is going on (even if it's a wee lie) can help the older ones especially. Also, keep in mind that SOME kids are not big cuddlers and don't NEED the tight shmushing  to compensate — we as mothers often try to pull our kids physically closer during these times when they might feel best with a little space of their own. So, keep an eye out for these signals and try not to take it personally (HA!) when your child pushes you away a bit and starts to self-soothe instead.

This is a tough transition. For both the baby and the mother. Be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Try to ease the guilt you might feel with lots of playtime and cuddling during the day. 

Anyone been through night-weaning and have some extra pointers? Words of encouragement? Horror stories? Anyone want some support while thinking about starting this transition?

Going down at bedtime easily, but waking up frequently

Thanks for all your feedback on the last post!  I really appreciate
your input and it has rejuvenated me. Maybe I'll just put up a "needy,
insecure" post every month or so and get my fix for your collective
voices… For what it's worth, I completely understand the tendency to
lurk (I was one of you for a long, long time) and I really am cool with
it. Having said that, it's always great to read your feedback, positive
or negative, and not JUST because I'm needy and insecure. It also gives
me fodder for more material to blog about.

So today's post is
going to try to address some of the questions in the comments section
about what to do about multiple wakings. For some people, this doesn't
seem to be under the same category as "sleep training" per se because
the child has no problem falling asleep at bedtime, but he or she DOES
end up waking up multiple times and then can't go back to sleep without

First off, I have to say that this is indeed part
of the whole "sleep training" area. As many of you know (whether by
research or by just plain observing your infants), children cycle
through light and heavy sleep throughout the night, waking many times.
What they're actually cycling through is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement:
the light sleep during which we dream) and non-REM sleep (of which
there is the light, medium and heavy variety). They go through many
more cycles than adults do and they need lots of that heavy sleep to
function properly. So, the trick to decreasing the night wakings isn't actually about decreasing them at all
but, rather, we need to teach them to put THEMSELVES back to sleep when
they wake up (as adults, we also put ourselves back to sleep in the
middle of the night, sometimes several times per night, mostly

Part of the reason that many kids don't have a
problem falling asleep in the first place is that we usually provide
them with lots of loving help. Most parents I've talked to have very
little problem with spending some reasonable amount of time rocking,
bouncing, singing and shushing their babies to sleep at bedtime
(provided it's not a 3-hour marathon). It's one of the nicest parts of
early parenthood for some of us. The problem with it, however, and this
is really a tough one to swallow, is that we are teaching our babies to
fall asleep with these "props." Richard Ferber talks a lot about these
cues (btw, he really is not the evil CIO guy that many make him out to
be; the newer edition of his book
is very well-researched, well-written and has some great information
about sleep patterns, biological rhythms and empirically-based
strategies that really work to deal with nightmares, night terrors,
etc.). Elizabeth Pantly
also does a good job of explaining sleep cycles and the importance of
teaching children to put themselves back to sleep. So, one of the first
"causes" of multiple wakings is the child's lack of experience and
ability to put himself back to sleep. What we try to do when we sleep
train is provide the child with appropriate "tools" to fall back asleep
when he wakes up (for example, we use pacifiers, blankies, teddies,
white noise, music, or in many cases, nothing at all except a dark room
with appropriate temperature and a peaceful environment).

course, some children fall asleep on their own easily at bedtime
because they're simply exhausted and their body is drifting into a
natural sleep cycle that they just roll with. However, in the middle of
the night when they reach the light sleep part of the cycle, they may
startle awake and have no clue what to do with themselves. The natural
instinct is to holler for mom or dad to help him out.

So… what
can we do about these night wakings? Mostly: Teach the child to go to
sleep initially by himself. That doesn't mean you have to cut out the
rocking or singing or cuddle time altogether. Just don't put them into
a deep sleep through those methods. And then use your favourite (UGH)
sleep-training approach for every opportunity that the child needs to
fall asleep (bedtime, night wakings, naptimes). That means using the same "gentle" or "graduated CIO" or
"no-cry" or whatever method every single time the child wakes up. Use
those methods until the child learns to put herself to sleep during all
appropriate times. A child needs many, many repetitions to learn a new
skill. So, if most of the time you're doing a pat/shush/pick up/put
down method of gradually teaching your child to soothe himself to sleep
and then other times you let him cry for a few min and yet other times
you nurse him to sleep, he just won't be able to "get" it quickly. The real problem for most of us is that at 8 pm, we can pull off almost any elaborate training method, but at 3 am?! Then AGAIN at 4 am?! And 5 am?! The probability of consistently teaching ANYTHING at those hours with that little sleep starts to seriously decline. 

And all of this gets SIGNIFICANTLY more difficult if the child hasn't been night-weaned. Because when the child wakes up, he's usually fed. And whether that entails a breast or bottle, it requires a parent to do the feeding which, at least for the first stage of infancy, usually soothes the child back to sleep. So, it's very hard for a baby to learn to put herself back to sleep when most of the time a parent gives her milk and that works beautifully to ease her back to dreamland. THIS IS ALL GREAT. No problem whatsoever if everyone in the family is happy. And for the first few months, the multiple wakings are usually expected and tolerated to some degree. HOWEVER, 2 major things start to happen:

1. After the fourth, fifth or sixth month, many of us start to lose our minds from the sleep deprivation. I'm not talking about being a little groggy, a little tired, a tad slow. I'm talking seriously brain dead, dangerously impaired, potentially depressed, perhaps bordering on psychotic, and definitely less fit to parent. Even the most well-intentioned mother may lose it by the 6th month of 4-6 night wakings.

2. Around the 4-month mark, most babies do NOT fall asleep immediately after being fed. OH THE INDIGNITY!  Not only is the child waking up 5 times per night, but the regular routine of nursing or giving him a bottle isn't working to calm him back to sleep anymore. Now there's more bouncing, rocking, shushing, patting, and pleading which can last SO VERY LONG. And seem even longer at 3, 4 and 5 am.

That's why I generally recommend that parents try to night-wean before attempting to sleep-train. Because if the parent is going in sometimes with a bottle or boob and other times trying to use some sleep training technique, it makes it MUCH harder for the child to learn what the deal is. It's not impossible, but it IS harder. I want to be clear: This is NOT a recommendation to night-wean at any particular age. It's a rather straightforward consideration: if feeding your baby throughout the night is more important to you than your ability to sleep through the night, then DON'T night wean. If you are desperate to sleep-train and you want to make the transition as easy as possible, then night-weaning will probably help reach that goal.

So… now that I lost and just re-wrote half of this post (STUPID Typepad… *&&#^#%#%!!), I've lost steam and I'll get to some night-weaning methods in another post soon.