Armchair Milk and Waiting for the Sun to Shine Again
Supporting toddlers lovingly through night weaning with an attachment-based approach, by Mag. Anna Bogner-Gombotz
This blog post is meant to encourage you to follow your own path when it comes to night weaning. In this post, I'll share my expertise from breastfeeding and sleep counselling and from my
experiences with my own two children.
I'd like to say two things in advance:
1. breastfeeding at night still has benefits for 2 and 3 year olds and there is no reason to wean at night unless the mother wants to.
2. if the family longs for quieter nights without breastfeeding, this doesn't mean that daytime breastfeeding, and therefore all breastfeeding, must also completely stop. If the mother's still happy to breastfeed the child during the day, I believe this has many advantages. Above all, daytime breastfeeding doesn't bring any advantage for night weaning. The opposite is more likely to be the case: if breastfeeding stops during the day, many children look for even more closeness to mum's breast at night.
I don't recommend night weaning under the age of one year. That's why I talk about toddlers and not babies in my article.
If the nights with a breastfeeding baby under one year are very stressful for the mother and the family, I recommend seeking breastfeeding or sleep counselling, where individual approaches and solutions can be found that correspond to the baby's stage of development.
Of course, professional advice is also helpful and useful when the child is more than a year old, but you'll find a starting point on your way to more restful, breastfeeding-free nights in this article!
Don't rush into it, but think about it carefully
If you're thinking about weaning at night, it's important that you first think about a plan for how you want to manage night weaning. Overhasty attempts to stop breastfeeding often end up with more frustration. But before you come up with a plan, you need to know what you want!
Be conscious of what you want: Make a decision
Most of the time, the decision to wean at night doesn't happen overnight, but mothers think and speculate about the idea for a long time, and that's a good thing, because this is exactly the
right time to think about how you want to organise the weaning process.
Once your plan is in place, so to speak, you can relax and wait for the right time for you. When you're ready to wean, you need to be sure and clear about your decision, even if it means frustration, sadness and loss for your baby. As long as you are unsure, don't do it and try to enjoy the time as much as possible.
Be conscious of what you are doing: Make your plan
Think about how you want to wean at night, because there are several possibilities, some of which I would like to show you here. But first...
No matter which way you choose, these conditions always apply:
- The toddler must be accompanied lovingly and empathically in every phase and must not be left to cry alone.
- The father/partner is an important support factor.
- Don't establish substitute sleeping habits that you don't want to maintain over a longer period of time.
- To prevent the child from being hungry or thirsty, have a snack and water handy in the bedroom to offer the child during the first few days. However, night-time meals shouldn't become the norm.
- Take your time and don't put yourself under pressure.
- You're allowed to give up, to be forgiving and to be kind when you or the child can't do it any more. You're allowed to stop what you're doing and postpone it to a later time, as maybe it just wasn't the right time.
Now I'll introduce you to two common options. The following applies to both options: The first 3-5 nights can be very stressful for everyone involved. After 10-14 days, most children will have adjusted to the new sleeping situation. However, weaning at night doesn't necessarily lead to quieter nights, because the children still wake u
12,p, they just learn to fall asleep again without a breast. On the whole, however, the nights become calmer for previously breastfed children who are over one year old, and the older the children are at the time of night weaning, the calmer they become.
Option 1: Start with a breastfeeding break at night (similar Gordon's weaning method)
A nightly breastfeeding break means that you don't breastfeed your baby for a certain, fixed period of time during the night. For young children (around their 1st birthday), you can start
with a breastfeeding break of e.g. 4 hours. This is how it looks in practice: it's decided that there'll be no more breastfeeding between 11 pm and 3 am. If the baby wakes up before or after
this time, they'll be breastfed normally. It is important to make this time window "visible" to the baby. For example, this can be a small, dark night light that is switched off during the
breastfeeding-free time. The child then knows: if the light is on, I can breastfeed, if it is dark, I have to continue sleeping without milk. Most children can get used to this new sleeping
situation well within one to two weeks. The timespan can be gradually extended over the next weeks/months until at some point the whole night is breastfeeding-free.
I find this method useful for young children because the change to a milk-free night doesn't happen too quickly, but the mother still gets more restful sleep. For children from about 1.5 or 2 years of age, I also find the complete weaning at night in one step quite acceptable.
Option 2: Complete night weaning
In this option, the child is immediately weaned completely at night. For the child, this means: from now on, I have to go back to sleep at night without milk when I wake up. If the child wakes up during the night, other ways must now be found for the child to find peace and fall asleep again. But here, too, it's possible to reach the goal in stages, only that the time period is extended more quickly, depending on how difficult and exhausting or not it is for you: if you're all so exhausted by 3 a.m. on the first night because the child has already woken up 5 times and cried a lot each time and took a long time to fall asleep again, you can leave it alone for the first night and go back to breastfeeding. On the second night, the child may be a little easier and you can extend the time window to 5 o'clock if everyone has enough strength. The third night you might be able to make it until you get up. Here, too, it makes sense to give the child a point of reference for when they can start breastfeeding again if the mother only wants to wean at night. In our case, the sign for my son was very simple: "When it's light outside and the sun is shining again," he can drink again.
Continue breastfeeding to sleep and cuddle in the morning? Yes or no?
There are no clear rules for this, but it can be arranged as it suits each family.
I know many families where it works well that the child is no longer breastfed at night, but continues to be breastfed at bedtime.
Another point of view is that it is easier for the child to go back to sleep at night without breastfeeding if it's possible to fall asleep in the evening without breastfeeding and that it's more consistent to separate sleeping from breastfeeding in general.
If breastfeeding at bedtime is to be discontinued, it makes sense to breastfeed again immediately before going to bed, except that the child is no longer allowed to fall asleep completely. This has the advantage that the benefits of evening breastfeeding, i.e. that the baby calms down and becomes sleepy, can still be used.
This can also be practiced in different ways: for example, the child can be breastfed in another room in the evening before being brought into the bedroom to sleep. Or the mother sits down
with the child on a comfortable chair in the bedroom and then lies down in bed with them. That's how we did it and that's how the evening breastfeeding session became "armchair milk" with us.
After a few days it was clear to him: "Now we'll give him armchair milk and he can sleep without milk because he's so big and the other breast will only come out when it's light outside and
the sun is shining".
The morning breastfeeding cuddle, which often gives us mothers an extra half hour or hour of sleep, is for many breastfeeding couples the last breastfeeding meal that is maintained for a longer period of time and it doesn't interfere with night weaning.
And now we come to the main question:
How can a toddler be encouraged to go back to sleep?
Well, your child can only continue to sleep or fall asleep again by themself. As parents, you can help your child to calm down (again) and create an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable and secure. It's important that you remain calm and empathetic and don't leave the child alone.
Follow the motto: less is more! Your attempts to get the baby back to sleep should not go too far, because what do you gain if in the future you have to get the baby back to sleep by bouncing on a ball or driving in the car? They should learn to fall asleep on their own, without any additional help.
Here are some suggestions:
- Maybe a substitute object will help your child (see below: Preparing the baby).
- Hold the baby in your arms and cuddle them.
- Sing softly.
- Caress the baby.
- Hold the baby in your arms and cradle them.
- Turn on a familiar music box or music.
- A night light/projector for the baby to watch.
- Carry them up and down the room until they have calmed down.
- If they don't want physical contact, just be with them and be there.
Coping with and supporting the baby's crying
Supporting a crying baby through its emotions can be very exhausting and stressful. If the mother can hardly stand the baby's crying and becomes restless and tense herself, it's better if the father comforts the baby. Maybe the mother can go for a short walk at night.
I am often asked how long it's acceptable for the baby to cry (always accompanied by the parents, of course, never let the baby cry alone!) There's no rule for this, I can only recommend listening to your own feelings. You know how your child is feeling! Are they very angry right now? Or already completely desperate? Are they crying all the time? Or do they calm down every now and then for a short while? Can they calm themselves down at all in this state?
For some parents, the limit is reached after 15 minutes, for others after an hour. Listen to your feelings. And it's perfectly okay to stop and start breastfeeding again if you feel that it doesn't fit and doesn't make sense any more. You can start again tomorrow!
Preparing the baby/toddler
A child should not be confronted with night weaning completely unprepared. There are things you can do before the night weaning process to make it a little easier for your toddler later on:
- Daytime: It'll make night weaning easier for you if your toddler already knows different ways to get to sleep during the day (car rides, pram, carrier/sling, baby hammock,...). If your child is also exclusively breastfed to fall asleep during the day, this makes conditions for night weaning more difficult. It's therefore advisable to start establishing other habits for falling asleep during the day, if these don't already exist.
- Night-time: With me and my son, there were already a few times (maybe 4-6 times) before night weaning when I simply didn't want to breastfeed him again after half an hour and I then withheld the breast from him. Then he somehow managed to fall asleep after a while. The situation of having to fall asleep again at night in bed without milk was therefore no longer completely new for him when weaning at night, because he had already managed it a few times.
- Create transitional objects: You can encourage your child used to a cuddly toy, a cuddly cloth or something similar that's always present when breastfeeding during the day and when breastfeeding to sleep in the evening. Later, when the child is no longer breastfeeding, they'll associate this object with this pleasant feeling and may be able to calm down better. This could also be a song that you sing or a certain music that you always play when breastfeeding.
- Talk to the child: As the day of night weaning approaches, you can also tell your child that soon they'll only sleep without the breast at night. Explain to them why you want to wean at night. Because you want to be better rested during the day so that you can play more, or because the child is already so big and can now do it by themself.
- When it becomes real and you start weaning, it's important that a child is really full before going to bed and has eaten well, so that the chance of them actually being hungry at night is minimised.
Choosing the right time
This is another very important point. Especially when the nights with our children are particularly stressful, the desire to be able to sleep undisturbed at night is naturally at its highest. Unfortunately, this is usually the wrong time to wean at night. Why? Because it is precisely when our children wake up very often that they need us and our closeness the most and will also demand it the most insistently if we attempt to wean.
The right time to wean at night is usually when the child is healthy and not going through a developmental spurt and the nights are actually going quite well. Ideally, you should start weaning before a weekend or even take a few days off work or a long weekend at home. Then you won't be under pressure at night because mum or dad has an appointment the next day, and you can have a good rest in the morning. In any case, you shouldn't have any important appointments during these days and you shouldn't start weaning too close to a certain "desired date" (concert, wedding without a child, operation,...), but take enough time for it so that there's no pressure for anyone (guide: at least one month).
...there is only one thing left to say: Good luck and all the best!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or through the contact form or on my Facebook page (Anna Bogner-Gombotz).