Night weaning a spirited toddler
May 9, 2018 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I am so tired. It's just me and potato Jr most nights, and I'm hesitant but ready(?) to night wean. I've had one false start interrupted by toddler illness and sheer exhaustion. Please give me some new methods to try.

I have a trip in September that I will use for night weaning if all else fails. That's a long way away.

I have tried a gentle weaning method where I allow him to nurse a little on initial waking, then replace with the pacifier before he falls asleep on the boob. This was complimented by daily reading of a children's book about night weaning.

It was going well, then suddenly wasn't, he'd throw the pacifier and fight me for an hour at a time. The father works at night, and could tag in at 3am but he's already getting very little sleep, so relying on him more than a couple times a week doesn't seem right.

I work full-time during the day, and last night I got about 2 hours of actual sleep, because baby was latched the rest of the time.

I hear about putting foul tasting substances on the nipples and telling the child they have gone bad. Did you/your partner try this? Did it work for you?

I'd like to be available for nursing when my child is sick for a while longer but I can't figure out how to combine the "milk went bad today" vinegar method with milk is suddenly not bad for him by anymore when he is sick.

I'm afraid part of the failure of the previous weaning effort is due to my child not really understanding when nursing is ok and when it isn't, and getting frustrated.

He doesn't get sad when I refuse nursing. He gets mad. He hits me, he throws the pacifier, or he fusses. Once I decided to refuse a night nursing session, if he fussed, I would deeply commit to my choice to avoid reinforcing the fussing, but you know after an hour of that several nights in a row, I'm just so over it. So on the tail end of these super long standoffs I finally gave up. Well, relaxed and then he got sick, and I felt like that was really why he was fighting it so hard.

But I can't sustain this. I'm familiar with the basic suggestions for night weaning, change the sleep routine, the Milk Meg and KellyMom info. I need something more indirect, where I don't have to be strong at 2am for an entire week all alone managing this.
posted by crunchy potato to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I feel your pain crunchy potato. The only thing that worked well for us (similar sickness interrupting night weaning) was to have non-lactating partner take over bed times 100%. There was much drama and crying but after a couple days it became ok, after a week it was done.

If there is no non-lactating partner. With our other child the line was simply "the milk is all gone" as all other measures seemed too confusing ineffective in that case.
posted by French Fry at 10:57 AM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can you book another trip sometime sooner than September? Or at least arrange whatever's been arranged for overnight care for that trip, and just get a cheap local hotel for a few nights?

You could try giving cow/soy/rice milk in the night... I know, it's not good for their teeth, but if he accepted that and went back to sleep, then gradually you add water to it until it's mostly water, and then they gradually stop waking up for plain water.
posted by xo at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does your partner have any vacation time so you aren’t doing this alone? My husband travels 60% of the time and we recently worked on our baby’s sleep, but I found I could only do it because he had cleared his travel schedule and was home for a week straight.
posted by CMcG at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

last night I got about 2 hours of actual sleep, because baby was latched the rest of the time

This stood out to me. What's your overnight nursing set-up? Are you co-sleeping? Given your exhaustion and the fact you don't want to wean completely, it might make sense to focus on ways to get sleep while nursing instead of just eliminating the nursing. Have you considered a sleep mask, a small dose of Benedryl or Melatonin or some other ways to increase the likelihood you'll be able to sleep?
posted by kate blank at 11:30 AM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

We went through this and ultimately the solution was to be firm, let the child be angry, wallow in parental guilt and despair, and wait for the child to adjust. It took a couple weeks, maybe?

Things that helped: having her spend some time in her own bed and not the parent bed, having the non-lactating parent spend time with her, telling her she could breastfeed at bedtime and in the morning (and telling her that a lot and during the daytime so she could internalize that new truth).

Is there a way for you to physically separate yourself from the child so his protests are less intrusive? Go to a different room for a while, or build a wall of blankets to keep him off you?

Can you bribe him? Give him a cool toy to hold if he chills for a while? Play music for him? Put on an audio story or the audio from a Daniel Tiger episode or something and pop some ear plugs for yourself? Get one of those ceiling star projector things?
posted by adiabatic at 11:31 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another thing that may be obvious: wear pjs that lock your chest down like Fort Knox. Bralette + long-sleeved t-shirt or something like that.
posted by adiabatic at 11:33 AM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Additional data I left out of my OP and minor clarification: my partner does not have PTO with his job, and is not able to consistently help with the first half of the night for a variety of reasons. Also, toddler sleeps in the family bed. I enjoy cosleeping when sleep actually happens for me. I tried about 2 weeks of transitioning toddler to his own room and he woke up every 45 minutes instead if every 2-3 hours so that's a problem for when he is older and I can bribe him or something. Occasionally I will get toddler unlatched, wake partner to say you're up, and go sleep elsewhere. That's how the 2 hours of sleep happened last night. I do not fully enter any sort of restful sleep mode when toddler is latched, because I can't fully let go.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2018

"I'd like to be available for nursing when my child is sick for a while longer but I can't figure out how to combine the "milk went bad today" vinegar method with milk is suddenly not bad for him by anymore when he is sick."

This on-again/off-again sounds like a lot for a toddler's cognitive ability. Better to just wean -- full stop -- rather than trying to make a child that age understand why sometimes it's okay. Don't ask for more understanding than he's able to have.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2018 [10 favorites]

mccxxiii, I was wondering that too. Do you mean night wean, full stop, including for illness, or do you mean wean 100% including for illness?
posted by crunchy potato at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2018

Tell him milk is no longer available at night. Then put him in his bed. Then, leave. Gently reassure him. Repeat that night milk is all gone. Even when sick. Offer water in a sippy and not in bed with him rubs/verbal assurance. Have a glass if wine.

Don't do weird tastes or partial quits. Just stop no matter what. In two weeks, he won't ask.
posted by Kalmya at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think that ending night nursing, including while sick, is the only way to do it. It will be easier if you're not around at night while it starts, if you're able to begin on a weekend when your partner is there at bedtime, if you have a family member or babysitter your son tolerates putting him to bed who can be bribed into helping out for a week, etc.) If this isn't possible and you can time it during a time you can take some time off during the day if need be to recover from a sleepless night, do that.

(And either way, your partner should be in charge as soon as he gets home. No reason to value his sleep more than your own. You get guaranteed sleep 3am-7am, he gets guaranteed sleep after that.)
posted by metasarah at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeh no, partial quits makes it 1000 times worse. If you stop, stop for good. Deal with the no-sleep-week of screaming that’ll follow.

Instead of figuring out how to avoid it, put your focus on figuring out a way to recharge your own batteries before it happens. Clearly, you‘re too exhausted to withstand the 3 am wailing. How do you get to be not-too-exhausted? Is there anyone to take the kid off you during the day for the weekend so you can sleep through it? Or can you change anything to make it so you can sleep while nursing? Recharge your batteries, then power through the ordeal. It’ll be a shock for him. So be it. Because greetings from the other side: It‘s so, so worth it.

FWIW everything you tried so far makes sense. You‘re doing nothing „wrong“. You are a great parent. It‘s just not working. You will find something that does work.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:10 PM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Cold turkey quitting all nursing. Since papa can't take over night duty, I would suggest you do everything in your power to take off a week or two (fmla?) And drop off the kid at daycare during the day so you can be home alone and sleep
posted by WeekendJen at 2:32 PM on May 9, 2018

No partial quits and if the toddler ends up sick, you can deal with it then, which will probably mean re-weaning.

I had to do this without my partner the first time and it sucked but this is how I did it:

"[nursing term for breasts] are going night-night now. No more [term] until tomorrow morning! But luckily, here is your sippy cup."

Then I put on, no word of a lie, a sports bra, a tight undershirt, and pajamas.

All night: [term] are all gone, night-night. Here's a sippy.
And again.
And again.
There were tears, so we had hugs. It is sad that [term] went night-night. They are sleeping. Time to sleep.

Same thing the next night. And the next.

Then, I think, we were done. It's hazy. The good news is, one day this will be hazy.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you are sleeping in a family bed then it's going to be harder to do this since it sounds like nursing is the kid's sleep crutch. This could be solved by sleep training, because a toddler is absolutely able sleep through the night without nursing. The problem is he sees you right there not nursing him so he just gets pissed. Once they learn to put themselves back to sleep the night nursing is a moot issue because it's not a hunger issue, but just comfort/habit. You may want to consider moving him to a crib even if it's just temporary.
posted by gatorae at 3:59 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

It can’t be you who does this because the child associates you with nursing and comfort and denying them that makes it so much worse. (Source: someone who was up every 45 min around the clock for seven months with a breast addicted baby). If your partner isn’t around to help, then you need to outsource. Get a night nurse, babysitter, aunt...anyone. Throw money at it if need be. It doesn’t take as long as you’d think. Once the baby realised that she wasn’t getting breastmilk from her dad, by the second night she’d pretty much decided it wasn’t worth waking up anymore. Hopefully yours will be the same.
posted by Jubey at 4:48 PM on May 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

His temper is probably partially because he is exhausted from being awake so much. So consider that by getting him to give up on trying to get the breast and getting him to go to sleep he will feel much better.

I would give him a bottle of water to suck as a replacement for the breast. I would also make sure he is stuffed to the gunnels at bedtime, and make sure there is some protein in his evening meal, and some fat to ensure that he is not getting hungry any sooner than he has to.

It is mainly a security/comfort thing going on. He's old enough to night time wean, but has become accustomed to it. Try white noises to overwhelm him in to sleeping. Plugging in the vacuum cleaner and putting it under his crib may work. It may also help you sleep through his fussing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:46 PM on May 9, 2018

Oh this is so hard! How old is the child? We had fantastic success with this book called "Sally Learns to Night Wean" -- it's kind of bizarre but my oldest daughter loved it and it helped a lot. Youngest, not so much.

Otherwise, I think you just have to cold turkey at night. Oh how I know how awful that is! After we did this with my younger daughter she totally understood that she could nurse in the day but not at night. It was awful for a few nights but then fine. And remember it's not just you not getting any sleep -- kiddo isn't either if s/he's latched on all night. It's best for both of you though it won't seem like it :(.

Good luck -- nothing about this is easy!
posted by caoimhe at 10:14 AM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

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