Well for me night weaning and sleep training go hand in hand. I do not start one without the other. I have found that as long as you are offering a midnight snack or two, then your baby is almost always going to wake for it. If you are eager to encourage your little one to sleep through the night, then you are best to begin when your baby is about six months of age. The older your baby becomes, the harder it is to break the cycle and by six months it is very likely that the night feeding has turned into a habit for your little one. At six months most babies should be getting enough calories throughout the day to warrant denying the night feed.
Ok now, just so we don’t have any confusion here, I am referring to ‘night’ weaning and in no way suggesting you should wean your baby during the day. I do not believe day time feeding (breast or bottle) has any impact on your baby’s sleep habits of a night. So if your baby is six months or older, is a healthy weight and size you may like to give it a go in order of encouraging a full nights sleep. However, all babies and parents are different and if you have any concerns you may like to speak with your GP or Child Health Nurse before you begin.
Well then, this is our story.
All four of our children were the same. From the very beginning I allowed each and every one of them to fall asleep at the breast while feeding. I followed a very strict sleep association routine prior to each nap, but I did continue to allow them all to nod off while sipping their smoothy in the most wonderful place in the world for a baby, cuddled into their mother’s breast. Now, you might think this was just simply creating a bad sleep association and yes, you would be right. For my baby and I though, it felt right. I also knew from previous experience that I could easily kick the feed/sleep association at six months of age when my baby was old enough to go through the night without a feed. In the mean time I worked hard at creating other sleep associations that would benefit my baby’s sleep patterns.
So, it went something like this for all of my kids, although I will recall my story with Miss C as she is my youngest and thus clearest in my memory.
By the time Miss C was almost six months old she would easily fall asleep at the breast while feeding. Already wrapped, I would carry her to her cot, place her in and tightly tuck a blanket or muslin cloth over her. Most nights Miss C would sleep for a good four or five hours, but then she would wake – and crying no less. Usually it would be somewhere between 1:30am and 3am and normally only the once, but sometimes it was twice a night. Of course I would go to her, nurse her, quietly singing our lullaby, until she nodded off again. This would generally all occur within ten minutes, after which I would once again transfer her back into the cot already wrapped, where she would either sleep until morning or wake again one or two hours later. Sound familiar?
The fact that Miss C fed for less than ten minutes was a clear indication that she was not hungry and when she woke in the morning she no longer screamed at me to feed her in a hurry like she used to do when she was a newborn – another indication she no longer needed an overnight feed. During the night as Miss C’s natural sleep cycle would move into a very light sleep mode, she would sense that she was no longer snuggled up in my bosom and unable to put herself back to sleep, would call for me to nurse her again. Night after night I would drag myself out of bed in order of comforting my sweet little baby. I was exhausted and knowing full well that Miss C would benefit from receiving longer sleeps, I decided to break the cycle.
If your baby wakes many times throughout the night and needs to be fed (it doesn’t have to be breast, it can certainly be a bottle) before going back to sleep, then it is quite likely that she has developed a sleep association problem resulting from the feeds. And it’s not just the sleep association causing problems, feeding at night can in turn create other reasons for babies to wake up. Richard Ferber, M.D. author of solve your child’s sleep problems, points out that ‘nappies can become uncomfortably soaked, waking her‘. Also ‘the extra nutrients consumed will likely stimulate her digestive system, which is generally fairly dormant at night, leading to discomfort, ultimately rousing her’. What’s more, ‘Feeding your little one can stimulate or inhibit hormone release and raise body temperature – which ordinarily at night should be on the cooler side‘. So basically put – feeding your baby at night is probably keeping her up.
So then, it’s time to wean at night.
Now you can either do this cold turkey like I did or you can do it gradually. As Miss C was only waking once or twice a night by six months, I did not feel the need to gradually wean her. I also felt that this would give her mixed signals and interfere with the sleep training I was about to undertake during the day, so it made sense to me to stop the night time feeds altogether. If your baby is up more than twice a night, you may have to consider gradually weaning, as your baby who is very much accustomed to the feeds will most likely feel quite hungry. Although by six months as paediatrician Richard Ferber suggests, she “would not suffer from lack of nourishment”.
In order of gradually weaning your baby at night you will need to increase the minimum time between feedings and begin to offer less at each feed. For a more detailed article on gradual night weaning click here to visit the raising children website.
I began sleep training at Miss C’s morning nap, so by the time the middle of the night rolled around and Miss C began yelling at me, it came as no surprise to her that I was not going to provide comfort in the way of whipping out my bosom! Did she scream? Hell yes! To begin with, I calmed her by picking her up, giving her a brief cuddle, and singing our lullaby before placing her back to bed. Rubbing her back, and whispering “sweet dreams darling, I love you, nigh nigh”. I walked out the door and closed it behind me.
Now John and I have always made sure that when our babies began sleep training that we had a central light in the room that was capable of dimming to a very low level. This has worked very well with all our babies as I believe some of their focus has been directed at the pretty light located above them. In Miss C’s case a beautiful pink beaded star hung directly above her, helping to shift her focus.
Now the very first night (and day – as the dimmed star light was on for every single nap), Miss C didn’t really care much for the light, she screamed for me to come back and in all honesty – it was a very long night. I did of course go back into the room, at three minutes, five minutes and ten minute subsequent waits (schedule can be found here). After a couple of days, the crying grew less and for shorter periods. I found Miss C enjoyed dreamily watching her light above her. During the day the crying lasted only a minute or two when she was first put down and John and I began to experience nights where the entire household had uninterrupted sleep. Now I will not make out that this happened every single night, as there were still many nights between six months and about eight months of age where Miss C would wake crying. I stuck to my plan though and at around eight months Miss C slept through pretty much every night! Woohoo! Now I had all four of my kids sleeping soundly and very importantly John and I were sleeping soundly! Oh what a fabulous feeling it is to wake in the morning to the realisation that everybody slept through! After that, it didn’t matter where we went to stay, all four of our children had the necessary skills required to help them sleep soundly through the night!
Like I mentioned above, all babies and Mums and Dads are different and what suits my family may not suit the next family. If you have any concerns, before you begin speak with your GP or Child Health Nurse.