Why Night Weaning Isn’t Working
Is your ongoing project to night-wean your baby a huge and utter failure? Does the idea of sleeping, without interruption, seem as unattainable as travel by jetpack? Starting to feel a little stabby?
Don’t feel bad, you’re in good company. Getting your baby to consume all their calories during civilized hours can be a tricky project beset by illness, teething, and a seemingly endless stream of growth spurts. But it can be done. And it helps to start by figuring out why things aren’t quite working out as planned.
Any night-weaning project needs to start with putting baby down awake. If you are still nursing/feeding/using the pacifier to get baby to sleep (and let’s face it, most of us are) you need to START with putting baby down awake AT bedtime. You cannot skip this step. No cheating. Put baby down awake.
But what if you ARE putting baby down awake and you’re still not having any success at night? Below I’ve listed the 8 most common reasons night weaning isn’t working in order from the MOST likely (#1) to the LEAST likely (#8).
Why Weaning Isn’t Working
They’re too young.
Some babies aren’t ready to fast for 12 hours until they are 6-8 months old. If your 10 month old is still eating all night long, you’ve probably got other issues. But when your baby is 4, 5, or even 6 months old, they may be simply not ready to go that long without a meal. So if your 6 month old still resolutely eats 1-2X a night, it may simply be a “wait it out” type of issue.
Eat = Sleep
Even if you are putting baby down awake, she could still have a STRONG eat=sleep association that will stymie your efforts to night wean. Night weaning STARTS at bedtime. If you’re nursing/feeding just PRIOR to bedtime, your baby can maintain a food=sleep association and insist on being fed throughout the night. You’re going to have to put your night-weaning project on hold and focus on separating the eat=sleep association AT bedtime. Try mixing up your bedtime routine so that there is minimally a 20 minute gap between food and sleep.
Not Enough Soothing
Sometimes babies are nursing all night because they need the soothing to help them navigate sleep cycles. So you rush in there, nurse for 3 seconds, and they happily fall back to sleep for another 2 hours, rinse, repeat. You look at your partner with frustration who responds calmly, “Well what do you want ME to do about it?” In 95% of cases the root issue here is the same as #2 – you are nursing/feeding to sleep and/or too close to bedtime. However 5% of the time the issue is simply that baby isn’t getting enough soothing and needs a little extra during the night. If your baby is under 6 months and needs more soothing, I would strongly suggest you consider swaddling and loud white noise. Even if you thought you were “done” with the swaddle, it’s a far preferable solution to the “needs more soothing” issue than serving a human pacifier, no?
As babies get older and more interested in the world they can’t be bothered to stop staring at the Christmas lights long enough to eat. So despite your best efforts baby may eat just enough to get by during the day, choosing instead to tank up at night when it’s dark and boring out. Or….
Many working Moms find that their baby barely consumes 10oz a day at daycare, far less than they are pumping, but then is ravenous all night long. Often your baby previously had one small snack at night but now is clamoring for huge nursing sessions throughout the night. Why? Because they would much prefer to get their milk fresh from the breasturant and, given that the breasturant is only open at night, they wait to eat at night. The solution to distracted eaters and “only the boob will do” babies really deserves it’s own post. But clearly the answer is to get more calories in during the day and to make food less available/appealing at night. Because if baby is fasting during the day for whatever reason, night-weaning will continue to be an uphill slog.
Too Much Solid Food
Feeding babies solids is super fun and especially for nursing Moms, can be a well-earned reprieved from being the sole source for on-demand feedings. But baby food is calorically light. 4 oz of breastmilk = 80 calories. 4 oz of gerber carrots = 15 calories. It’s like high-fiber diet food. So don’t let your well-intentioned enthusiasm to offer solid meals interfere with liquid calories during the day.
PLEASE DON’T PANIC AS THIS IS VERY RARELY THE ISSUE. No…I can see you are panicking. Please stop. Really. In very RARE cases there might be a small nursing issue that is tripping you up. Sometimes baby is thriving, growing, and producing wet diapers but supply is just a tiny bit low so baby is constantly hungry and eats hourly all day long. Or maybe oversupply or fast letdown means that baby is filling up on watery foremilk but not getting enough of the fatty hindmilk, and thus need to eat constantly because each meal is really more of a snack. I’m not a nursing expert and there are probably 5 other small nursing challenges that might lead to an older baby who needs to eat constantly. But I DO know that they’re a) rare and b) fixable. If you suspect this is the root problem it’s time to find a reputable, local IBCLC to work with.
Maybe you’re a working mom who feels guilty about not having enough cuddle time during the day. Maybe you still see your hearty 25 lb baby as the 5 lb preemie he was 10 months ago. For many reasons sometimes parents aren’t quite ready to night wean and that tiny voice inside tells them to run into baby’s room every time they here a coo in the night. And that’s totally OK. Take some quiet time and ask yourself, “Am I really ready for this? Do I feel some inner conflict about it?” If you aren’t ready, take weaning off the table until you are. It’s OK. You’ll get there.
Anybody struggling with night weaning? Any success stories from the trenches? Anything else I should add to my list?