Lacie Rader, author of the forthcoming new book 'Attachment Parenting', guest blogs for us and shares the secret of how she night weaned in seven days:
Without clear intention, our night weaning process was a hybrid of those that focus primarily on pacing and those that focus on gentle strategies for eliminating night feeds. I didn’t come across anything that completely resonated with me. Although I read a few great books that contained night weaning tips, there was no real process for implementing them, no time frame and ultimately, the tips were not gentle enough. I read an article that really seemed to nail down the time frame or process for night weaning. Conceptually, it was fantastic, but it was missing the no-cry element that I needed and it didn’t seem very flexible in regards to when to move forward.
I began to believe that what was needed was a night weaning plan that included the following: A time frame so that one could better conceptualize the process, extra gentle strategies and room for individualization. How I Night Weaned in 7 Days was created in the hopes to provide readers with a well-rounded night weaning plan. I’m not suggesting that you also night wean in seven days. The following pacing worked for us. On the last day, my daughter slept through the night without waking once. Keli took wonderfully to this process but had she not, I would have slowed down spending as many nights as need be until she had adjusted.
Before you practice this, it is important that you and your child are prepared for gentle night weaning. Preparation tips can be found in my book. Being prepared for night weaning is its own challenge. Many mothers report having “tried” to night wean, giving up and largely feeling intimidated by it. It’s not easy to deny your child of nursing for that very first time but if you were both prepared going into it and were not able to follow through, then it was likely a situation where you just needed more support and structure.
The following is my guide to night-weaning
Days 1-3 (The Deal):
When you child wakes up in the middle of the night, do not nurse her. What? How can this be the right thing to do in the first few days? You already know that your child can sleep off of the breast, the language is in place, you've told her the plan, what else is there to do but start night weaning? Don’t worry; I came up with something to make this much easier. I call it the deal. This works best with toddlers but can work in a sense with babies too. The deal gives your child an opportunity to not nurse back to sleep, but you’re not going to force it.
Here’s how it works: Your child wakes up. You tell her “Right now the milkies are making milk, you have to wait a few minutes and then I’ll nurse you.” Keli understood this and fought a little the first night, but fell into the routine pretty quickly. By the second night, the magic began. Because she knew she would be nursed after waiting a few minutes, she wasn’t as anxious (even if still fussy). Because of this, she began to fall asleep in the middle of the deal, before she got to nurse. If she fought long and hard enough, I'd shorten the waiting time.
For babies you can't tell them about the deal but you can actually just make them wait five minutes. This is the exact opposite of the popular ‘nurse and then replace nursing with soothing’ trick. This is sooth and then nurse. For soothing tricks see soothing post. This way your child has a chance to fall asleep before getting nursed which might not happen right away but if they know the milk is coming, they will be calmer as they learn that sometimes waiting to nurse will be necessary.
By the end of the second night she was getting a little tired of deal and I found that using it for half of her night wakings was still effective and easier on both of us and the other half I just nursed her as usual. By the third night, she was perfectly fine with this situation and most of the time, falling asleep before the waiting time was up. Other times she stayed awake until I was willing to nurse her. I know she was feeling secure throughout all of this because after she nursed, she would roll away from me to get more comfortable and then fall asleep. She didn’t seem tense, anxious and most importantly her behavior and disposition were all fine the next day. Part of night-weaning is just making nursing inconvenient. The deal works wonderfully for that.
Day 4-6 No Milkies:
Now you have to say “no-milkies” in the way that you've decided to explain it to your child. Be consistent, say the same thing each time and only explain it a little bit as small children cannot understand much more than the "no" part. If your little one is resistant enough, your normal soothing tricks may not be enough. On the first night, I had to pick Keli up, walk her around the room a bit, cradle her and explain to her very gently that she would get milk when the sun came up. She was upset, but she felt safe and loved in my arms. If you don’t have to pick your child up, don’t. It’s important to stay calm and keep the sleep environment as normal as possible.
I did notice as I took the milk away entirely that her previous attitude about trying to get herself back to sleep had changed. I noticed once there was no milk that she was less cooperative and more demanding. She wanted to be cradled and carried for the first time since she was a baby. Day four was the hardest. Keli cried and fussed pretty intensely for ten minutes. Yes, only ten minutes, but that felt like a long time at night. This was followed by fifty minutes of asking me to soothe her in other ways, once or twice trying to get the milkies again and a few more tears. Prepare yourself for it and really concentrate on being calm and optimistic. Everyone will make it through this night just fine. Finally, she fell asleep.
She woke a few more times that night and asked to nurse, but no tears and not much fighting for the rest of that night. On nights five and six Keli didn’t ask for milk at all. On night five she had some trouble sleeping and would ask for me to hold her or hold her hand. She knew that she had to go to sleep without nursing and she knew that I was there to help her. It's important to agree to anything your child wants. By night six she woke once and did not ask to nurse. To my surprise, even when she was trying her hardest, she had a hard time self-soothing and going to sleep. This was no longer a resistance issues, but she actually lacked the skills that I thought she had. See self-soothing post for more information on this.
I told her because she was being so brave and working so hard that I would give her a present in the morning and I really did. Each morning she woke up and would say, “Do I get a present for not doing the milkies?” She woke up chipper, proud and unaffected by her nighttime endeavor. I was feeling proud and triumphant over something I had gone into with quite a bit of trepidation.
Day 7 (Self-Soothing):
Day seven is exactly like above. If all goes well, your child isn't asking for milk anymore or if he does, he accepts "no" without any tears or fight. Some might ask out of habit even when they are over the battle but soon the night waking will stop altogether. The only difference with night seven and beyond is that you should shorten the length of time you are helping them get back to sleep. Do the soothing techniques for up to twenty minutes but then stop and give your little one some space and see what happens. If not nursing at night isn’t enough end night wakings, then it’s possible that something else is waking your baby and he simply does not know how to soothe himself to sleep.
In the beginning you want to soothe as much as you can because it’s only fair as you’re taking away your baby’s comfort tool but after sometime, it is important that they know how to go back to sleep on their own. Otherwise, you may not be waking to nurse but now you are waking to help your child fall back to sleep.
Day seven might turn into days eight and nine but the important thing is your little one is not drinking milk at night and is well on his or her way to self-soothing. By night seven, Keli had begun to self-soothe. I know some mothers who report that their child is still waking and asking for milk, most likely some will keep wanting you to help them get back to sleep for some time. If the teaching self-soothing element is left out then you’ve only done half your job in helping your child to sleep through the night.
All throughout our process I talked to her during the day about my expectations for the night. I slept close to her and made sure to keep a close loving connection with her in the day.
It is important to go into this process knowing that there are three good reasons to stop. 1. It affects your child's daytime personality and well being 2. After a week of doing this they react as intensely with meltdowns and are not making any progress in that way and 3. The night wakings continue for months and months showing that your child is just a night waker. It helps to set these kind of limits before you get started.
Lastly, be confident. Your child needs your positivity and faith that night weaning will be okay as he relies on you for security.
Attachment Parenting by Lacie Rader is published in March 2014 by CICO Books and is available to pre-order at all online outlets and good bookstores!