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When Can I Night Wean?

I get asked this question a lot, and I have two thoughts for you.

First, if your baby is six months or older, gaining weight as expected, and your doctor says you’re okay to end night time feeds, then go ahead and give it a shot.

But that doesn’t really answer your question, does it? Because that information is readily available on about a thousand different websites. If that was all you needed to know, you’d know it already.

Chances are what you’re really asking is, “Why does my baby refuse to give up the night feeds?”

Because if you pulled night feeds and your bub had just accepted it and started sleeping through the night, you wouldn’t be online looking for information about it. You’d either be in bed, enjoying eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep, or you’d be at the playground telling all the other mums how easily your little one gave up night feeds and how this whole parenting thing is such a breeze!

(Don’t do that though. Mums hate that.)

So let’s discuss the real question. Why does your baby continue to wake up at night and demand food if they’re supposedly ready to give up night time feeds?

The reason is usually pretty simple – your baby feeds to sleep at the start of the night.

Feeding and/or nursing to sleep is probably the most common sleep prop I come across as a sleep consultant. People don’t usually think of it as a “sleep prop” because of how natural and necessary it is. They tend to associate the term with dummies, mobiles, or comforter. But a sleep prop is really anything external that your baby relies on in order to get to sleep – object or activity.

So if you’re still feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime, chances are, that’s where you need to make some changes.

“But I’m not!” I can hear you saying. “I put him to bed while he’s still awake, and he falls asleep independently! No props, no nothing! But he still wakes up three times a night looking to eat!”

Although it’s a less common scenario, I do see this fairly often. Mum is doing everything right at bedtime, but is still feeding baby to sleep when they wake up in the night.

Some babies are just habitual night time eaters. It’s not that they’re hungry, or in need of calories. They’ve just never really needed or learned to self settle, and if Mum’s still willing to give up some milk in the night, well then, so much the better!

The bad news here is that you will need to break this association by giving up night feeds. That’s going to mean some protesting, which won’t be fun for anyone.

The good news is that since your baby has learned to sleep without props at bedtime, that means they already have some strong sleep skills, and the protesting should be over within a couple of nights.

So what’s the strategy for this? The same as it is for quitting just about everything else. Cold turkey. Stop tonight and don’t start again. The sooner your little one learns those skills, the sooner he’ll be sleeping through the night.

That’s great news for you and your partner, but it’s even better news for baby! More uninterrupted sleep means baby’s mind and body get more of those glorious restorative effects that take place during the night, making for a happier, healthier tomorrow!

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