Weaning a child who falls asleep by nursing

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Encouraging 2-year-old to wean on her own

Nov 2004

My daughter is approaching her second birthday. She nurses twice a day (more when she\x92s feeling really sick) \x96 right before her nap and right before bed at night. She\x92s a great sleeper; takes a long nap and sleeps through the night. She can fall asleep without nursing when someone else, like my husband or baby sitter, puts her to bed. She doesn\x92t love it when I\x92m not there for bedtime. She asks for me a lot and cries on and off. When someone else puts her to bed in her crib, she will cry a bit for them (or for me if I put her in her crib before she\x92s completely asleep) but usually not more than a couple of minutes. I stopped nursing on demand a few months ago. We had one rough day and then she was fine. Every once in awhile she\x92ll ask to nurse at a time other than nap or bedtime and I will say no. She cries a bit and then asks for her blankie to suck on (she still has a strong sucking reflex). I\x92m not anxious to wean her tomorrow but I have been thinking about when it will happen. I love the closeness but am beginning to feel really tied to her bedtime routine. I know nothing comforts her like nursing and don\x92t want to traumatize her.

She a very routine-oriented kid. Our bedtime routine includes a bath, a story in my bed and then nursing in our rocker. She will ask to go night-night. When I say, \x93Do you want me to put you in bed?\x94 she will respond with \x93I nurse?\x94

I am generally not opposed to her crying. In fact, that\x92s how I got her to finally sleep more than an hour when she was a baby. But crying because you\x92re over-tired and are fighting sleep feels different to me than crying because you want to nurse and you\x92re not allowed to anymore. I\x92d prefer her to stop on her own and yet, I don\x92t see her doing that anytime soon. Can you sense my ambivalence? Is there any way to encourage her to stop on her own at this age? I can enlist my husband\x92s help but he travels a lot so I need to be able to get her to bed without nursing, myself. I\x92ve check the archives but the postings address different issues or age groups so any suggestions or commiserations would be appreciated. gentle mama

hi, i had the same concern as my daughter was very breast dependent on sleeping. however, it ended up being quite easy - given my daughter has an easygoing temperament...that said this was also the first major nursing session i cut out after night nursing (around 12 months for night nursing and 16 months for bedtime nursing).

Anyhow, I just told her a couple days beforehand that it would soon be ending and that she could go nite nite without nursing.

then, one nite i told her we're going nite nite, turned off the light and we snuggled (we cosleep). she tried to go for the boob, but i said all done. she did wimper a bit but really not very much. shut her eyes and went to bed.

the next nite was just as easy. i did tell her she could cuddle with mommy and rub my tummy too - which she still likes to do and now i'm trying to figure out how to wean her off that one!

she did wrestle with me now and then to try and get a nursing in there, but in general, she accepted it.

good luck! i promised myself we would nurse until two, but also be totally weaned by two and her birthday just passed and we both made it!!! not so bad, just be firm

I really do understand your ambivalence -- I've been there, at times. But it was always very clear to me that weaning a child who wasn't ready was FAR more work than I was willing to do. Continuing to nurse, especially when it WAS possible for other people to put my son to bed when I wasn't there, was obviously the better and easier choice for me, despite my occasional feelings of being ''tied'' to the routine. (I actually had a harder time with the evening home-from-work nursing session than with the bedtime ones; I was tired of having to rush straight home every night and never having the chance to go shopping or something instead. Managed to get rid of that one at 18 months, after an unsuccessful attempt at 15 months.)

I do think that 15-18 months or 3 years are better times than 2 years to ''encourage'' weaning. But you might try putting your husband in charge of bedtime more regularly, and see how that goes. When he is away, you can continue to nurse her down, but she'll be more used to an alternate routine and that may allow you to phase it out. That's essentially how it happened with my son, though he was older at the time (past 3) and the reason Daddy was taking over the bedtime duties was my second pregnancy! So how much was the Daddy factor and how much was the pregnancy-induced changes in my milk is impossible to say.

Also, you might want to put your daughter in a twin bed now. This would allow you to lie down in HER bed to nurse her to sleep, which has some advantages, or it did for me, anyway, especially since the rocker we had wasn't very comfortable! My son got used to going to sleep with me lying next to him but not necessarily nursing to sleep, and then he got used to going to sleep with someone else lying next to him. In other words, it made it easier to substitute cuddling for nursing as the last step in the bedtime routine. (Now, at 3 years 9 months, he still prefers that a parent stay in the room with him until he's asleep, but doesn't need a parent in the bed.) Our slow-and- gentle approach to these transitions has worked well for us and we don't regret it. You may prefer to push things along faster, of course, but I can assure you that even if you do nothing, at some point your daughter WILL wean herself and WILL be able to go to sleep alone without tears. Really. I promise. :-) anon

Dear Gentle Mama, Sorry I missed this question the first time around. I read your original post and I could have written your question a few months ago! I want to reassure you not to worry too much about the warnings about missing a weaning window at age 1. I was a little panicked myself that I'd still be nursing my daughter to sleep at kindergarten, but she weaned very, very easily a couple months after her 2nd birthday. We had reduced nursing to before nap and bedtime, but she was very committed to those sessions. I talked with her a bit about how nursing was getting uncomfortable for me because she was getting so big, but didn't make a big deal about it and tried to keep the whole idea of getting ''bigger and bigger'' and learning to do new things/ giving up old things very positive. The last step of my daughter's routine had been for her to go into the crib and fall asleep, but sometimes on nights when she was having a really hard time falling asleep, my husband or I would rock her. One day when she had skipped nap and was pretty sleepy, my husband took over the night-night routine and then when she went into the crib and started crying, he asked if she'd like mommy to come rock her. I think she was so excited to get rocked that she sort of forgot that we'd skipped the whole nursing step. She never asked to nurse again! After that, we just replaced nursing with rocking, so I or my husband would read a story, then rock her a bit to a lullaby CD, then put her in her crib. And the best part of all is anyone can do it!! Now, not only am I able to be away if necessary at nap and bedtime, but I don't have to worry that she is crying and crying for me to nurse her! I think we both were ready to wean and I have been surprised that I really haven't missed nursing a bit. We still have a cuddly routine that is special to us.
Loved nursing, but happy she's weaned!

Weaning high-need 12-month-old who nurses to sleep

May 2004

I am hoping to wean my daughter at about 12 months old. She is now 11 months old and unless my husband puts her to sleep(rarely) she nurses to sleep. She takes a bottle during the day but not to fall asleep. In order to nap or go to sleep at night she requires nursing. It's her only form of soothing & comfort. She has always been an active nurser & a ''high need'' baby who wouldn't take any substitutes(pacifier) & couldn't self soothe. When frustrated or denied the breast she cries violently. It wasn't until recently that she began to take a bottle. I am confidant that weaning her by a year is appropriate but I fear this difficult transition will not only cause us both heartache but that it simply may be impossible.... ~thanks for any input~

Good on you for planning to make it through a whole year nursing. Making the decision to stop nursing is a tough one, but I am sure that you are making the best decision for you and your baby.

Like you, I nursed my child through for a year (she is 13 months now). She isn't high needs, but is very active and opinionated. And her opinon for so long has been that the booby is the best thing in life. I have been slowly dropping feedings for the past month until last week I was just nursing her before putting her to sleep -- sometimes I put her down asleep and sometimes she was still awake but heading to dreamland quickly.

I have finally stopped nursing her, with success so far. I rock her and cuddle her before bed like I always have. Periodically I give her a drag off her sippy cup. She isn't going to sleep as easily as she had, but she is going down and staying down. I am actually surprised at how easy this transition has been for us. Good luck to you. been there

A good book that I think would help you with weaning your child from nursing to sleep is Elizabeth Pantley's ''No Cry Sleep Solution''. She describes a technique called the ''Gentle Removal Plan'' which specifically addresses this issue. Good luck! shamis

Want to wean 12-mo-old who needs nursing to sleep

February 2003

I have read the postings on the Web site about weaning but most seem to deal with the problem of a baby not taking a bottle or a sippy cup. My 10 1/2 month takes both. The problem is that she only falls asleep on the breast. She will take a bottle and drink sort of half heartedly before pulling it out of her mouth and playing with it. (I only recently started trying the bottle after she hadn't used one in months.) She will also drink from a sippy cup but she will not go to sleep with either bottle or sippy cup. I only nurse her four times a day -- before her naps, at night and around 4:30 a.m. (She wakes up, eats and then goes back to sleep) I want to wean her by 12 months in order to give my body a break before we start trying for baby #2. My questions is: Is there a way to get her to fall asleep with bottle or sippy cup? Is it a bad idea to give her the bottle since she takes a sippy cup? Is it at all possible that a baby that is dependent on the breast to sleep will wean herself if I am just patient? I hate to let her cry it out because I don't like it and I have her on a regular schedule and don't want to ruin that. Any advice is appreciated. worried mom

I don't have any advice about weaning the baby off nursing, but I did want to suggest that you avoid substituting a dependency on a bottle for a dependency on nursing. If you wean the baby off nursing, but on to a bottle to fall asleep, then you'll just have to wean off the bottle later. I think rather than focusing on weaning, you may want to focus first on getting your baby to fall asleep on her own, without nursing. Try giving her a new routine, including nursing, but don't let nursing be the last thing. If she is starting to fall asleep, gently rouse her so that she is drowsy, but not asleep. Then move on to a song or story (or just a cuddle) and try putting her down when she's still a little bit awake. Don't worry -- you don't have to let her cry it out! There are a lot of books out there on teaching babies how to fall asleep that don't involve the crying it out method. If she learns how to go to sleep without nursing, then it will be much easier for both of you to give up nursing. Stephanie
I know you dont want to let your baby cry it out and neither did I. I found that in order to get my daughter to fall asleep on her own, I had to get her on a schedule i which she nurses when she wakes up from her naps rather than when she falls asleep. It took a couple weeks of crying before she could fall asleep on her own, but it is definitely worth it. I never let her ''cry it out'', I would go in every few minutes depending on the kind of cry she making, pick her up and hold her for a bit, put her back down and so on. Sometimes in the beginning she would fall asleep on me before I put her down, but after a while we got to the point where I can put her in the crib, read her a story, sing her a lullaby and she will kvetch a bit, but then she just chit chats until she falls asleep. it can work!
I think that you should begin teaching your baby how to fall asleep without drinking milk. You will be thankful when your child is weaned from the breast and can self-soothe in other ways. Will she take a pacifier? There is a way to have her ''cry it out'' without letting her cry for too long. You put her down - assuming she's in a crib - and tell her goodnight, etc. Then leave. If she cries, go right in and tell her it's time to sleep and that you are there if she needs you - just outside the door. Also tell her that you will take longer to come back if she cries again. Do all of this in 30 seconds or less and don't pick her up. When she cries - and she probably will - wait 5 minutes and go back in. Repeat your 30 second spiel and leave. Do the 5 minute wait again. Continue until she is asleep. We did this for our son - he had previously fallen asleep on the boob - and in about 3-4 nights it worked. We've had to try it again on occasion as getting to sleep can become a problem at different stages of development, but it always works after a couple of nights for us. It is difficult for the parents waiting out those five minutes, but ultimately so worth it. Our son is now 2+ and falls asleep on his own almost every night of the week. Good Luck, A Rested Mama
I am in the same boat as you, but with my third child. He'll take a cup for thirst but won't take a bottle for comfort when falling asleep. Here's what I'm trying (it seemed to help the weaning process with my other two): I got a CD player for his room and am playing the same classical lullaby CD while I nurse him in his rocker. Eventually, I'm going to start having my husband rock him with a bottle with the music playing. It's my hope that the music and the rocking will become the sign that its time for him to go to sleep and he won't be so dependent on the nursing. I'm trying to do the same at nap. After a week, he's certainly going to sleep on a more predictable schedule. He's a little younger than yours (8 mos) so I won't be weaning for several months. My two girls very much still want their lullaby music when they go to sleep at night (they are 4 and 7). They go to sleep very easily and sleep all night so, as a result, I think nightime music can be very helpful to children's bedtime routine. Jennifer
I had this problem with my daughter and I decided to wean her one step at a time. over all it took me about two weeks. I did not substitute for a bottle, nor would I reccomend it. Letting them fall asleep drinking milk can lead to lots of cavities--- one of the reasons I decided to wean her off the nightime nursing. The first thing I had to do is to get her to disassociate nursing with bed time, so I would nurse her in the livingroom and once she was full, I took her to bed and lay down and read her books. then I lay with her untill she fell asleep. Once she got used to this, then I stopped nursing her all together. She did resist at first, but once I stood firm and said no nursing she adjusted quite easily. The morning nursing was the last to go. Once she adjusted then we began the process of her going to sleep with out me laying with her. It helps if you establish a routine. My daughter takes a bath, we put on pajamas, brush her teeth, drinks water, read books, and then we cuddle. In that order... everytime. This worked well for me, but other moms I know decided to have a party to say goodbye to nursing and then stopped cold turkey. Good luck!
I weaned my son from a similar schedule at 10 1/2 months by doing a couple of things. First, I sent my husband in at night to comfort him when he woke around 4:30 a.m.; he basically rocked him and comforted him and then put him back down. He did cry a bit, but quickly adjusted to the ''no feeding in the middle of the night'' new routine. At bedtime, I started supplementing with a bottle before nursing to make sure he was good and full (so I wouldn't fear that he was waking starving at 4:30 a.m.) After a few nights, he fell asleep after the bottle and wouldn't take the breast, so that was that! Maybe if you wait until your baby is good and sleepy before trying it, it might work. You may also have to resign yourself to a little bit of crying as your little one adjusts to the new routine --- again, substituting cuddling (preferably by someone else who isn't associated with breastfeeding; i.e. husband/partner) to ease your child to sleep. Again, there may be a bit of crying involved b/c this is a change and change can be upsetting, but sometimes that's what needs to happen in order to move into a new behavior. Or, you can just wait it out and see if your child makes the first move to wean, but that could take a while . . . Lisa
Hello, My daughter too only fell asleep while nursing. I found the best way to introduce new routines was after having traveled. It is just easier for my kids. So, when we got back from I can't remember where, my partner started to put her to bed. After he gave her a sippy cup (she would not take a bottle) he started singing and rocking her until she fell asleep. She did not cry the first night because she was in shock! It took about a week. We also made sure she was VERY tired before she went to bed. It was a pretty smooth transition. Good luck