I was recently asked this question by Julie, mom of a 12-month-old, in a Facebook comment thread. She wrote:
“Will night weaning actually improve my baby’s sleep?
Why go through the process of night weaning my baby IF he’s still going to wake at night?
I’ve tried other comfort measures like patting, shushing and singing and they take AGES to calm him (if they even work at all!) Feeding is quicker.
But I’m just too tired to keep feeding him throughout the night.”
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Does Night Weaning Actually Help Babies Sleep Better?
The short answer is—>YES!
Night weaning will improve your baby’s sleep.
(As in he’ll sleep longer stretches at night, and at a certain age he’ll sleep through the night)
…but only IF you do 2 things:
Feed him often during the day
and don’t replace feeding with another sleep crutch.
#1: Feed Your Baby Often During the Day
If your baby has gotten used to feeding throughout the night, then his stomach has gotten accustomed to getting refueled then too. So you need to shift your baby’s feedings so that they happen during the day, rather than at night.
If you weaned your baby at night, but didn’t change his daytime feedings, then he’d start eating less overall. Which we don’t want.
The way that you do this will depend on how much your baby eats at night and I walk you through this, step-by-step, in my sleep training program 21 Days to Peace & Quiet.
[FUN FACT] Babies that aren’t into solids or just don’t want to eat much during the day are often feeding a lot more at night than their parents may realize. (This applies to breastfeeders, of course.)
I’ve worked with lots of Moms of “picky eaters” or babies that refuse to eat much solid foods and once we night weaned….. their baby’s appetite soared during the day.
Suddenly they loved solids. Voila!
# 2: Don’t Replace Night Weaning with another Sleep Crutch
If your baby is used to being fed or nursed to sleep (even if it’s just comfort sucking) then he’s learned that sucking is the way to fall asleep.
And over time, he becomes dependent on sucking to fall asleep. He now needs to suck every time he tries to fall asleep.
(Don’t blame yourself. Most Moms feed their babies to sleep at some point, because it works. Until it doesn’t….)
So when you decide to night wean your baby (to reduce or stop feedings at night) you’ll have to teach him a new way of falling asleep.
But Here’s the Trick:
You have to teach him a new way of falling asleep that doesn’t depend on YOU getting up in the night and DOING SOMETHING.
For example: If you get your baby used to falling asleep by rocking, rather than feeding, he’ll still wake up and need you to rock him back to sleep when he wakes at night. Probably just as often as before.
The reason is that he’s replaced one sleep crutch for another.
Instead of feeding, he now needs rocking to fall asleep. You see, he still needs something external in order to fall asleep. He doesn’t know how to fall asleep on his own.
BUT if you teach your baby how to be comfortable and happy falling asleep on his own, you’re also teaching him how to resettle himself in the night when he wakes.
And, by the way, he will continue to wake throughout the night. We all do! We might change positions, adjust our pillow and then fall back asleep. We just don’t remember it.
Your baby will slightly wake between sleep cycles, like we all do, and fall back asleep in the night without a fuss.
This happens because he doesn’t need to do something like suck or be rocked. And he’ll sleep longer stretches at night.
Plus, because you’ve night weaned your baby, you won’t worry about him being hungry in the night. He’s now used to going all night without needing to eat.
(This can start as early as 6 months for some babies. By 9 months, most babies can go all night without eating.)
If you’d like step-by-step instructions on reducing or fully weaning night feeds, check out my Weaning Night Feedings Guide.
When done the right way, night weaning does NOT compromise breastfeeding.
You can still breastfeed your child (during the day) as long as you wish.. years even!
(I night weaned my daughter at 7 months and breastfed her 2+ years and have helped so many other Moms do the same.)