Thinking about night weaning? Start with your days...
When it comes to night weaning gently and respectfully (or making any changes around sleep!) preparation is key. You don’t want to spring a major change on a child. You want to build up to this change, to lay the ground work for them to be able to understand the change.
One of the first places to start preparing is your approach to boundaries in the daytime. For many parents, establishing and maintaining boundaries with their children can feel difficult. It can be uncomfortable or difficult to tolerate your child being upset and so many parents will concede in order to avoid upset. But ultimately this isn’t helpful - for child or parent!
Boundaries around feeding can feel particularly complicated if you have been used to feeding on demand throughout babyhood. There is a real shift in dynamic between feeding a baby (where feeding on cue is completely appropriate) and feeding a toddler (where some more boundaries coming in may be appropriate).
You might continue to feel absolutely happy to feed any time, whenever and wherever your little one wants - in which case, crack on. But if you notice starting to want some changes to happen - for some feeds to be shorter, to be able to say no when you don’t fancy it, to only feed in particular places and not others - it’s really OK to start putting boundaries in place.
In fact, it will actually help the night weaning process for your little one to start to have the experience of hearing “no, no milk now, we’ll have some later” in the daytime, or for them to have the experience of you cutting a feed short when you are ready for it to end.
Some strategies that are useful for beginning to introduce daytime boundaries:
When you say no, cushion it with a yes: “It’s not time for milk now, we can have some after snack/when you wake up/at bedtime/[or whenever you know you will be happy to offer a feed]”
Introduce a countdown: practice using a countdown in other situations (ie getting in and out of the bath) so they know how it works. Once you’ve established the idea, when you are ready for a feed to end give them a countdown and then unlatch.
Use a feeding song: you can use a similar approach to the countdown, but use a particular song.
Practice holding emotions: some children may be upset, angry or disappointed if they can’t feed or a feed is cut shorter than they’d like. THAT’S OK. Your job now is to practice staying with them, holding space for the feelings they have. That might look like: sitting nearby, offering a cuddle, verbally empathising with how you think they might be feeling, and focussing on maintaining your own calm as much as possible. Don’t try to distract them, don’t try to make their feelings go away, don’t try to fix it. Let them have their feelings all the way to the end.
Practising this during the daytime and getting really comfortable with the process will make it much easier for you both when you introduce similar boundaries at night (when you are both less resourced, so it may be more difficult).
If you’d like more tips on preparing for a gentle and respectful night weaning process, check out my guide or get in touch for a bespoke plan designed to fit your unique circumstances.