My night weaning plan: how I taught my toddler to sleep through the night in seven days

Let me start at the end, because the end is what we’re all after. I taught my twenty-two-month old how to sleep up to twelve hours in a row after nearly two years of waking every one to two hours. That is a drastic change! And it is something I never thought would happen given my child’s high needs nature.

So, let me set up some parameters before I dive into my plan. First, it’s important to know that this plan was devised for older babies. Emerson was twenty-two-months old when I night weaned her, and though I think I could have done this a lot sooner than that, I cannot speak to night weaning a child under the age of one. It may also be relevant to note that I night weaned while co-sleeping as I felt it would be easier, and quite frankly I am not ready to stop sleeping with my child yet (though she does her own sleeping space next to our mattress that she uses part of the night)…I just wanted some sleep while doing so. But, I think this could work with other sleeping arrangements, too.

If you haven’t already read my 5 tips for night weaning, please do that first! Those tips were the keys to the success of night weaning my child and are really Step One of my plan.

Lastly, I devised this plan after reading and considering two other gentle plans—visit here, and here. I am not a sleep expert—I am simply a mom who put a lot of thought into the way I night weaned my child and wanted to share my ideas in the hopes that it helps someone else out there!

So, as I said in my 5 tips for night weaning, pick a date ahead of time to start this plan when you have time off of work (for at least a couple of days) and the help of your partner. It’s important to be prepared, do as much reading up on night weaning as you can, discuss with your partner, and do one or two months of prep work with your child (also discussed in 5 tips for night weaning). I know I keep saying it, but the prep work is key! I think the actual weaning part was so fast and painless, because I put the effort in ahead of time to make it super gentle.

Okay, here we go. It’s really quite simple. Choose a seven-hour window of time that you would most like to sleep during (this is the part that is based on Dr. Jay Gordon’s method). Remember that the definition of sleeping through the night usually only means five hours of consecutive sleep so seven hours is technically a lot more than that. But, between you and me, when I think “sleep through the night” I mean (and want!) the whole darn night. So I went back and forth about this seven-hour window. Shouldn’t I just cut her off from the time she gets in bed until she wakes in the morning? Isn’t it confusing to her that she gets to nurse during some hours at night, but not others?

Here’s the thing, Emerson had never gone more than a few hours without nursing ever. I wanted her to naturally ease into going the entire night without a snack so she could adjust and learn to eat more during the day rather than freak out and feel like I was starving her. And I just wanted to be gentle on her, emotionally speaking. So, I stuck with the seven-hour window. I chose 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. because being woken up (and then not being able to fall back asleep…sigh) at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning was killing me. I was fine getting up at 6 as long as I got some solid sleep before then.

So, you have your seven-hour window. Any time your child wakes up before that window, nurse or comfort her as usual. If it’s 10:57 nurse, if it’s 11:03 don’t. It’s easy to slip and keep on slipping when you aren’t specific about the time. And the morning time can be especially hard, because that little one is going to be begging for milk at that point. But, I made Emerson wait until exactly 6 a.m. unless she was seriously starving and flipping out at say, 5:50, which really didn’t happen.

Don’t fret too much about this specific window becoming something you will later have to change. It is a teaching mechanism and will naturally disappear over time. I’m sure it’s different for every child, but Emerson stopped waking between 7:00 (her bedtime) and 11:00 after about two weeks and now she never asks me to nurse after she’s gone to bed at night. She learned to sleep more deeply, and no longer needed me in order to fall back asleep so she dropped that window of nursing time on her own.

Okay, now it’s 11:01 p.m. and your child wakes. Hug her, cuddle her, pat her back (whatever form of comfort she accepts) and repeat your mantras (remember to come up with those mantras beforehand!), but do not nurse. There will most likely be a lot of bargaining on your child’s part. Stay calm and confident, and just repeat your mantras. There may be some crying. Comfort, hold and repeat your mantras. Know that even if she’s crying, she really does know that you are there for her and she’s safe, because you are actually holding her and doing a very thorough job of comforting her, just in a new way. She’s sad about this change, but she will learn to be happy with it soon.

Continue to do all this until she falls back asleep (comfort and mantras), and repeat any time she wakes up before 6:00. I wanted Emerson to understand the concept of the num nums (our word for nursing) going night night and then waking up with her in the morning so I made sure she would know when exactly num nums were awake. I set my alarm for 6:00 and turned the light on immediately (since it was still winter and dark outside). She caught on quickly that if the light wasn’t on, she still needed to sleep.

A lot of night weaning plans involve a slightly different technique every few nights during weaning (tapering off the comfort) in the hopes to eventually teach the child to sleep through the night. This was the part of every plan that made me uncomfortable. If that appeals to you, go for it! For those of you who want to be ultra gentle but still teach your child to sleep through the night, have faith that teaching your child this new routine will nudge him/her toward more independence on their own timetable.You don’t necessarily have to force it all in order for it to happen. Personally, I did not want to nurse at night anymore, but I didn’t feel totally opposed to cuddling or comforting—just having my body to myself was a significant gain in my eyes. This is why every night of my plan is the same.

What I found was that both parties (the child and the mother/father) naturally separated more and more every night without forcing it. I was so exhausted from being up all night (yes, weaning is exhausting) that I naturally offered less and less complicated forms of comfort—I started out singing, patting, holding, and repeating several mantras and then it was just holding and a couple of mantras, then just a hand on her back and one mantra, then nothing but simply being there for her to lie next to. That was a mutually agreed upon (but subconscious) progression that led to more independent sleeping in just under two weeks. I offered less mostly because Emerson was asking for much less every night until she was asking for nothing in order to fall back asleep.

Given I had already taught Emerson to self-soothe in a very gentle manner at a time when she wasn’t simultaneously being night weaned, she caught on very quickly when nursing was no longer an option. She felt safe and comforted in other ways so she relaxed into this new routine and tried something new (sleeping!).

Some important things to consider…make sure you are really ready to do this. To be effective you need to go in a straight line. Your child is looking to you to provide consistency and guidance so he/she can learn a new routine. It will be confusing and makes things much harder if you give in and then try to stick to it, over and over. However, if you start to night wean and it just doesn’t feel right or you don’t like your child’s reaction, stop! You can always try again in a month or so. A good way to gauge this is to watch your child’s behavior during the day. I was encouraged and able to continue with this plan, because Emerson woke up so happy, and actually more loving than ever, in the morning while we were night weaning. Our relationship did not change at all. There was no added clinginess, fear, or resentment on her part.

afterlight-84 Lastly, as Dr. Jay Gordon says…pay your baby! You are asking that she give back a little to the family that has been sacrificing for her sake for so long, now that she’s giving back to you pay her with all the extra energy and enthusiasm you have now that you are getting some Zzz’s! And to ease the transition during the first few weeks (or longer, if you wish) nurse her more throughout the day so she feels secure in that source comfort still being there. Good luck!

Come back tomorrow for my night weaning journal—exactly what those seven days looked like for us. And on Friday, all the bonuses that were gained as a result of night weaning.

5 tips for night weaning

Before I share my night weaning plan (check back tomorrow for that!), I will share some tips to get you started. These are the five things I needed to realize, and really understand, in order for me to get comfortable with the idea of night weaning, create a plan, and commit to doing it no matter what.

1. Be confident and have a mantra. I think the important first step you must take when night weaning is realizing that you not only have a need for it (on a personal level), but that it is the right thing for you. This is important to the success of whatever plan you choose to use, because a confident mama will be exactly the kind of guide her baby needs in order to learn this new habit. Your job is to be calm, to be a rock for that little one who has only known nursing at night her whole life. That nursing (or feeding) routine is a very comforting, natural, beloved routine for your child- one that is not going to be given up without some very real mourning.  Be calm and confident for your own sake (because, yes, you are doing the right thing for you!) and to make it easier for your child to accept a new way of sleeping. If you are nervous or unsure, your child will be, too.

To facilitate all of this, it is helpful to have a mantra—a phrase, or series of phrases, that you can repeat out loud throughout the weaning process. It will comfort your child (and you!), and remind them, in their confusion, exactly what you expect of them. Emerson listened intently to everything I was telling her when we weaned, so much so that she began to repeat the phrases to herself as a way to self-soothe.

To provide an example, the phrases we chose were “num nums (our word for nursing) are sleeping, night night baby, I’m right here, I love you, you’re okay.” Simple, but very effective.

2. Remember that kids can surprise you. Yes, even your child who you are so sure will act one way can just as easily surprise you. I’m saying this as a mother who truly believed her child could not be weaned. It seemed impossible to believe that my child could give up nursing for up to twelve hours at night when she had been waking every one to two hours for twenty-two months.

Emerson has been a very serious nurser from the beginning, and even now, after night weaning, is still very enthusiastic about her num nums. But, she surprised me! Not only did she in fact night wean, she learned very quickly and with barely any tears! I was absolutely shocked! I thought for sure…for sure she would cry for hours and hours. She would definitely be that baby who stayed up the entire night in protest and just not sleep, because she had never relented to anything…EVER…in the past. I thought for sure she would kick and hit and pull on my shirt and act like she was being tortured. She did none of those things. None.

I will say that it was very important to listen to my gut on when was the right time to consider weaning. I don’t know that I would have been as successful if I had pushed Emerson to wean when neither of us was ready for it emotionally.

3. Be prepared. It is much easier to handle the anxious moments of am-I-doing-the-right-thing or omg-she’s-freaking-out-should-I-stop when you have a plan. I mean plan every little detail of this that you can think of so you know what to do when the time comes. Pick a date in advance- preferably one when you are not working and know you will have the help of your spouse or another trusted family member at night, and during the day for a few days, because you will most likely be exhausted. Then come up with a plan that feels right to you, exact phrases you and/or your spouse are going to use at night (because a lot of talking and explaining and freaking out in the middle of the night is not going to be very effective), decide whether or not you want to work in shifts with your spouse, have a plan for getting enough rest during the day, have some pre-made, frozen meals (or takeout) at the ready so you don’t have to cook (again, you will be tired), have all the groceries, diapers, household items you will need for a few days, etc etc.

Beyond the planning as a way to make it easier aspect, I say “pick a specific date ahead of time” because personally I have been through countless difficult phases with my child, as most parents have, from the time she was born, during which I reacted in the moment with “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t want to nurse you at night! I’m going to lose my mind! That is it!” only to later calm down and know that I did not truly feel that way. I think it’s important to chose a time to night wean that has been thought out and decided upon in a calm manner rather than as a reaction to a bad phase (teething, biting, sickness, developmental milestones, growth spurts, etc).

4. Don’t let bad phases scare you. To further what I just said above, you can do this regardless of the seemingly never-ending phases your child is going through. Once I realized that I needed to night wean (for my own well-being, and therefore my chid’s), I felt a bit hopeless about it. I knew it needed to happen, yet I couldn’t see how I was going to get there when Emerson was always going through something. I had chosen a specific date during my husband’s spring break, which was the only time for many months that I would have his help. And in the weeks leading up to the big day Emerson started to cut two molars and then had two back-to-back colds! It felt like the worst possible time for her to handle such a huge change, and to take away her only comforting mechanism.

Then I did a ton of research on night weaning while teething. I found this really long, extremely useful discussion amongst mothers with similar concerns. This was helpful because the mothers discussed their experience with teething while night weaning, and had consulted with Dr. Jay Gordon himself on the topic (an expert who has a night weaning plan that I  used as the foundation of my own plan). What I came away with from all this research is this very obvious, but true fact: it is nearly impossible to find a 10-day window during which your child will not be teething, sick, or going through a growth spurt/developmental milestone. I was waiting for a time that didn’t exist (at least not until Emerson turns three)!

So, with the encouraging words of other mothers and an actual expert himself, I went ahead with my plan. I did wait a few days until the peak of Emerson’s cold and teething had passed (which was recommended), but she was still feeling the effects of both and it wasn’t an obstacle at all.

5. Don’t be afraid to take your time. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We expect quick fixes. But, this isn’t easy. It’s work, and it’s hard. Personally, it was my feeling that if I was patient and was as gentle as possible, the results would be more lasting and gratifying. And that is exactly what happened. In all honesty, I feel closer to my child now after going through a process that I was afraid would have the opposite effect, and all because I took my time.

I did teach my child to stop nursing and sleep through the night in just seven days, but that was after a lot of prep work. Yes, prep work. That is what I mean by “take your time.” Here’s what that looked like for me…

I had been nursing Emerson to sleep (and then throughout the night any time she woke) for 20+ months. So, my first step was to teach her to go to sleep without nursing. Now this isn’t necessary, and some people choose to continue to nurse to sleep during and after night weaning, but I was resenting this being the only way for her to go to sleep so I felt it needed to change. I also felt it would be a small step in teaching her not to associate falling asleep with nursing, which is obviously pretty important in order to night wean.

So, we altered our bedtime routine to my husband reading Emerson stories while I nursed her. When the stories were over and we turned out the light, the num nums went to sleep. She still got to nurse close to bedtime, just not actually at bedtime. This is another important lesson necessary for the night weaning you plan to do: your needs will be met almost all the time, little one. Your child’s fear of never being nursed again can make things pretty loud and challenging while night weaning, and rightly so, but if they have already learned the word “almost” it is much easier.

Emerson first learned that she would not be nursed to sleep at bedtime, but the rest of the night I was still there for her to nurse. She really got that. I took my time by spending a week or two letting her have a little extra nursing while trying to fall asleep on the nights she was really upset about not being nursed to sleep, and then cut her off completely during the third week. There were a few tears, and only one really difficult night, but she quickly adapted and accepted hugs and lullabies instead of nursing, which let her know I was still there for her.

The next prep work step for me was teaching Emerson to fall asleep without me touching her. Emerson was very addicted to physical touch. She was nursed while being worn in a sling while being patted on the back and bounced on an exercise ball. Every night. No exceptions. That was just what she really needed for the first eighteen months of her life. From eighteen months to twenty-two months she still needed nursing and back patting. But, once I taught her to fall asleep without nursing, it was honestly an easy segue into falling asleep without touch. I would simply lie next to her in bed and let her flop around, talk to herself, climb on me, whatever it took for her to fall asleep. This did mean getting used to lying in the dark with her for at least an hour, but she learned the lesson beautifully and self-soothing is a very important part of night weaning, and even more so sleeping through the night.

Beyond those prep work lessons, I also prepped Emerson by talking to her about what was going to happen in the days leading up to night weaning. She listened very intently, and was visibly nervous, but it really did prepare her. Instead of being surprised, she knew it was coming and felt respected and trusted me.

I hope these tips have helped! Come back tomorrow for my night weaning plan!


Let’s talk about night weaning

Like most parents, my life has been greatly affected by a lack of sleep. I was lucky that my newborn was an excellent sleeper, and immediately began sleeping in 5-6 hour stretches from day one. That really helped me adjust to motherhood in the gentlest way possible. But, at four-months-old the honeymoon ended very abruptly. Emerson began waking up constantly throughout the night, every single night. Still, I soldiered on with a hearty constitution and commitment to nursing my child on demand for as long as she liked. I really believed in this, and that strong feeling of I-am-doing-what-feels-absolutely-right-for-my-child kept me going through all the difficult phases. Until I could take no more.

The first year was exhausting. Sure. But, nothing….and I mean nothing like the second year. For this, I wasn’t prepared. I thought things would get easier, with the newborn days behind me. And I had always heard people talk about their babies sleeping through the night, and I believed my child would miraculously do the same…on her own. But, as I learned, that is pretty rare without major intervention (which just wasn’t my thing) early on. It is a fallacy that sleeping through the night is some sort of developmental milestone that every child should/will hit around roughly the same age.


Of course, Emerson would not go to college still needing to nurse at night. She would eventually wean herself. But, the truth, as I learned firsthand and from a truckload of research and talking to other mamas, is that she might have still been nursing every two hours until age three or four. THREE OR FOUR. EVERY TWO HOURS. Again, something I was not prepared for. After that second year of not only being woken up every two hours (and sometimes even more!), but mothering a now walking, talking, exhausting child (instead of infant) during the day, I felt like I was going to break.

Cranky doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt all the time. I was in a perpetual funk. Every hour of every day felt like the most tired I had ever been. I was moody, unable to take good care of myself during the day, and began to really resent waking up to nurse my child. The very thing I had been doing to love, honor and respect my child was now affecting my ability to do any of those things. Though I tried my best to be happy and as loving as possible with Emerson, night and day, regardless of my feelings, I am sure she sensed it on some level. Most kids do. And that killed me.

I wanted us to both get some sleep so that I could take better care of Emerson…and myself. I needed to set some healthy boundaries.

This is not to say that the decision to night wean was an easy one. I never even considered it as an option for the longest time, which kept me locked in what felt like a never-ending imprisonment. But, it wasn’t closed-mindedness that kept me from considered night weaning. It was the world around me. It was difficult for me to arrive at my own feelings and desires with a sea of opinionated voices weighing in on my nighttime parenting. It seems pretty much everyone in the mainstream world thinks you need to get your baby to sleep as soon as they are born. But, not only are babies not biological meant to sleep through the night for their own health and survival, every parent/child relationship is unique…every child (and mother) needs something entirely different so it’s useless to think there is some norm to be working toward.

Thankfully, after struggling for months, I finally found a neutral person to talk to about night weaning. Not even my husband had been able to provide that type of sounding board for me (hey, he was invested). But, at exactly the right time, I found someone whose opinion I respected immensely, who understood my parenting style, and who allowed me to try on the idea of night weaning without judgement. And then, I began doing an insane amount of research (as per usual) on the subject. This research, however, made me feel anxious and doubt my decision. There was no one “plan” that really sat right with me. And there really weren’t that many to choose from when it came to night weaning a toddler, not an infant, or how to do so gently without disrupting our bond or crying-it-out.

Then one day I saw the light. I realized, that just like with every other parenting decision I’ve made thus far, all I needed was to listen to my intuition and get creative. And so, I created my own night weaning program that I am happy to say was far more successful than I could have imagined! I put a lot of thought into this plan with a lot of attention to child psychology, mother/child attachment, developmental phases, and what I perceived to be some major obstacles. Then I decided I would share my plan and experience right here for other mothers who, like me, are combing the internet for any kind of help they can get when it comes to night weaning or getting their child to sleep. Personally, I found little tidbits of useful information on “expert” websites, but the greatest wisdom and guidance came from the hundreds and hundreds of personal stories shared by other mamas that I read.

So, this week I will be sharing tips for night weaning, my night weaning plan (aka-how I got my child to sleep through the night in seven days), my night weaning diary, and things that changed after night weaning. I hope it helps someone out there!