The night weaning story

On the basis that I'm probably not the only person who finds it
useful, or at least interesting, to read about how other people have
handled various parenting problems, I'm posting the detailed
night-by-night record I kept of how the night weaning went.  If you're not interested in such things, this will be a long dull post to plough through; by all means skip.

backstory: Although I always tried, with general success, to avoid
nursing Katie to sleep (because that's the sort of thing that sets up
the dreaded Sleep Associations and thus ultimately makes it harder for
children to learn to get to sleep on their own, which then makes them
poorer sleepers overall because they can't get back to sleep themselves
when they wake up in the middle of the night), I did nurse her into an
appropriate state of drowsiness prior to each nap and bedtime.  I also
had a low threshold for offering her the breast whenever she woke up (I didn't want to be spending ages trying to put her back to sleep if all the time the problem was actually that she was hungry, and it was a simple enough thing to check),
so she was getting nursed several times each night. Thanks to co-sleeping, this wasn't actually anything like as bad as it sounds – when she woke up after I'd gone to bed,
I'd just hoik her out of the cot, haul her into bed with me, park her on my nipple, and go back
to sleep myself.  However, it was nevertheless becoming a mite awkward; even without nursing to sleep, it seemed that the nursing was having an
effect on how well she slept.  She was waking more often in the evenings and I was spending more and more of each evening nursing and resettling her.  In the daytime, her naps were far too short because she couldn't get back to sleep when she surfaced before the end of the nap. 

All this was something of a nuisance for me.  For Barry, it was rather more than just something of a nuisance; he had to deal with her during the day without benefit of breasts, and the problems he was having with getting her to nap properly and with dealing with the moodiness that resulted from her not napping properly were making his life miserable. Eventually, a week and a half before she turned ten months old, I got home one evening to find a very irate husband issuing me with an ultimatum; Katie was becoming impossible to look after in her current state of sleep ability, and I'd better wean her.  Now.  I hastily suggested night weaning as a reasonable compromise, Barry agreed, and we started that night.

My night weaning method is simple enough; give baby a bottle at night instead of breastfeeding so that I know how much they're taking, and then cut down at a reasonable rate so that I can feel confident that any upset they feel during the process is only due to annoyance at the change of normal procedure and not due to actual hunger.  (The latter I figure I'm obliged to do something about; the former I don't.  Therefore, I like to be able to tell which is which.)  This is how I night-weaned Jamie, but it was a whole lot easier in his case for two reasons.  Firstly, he would happily drink milk straight out of the fridge and thus I could simply put the portable fridge next to my bed, put a bottle in it prior to going to sleep, and still feed him at night without needing to get up; secondly, switching him to the bottle confirmed that, as I'd suspected, he was hardly taking any milk at all, and thus I could simply cut the feeds straight out.  I tried giving him a dummy instead, he accepted it with a minimum of sleepy fussing, and that was that.  I think I probably have one of the easiest night weaning stories of all time. 

Of course, things weren't so easy the second time around.  Katie, as I'd thought, was indeed taking a substantial amount of milk during the night.  What's more, she insists it being served warm.  So, two children down the line, I got to find out just what I'd been avoiding by breastfeeding and thus not having to get up and warm bottles during the night.  It wasn't actually as bad as I'd anticipated, once I gritted my teeth to the necessity of it all – I held her against my shoulder while the bottle heated, sat on the bottom of the stairs for a rather nice snuggly quiet few minutes of feeding it to her, and then took us both back to bed – but I'm still glad that I wasn't doing this for months of her babyhood.  So, if you happen to be trying to decide whether to breastfeed or formula feed an upcoming baby, I have no intention of getting all preachy on you but I can definitely recommend breastfeeding from the practical viewpoint as well as the health viewpoint.

Since the whole point of all this was to break the feeding/falling asleep associations, I also stopped giving her any feeds in the bedroom (I've loosened up on that one since, but this was what I did at the time).  Prior to this she'd had the first side of her bedtime feed downstairs so that I could spend some time with Jamie and the second side upstairs in hopes that this would help relax her and get her ready to fall asleep, but I started giving the full feed downstairs and going upstairs after that.  (Which meant that this was a useful point at which to start brushing her teeth after the bedtime feed, as well, which I'd been thinking I should probably do; so that worked out well.)  For night feeds, I took her downstairs (hence the sitting on the stairs as mentioned in previous paragraphs).  Paradoxically, this meant that I was actually doing stuff that was possibly counter-productive from the point of view of getting her to sleep, but I figured I'd worry about one thing at a time and I'd concentrate on getting her off to sleep without the incessant feeding first.

So, the lengthy and tiresome night-by-night details:

Monday 15th September
(Night 1)

I put her to bed around 8-ish after having given her her night-time feed downstairs.  She settled fairly quickly.  She woke up some time after 9 p.m but settled with me giving her a cuddle, turning the musical star on, and
sitting with her for a bit.

She woke again around
11.20 and I did the same, which seemed to work at first.  However, by 11.40 she was awake again.  By that time we'd made some formula for the next day, so Barry gave
her a 7 oz bottle.  After a bit of turning her head into his arm in a futile attempt to nurse, she accepted the bottle and
drank all but the last few drops, then settled after only a minute or two of crying.

She then woke up around 4 a.m. and I tried taking her into bed with us to settle her.  However, after five minutes of screaming I gave up, got
up, & gave her the 6 oz bottle I'd prepared earlier.  (This was actually watered-down cows' milk – I hadn't expected she'd need any more formula than the 7 ounces.)  She took the lot and, although she was still a bit squeaky and unsettled afterwards, she was calm enough to settle down in bed with me and fall asleep until 6.05.  At that time, since there wasn't any more milk prepared, I tried taking her downstairs to nurse her, but she only seemed to be comfort sucking rather than actually taking any milk, so I took her back upstairs again and back to bed and got her to settle for about another half hour.  She woke up at 6.38 and seemed quite awake, so I just went ahead and got both of us up.  End of Night 1.  Grand total of milk consumed: 13 ounces.

Tuesday 16th September
(Night 2)

After a day of trying to ensure she ate plenty of solids (it was my day at home with the family), I put Katie to bed around 7.00 – this was a bit earlier than normal (bedtime is generally from 7.30 onwards depending on how late I get in and how long the bedtime routine takes) but she was looking exhausted.  I'd already misjudged things once with her nap and accidentally nursed her to sleep because I hadn't realised quite how tired she was – not, obviously, something I wanted to be doing at this point.  As it was, she was nearly asleep when I put her in the cot for bedtime, though not too asleep to wake up and scream when I switched the musical star on.  I don't know whether she was just annoyed at being disturbed when she was so close to falling asleep, or whether she'd worked out that this was the signal that all parental presences were about to remove themselves from the vicinity.

She had a very unsettled evening, drifting in and out of sleep – she woke up half an hour after going to sleep although I settled her again fairly quickly, kept crying out in her sleep every so often while Barry was showering, woke up again at 8.45 (I tried taking her downstairs for a feed that time in case she was hungry, but she didn't seem that interested and settled quickly when I took her back upstairs) and at 9.20 when I brought a bag of laundry in.  That last time, although I tried to settle her by sitting by the bed with my hand on her, I eventually did have to leave her alone for a few minutes of screaming (six, in case you were wondering), to get herself off to sleep.  At 10.45, when she'd woken up yet again and this time wasn't showing any signs of settling down after a few minutes, I tried her with some milk again and this time she took 3.5 ounces.  After that, she eventually settled down (it took a while) with me sitting next to her. and slept through until 3 a.m., when I took her into bed and she settled down again within a couple of minutes.  At 5 a.m. she woke up and seemed hungry, and I went ahead and gave her 7 ounces of milk.  Total milk consumption during the night: 10.5 oz.

Wednesday 17th September (Night 3)

When I got in from work, Barry reported that Katie had drunk three ounces more than usual of formula during the day.  Although this might or might not have been a coincidence, this was almost exactly the amount by which she'd cut her milk intake on Tuesday night compared with Monday night; I hoped this was a sign that she was shifting her intake from night to day.  Her napping, unfortunately, was as bad as always, with her waking up from both her naps after only 45 minutes and refusing to settle again.

I put her down to sleep at 7.30.  It took a while to get her to settle (I spent twenty minutes sitting with her and resting my hand on her, lying her back down again every time she tried to sit up, then tried leaving her for about eight or nine minutes to see whether she would settle more easily without me there, then went back in to comfort her again as she was screaming instead of settling) but, when she did fall asleep, she slept through to 12.45 a.m.  At that point I came out of the en-suite bathroom after my shower, and the snick of the door woke her.  She had slept through more disturbance than that during the evening, so presumably she'd been close to surfacing anyway at that point.  Anyway, I gave her a bottle and she took 3 oz and then took around 20 minutes of me sitting by the bed for her to settle again.  She woke up again just before 2 a.m. (I think that was actually the waking-at-45-minutes thing, since that was about how long it had been since she'd gone to sleep) and I took her into bed, which settled her down.

She woke up again shortly after 4 a.m.  I had a 5 oz bottle prepared, as I wanted to start to reduce the amount she took, and she drank it all (she looked a bit taken aback at finishing it, but settled down after a few minutes of me walking around with her).  She woke up again at 5.50 and seemed upset.  I thought she might be hungry and took her downstairs to nurse her (I didn't have any more formula prepared) but she just seemed to be comfort sucking; I brought her back upstairs and put her on the bed with Barry (I was up and getting ready for work by then).  Total milk consumption during the night: 8 oz.

Thursday 18th September (Night 4)

Again, she drank around 23 oz
during the day. Barry was too fed up even to tell me about what her napping had
been like, which was presumably an answer in itself.  That set the tone for the night.

I tried sitting with her as usual to get her to settle, but she was obviously in a mood to keep fighting off sleep and trying to play with me as long as I was there.  In the end, I went out and let her scream about it.  She settled down within a few minutes of me leaving.

She woke up forty minutes later.  I went in and sat with her for ten minutes.

She woke up around 10.45 p.m and I sat with her for nearly an hour before she settled.  (Some of this was due to Barry, who'd just had a shower, drying his hair and getting dressed – that did make it harder for her to get back to sleep.)

She woke up at 12.45 a.m.  I offered her a bottle, but she didn't want it.  When I tried to put her back in her cot, she screamed; that one-note waah that babies do when they're tired, that Tracey Hogg calls the 'mantra cry'.  As usual, I tried sitting next to her with my hand on her to settle her, but it didn't seem to make much difference to her – she went on crying.  In the end, I left her for just long enough to get a quick shower and by the time I got back to her fifteen minutes later her crying had tapered off, but she Just. Would. Not. settle down completely.  I sat with her for over an hour, trying to get her off to sleep; she kept seeming nearly settled and then waking up and sitting or standing up.  In the end, I lay down on the bed with my hand through the cot bars holding her, mumbling "Bedtime, Katie" at her when she stood up again.  In that way, I managed a quick doze for around 25 minutes before waking up to see her wide awake and very cheerful about what an excellent game this was.

By this time, it was around 2.35 a.m.  I tried taking her into bed to settle her down, whereupon she gurgled happily and grabbed at my face while I tried
to sleep. I tried taking her downstairs for her bottle, but she still didn't want it.  Finally Barry, who was coming up to bed at this time (this is not unusual for him – he is a complete night owl), offered to take on the job of holding her while at least I got some sleep, and I finally dropped off around 3.20 the sound of Barry struggling to keep her lying in one place rather than crawling round the bed and playing.  He told me the next day that she'd stayed awake for ages after that, struggling and screeching when he tried to keep her still.

She did in the end fall asleep some time before 5.00; I know this because that's when I had to wake up to get ready for work.  When my alarm went off, she was peacefully asleep in the crook of Barry's arm, looking quite angelic.  She woke up again at 6.15 and I gave her a 6 ounce bottle; she drank it all and settled down without a whimper when I put her back on the bed next to Barry.  Total milk consumption during the night: 6 ounces.  Total parental sanity consumption during the night; practically all of it.

Friday 19th September (Night 5)

Things fortunately started to improve.

Katie settled to sleep just after 8 p.m, after only a few minutes crying.  The phone rang around 9 and woke her up, but she settled again within a few minutes and then slept all the way through until 2 a.m.  At that time, she seemed quite happy just to be picked up, but I gave her a bottle then anyway, figuring that if she was going to need some milk during the night (I didn't quite have the nerve to expect her to go all the way through without a feed at this stage) then I'd rather she take it earlier than later so that it didn't have a knock-on effect on her breakfast.  Besides, if putting her back down was going to be the same kind of hassle that it
had been the previous night, I wanted to at least be certain
before I started that hunger wasn't the issue.  (I can only assume that that last reason made some sort of sense at 2 a.m. after a night like the previous one.)

But this time it all went smoothly.  I gave her a 6 oz bottle, she
took nearly all of it, I put her back in her cot, and she drifted back off to sleep without a murmur.  She woke up again
sometime around 6, and I think I just took her into bed (by then, I
was in a sleep-deprived fug), and then she slept through until 7.35.  Total milk consumption during the night – around 5 oz or so (yes, I'm sure in retrospect that I could have reduced it further compared to the previous night, but I'm also sure you'll understand why my priority that night was to get both of us the hell back to sleep as quickly as possible, even if that wasn't the best way to obtain longer-term gain).

Saturday 20th September (Night 6)

(This night I didn't get a chance to write up until more than 24 hours later, hence the vagueness on some of the details.)

Katie woke up twice during the evening, which was a bit awkward as Saturday is one of my nights for putting Jamie to bed and thus I was occupied.  The first time Barry went to her and she settled down fairly shortly, but the second time Barry was in the shower and I had the choice between going to her with Jamie leaping around in the background or leaving her alone crying.  (Going to her while Jamie stayed in his room was not, I knew from experience, going to be an option short of applying physical restraint.)  As it was tired whingy I-need-to-get-back-to-sleep crying rather than frantic I-need-help crying, I opted for leaving her, and just tried to finish off Jamie's stories reasonably quickly.  It took about 30 – 40 minutes before I could get to her, but when I sat with her and rested my hand on her she settled down fairly quickly.

After that, she slept a nice long stretch.  She woke up around 5.15 or thereabouts and at first seemed to settle when I took her into bed, but by around 5.40 she was getting restless and squeaky and seemed hungry.  I gave her a 5 ounce bottle of formula and took her back into bed with me, and she settled down until morning.  Total nocturnal milk consumption: 5 ounces.

Sunday 21st September (Night 6)

On Sunday, it occurred to me to try giving her a formula top-up after her evening breastfeed.  She took 3.5 oz, settled after the usual few minutes of crying, and woke up three times during the night.  Once in the evening, when I was able to settle her as usual; once some time after 2 a.m., when I took her into bed and she settled; and once around 5.15, by which time I was up and getting ready for work and thus left her on the bed with Barry.  I went downstairs and switched the bottle warmer on in readiness, but it wasn't needed; by the time the water had warmed up, the sounds from the baby monitor had settled.  She'd gone back to sleep, and she stayed asleep through until morning.  Total nocturnal milk consumption: zero.


Looking back on that account now, my main thought is that I was probably quite excessively soft-hearted in how I went about it.  I daresay that she would have been fine with me cutting down the milk more quickly, and I think, with the benefit of hindsight, that all those lengthy attempts at settling her gently to sleep were probably what was keeping her awake for so long.  I suspect she'd actually have gone to sleep far more quickly if I'd just walked out and let her cry for a few minutes.  (Which is, in fact, what I now do when putting her to bed; I can't remember when I finally started doing that, but now, when it's time for her to go to sleep I put her in the cot, kiss her goodnight, and walk out.  She cries for less than ten minutes, of which a few seconds is indignant yelling and the rest is whingy tired crying.  I've tried going in during the whingy tired crying to see whether that comforts her, but invariably it makes things worse – going in wakes her up just when she's dropping off, and that gets her more upset.  Sometimes she just seems to need to cry for a few minutes before she goes to sleep, and I've learned that we're both better off if I just leave her to it.)

However, I'd rather err on the side of excessive gentleness than otherwise; and the way I did it did accomplish the goal.  In the subsequent weeks, Katie's sleep has improved considerably.  Not so much her night sleep (that improved as well, at first, but then it got worse again and has now reached the point where I'm once again taking active steps to improve matters; but that's a whole other story, and a longer one than I've got time for here) but her daytime and evening sleep.  She's now settling far more quickly and easily, sleeping through the evening, and taking two long naps a day.  And we're all happier for it.


Filed under Don't let the bedbugs bite, Here Be Offspring, Milky milky

5 responses to “The night weaning story

  1. oh I feel for you. So much in your post that I recognise very well – And I thought I had a baby who doesn’t sleep well.
    I only dared to night wean at 17 months, when all teeth were there, and it worked with just cosleeping/comfort hugging and no nursing between midnight and 5am. She dropped the midnight feed herself. It also took about a week with lots of waking and tossing and turning. But I was absolutely stunned that now she actually can sleep through (she never did before, not once)I so wish I’d have done it earlier. However, she still invariably wakes between 5 and 6 am for a breastfeed, which is ok really. My main problem for me was that my little one would point blank refuse the bottle (and dummy).
    Thanks for the post, I’m sure it’s very useful to lots of mums and I hope that Katie will sleep better soon.

  2. Thank you! Glad your night weaning story worked well too. Katie is now sleeping much better – I hope to be able to post an update on that soon!

  3. Alison

    Thanks for this, we’re about to attempt it with our son (he’s about a week younger than Katie i think).. this has definitely spurred me on.
    Do you mind if I ask how you make up bottles for storage in the fridge? Do you cool them down before you put them in the fridge, or just put them in warm (which is what my sister does).

  4. Hey – you had the From The Start blog, didn’t you? Haven’t heard from you for ages! I’d love to hear how you & Jacob are getting on.
    We put formula in the fridge warm. We generally mix it up in a jug, and then pour it into bottles either just before feeding it, or sometimes in advance to make life more convenient (as, for example, when not wanting to be making up bottles one-handed in the middle of the night while holding a baby with the other arm – dropping the lid into the next day’s supply of formula is an experience I don’t really want to repeat).
    Good luck with the night weaning!

  5. Helen

    My brother and his wife used to keep bottles with premeasured dry formula handy and then add warm water from a thermos as needed. Voila, no heating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s