Night Weaning a Four Year Old

Night Weaning:

Tiny has always been an avid breast feeder. Most older nurslings will naturally decrease the number of breastfeeding sessions as they mature. A three year old is typically not breastfeeding as often as a one year old might.

And then there is Tiny.

Oh. My.

Tiny turned four in March and at that time, was still breastfeeding 8 times per 24 hour period. For real.

She did this for a wide variety of reasons. Some of it was ritual, some was comfort, some was boredom, and some was truly to satiate hunger. I had tried to cut out certain sessions before but the chaos that ensued made it perfectly clear that Tiny was NOT ready to modify our breastfeeding relationship.

Breastfeeding was never an easy road for the two of us and the fact that I overcame and persevered through so much really makes me proud. I would never have thought that I would have made it 4 years! And yet, there we were.

But I was ready, REALLY ready, to at least night wean Tiny. She had never slept more than a two hour stretch without waking up. Yeah – for 4 years, that’s over 1,460 days, I did not get much sleep!

It had definitely played a role in how I healed from colitis. But even when my health depended on better sleep, I knew Tiny was not ready to night wean. So I found ways to function on little sleep and got through the day.

By the time Tiny turned four, I was noticing that I was a really grumpy mama. Sleep deprivation was taking its toll and quickly. Every day I seemed to be more grumbly, short tempered, and stressed. While it was not ALL related to sleep deprivation, I knew that it played a big role.

And so – I knew what I had to do.

I’ll admit it. I was scared. If you witnessed Tiny’s volatile and heartbreaking reaction to my previous attempts at night weaning, you would understand why. Think crying and screaming so hard that she throws up and pops blood vessels in her eyes. It was really not worth my sanity or hers.

But this time, I needed to make it happen. And so, I did.

I wrote a book for Tiny. It was nothing fancy but it told the tale of our upcoming night weaning adventure. Every night for a few weeks, I told her the story. She seemed to respond quite well to the idea of it.

During the day, I would matter-of-factly explain how we both needed more sleep and why. She definitely seemed interested in the idea of me not being as grumpy.

Then the time came to actually follow through with night weaning. Every day before the main event, I reminded Tiny that on Monday, we were going to wait until morning to have milk and that I would be there for her to cuddle and snuggle with when she woke up at night. I would also have my skin readily available for her to stroke. (Tiny has ALWAYS stroked the skin on my hip when she breastfeeds or needs comfort).

We went to sleep, she woke up as per the usual, I reminded her that we would have milkies in the morning, and just like that – she was night weaned.

I about crapped my pants the next morning when I realized that Tiny had actually accepted that we would wait to have milk until the morning. No tears, no screaming, minimum fussing.

Tiny was truly ready to night wean. I don’t know if it was my preparation and gentle reminders about it. I don’t know if it was my book. I don’t know if she was just developmentally ready. All I know is that is one night, Tiny was weaned!

The natural progression of weaning continued as well. Tiny would only breastfeed when she woke up in the morning, before nap, and before bed. Otherwise, she no longer asked for it!

And then, this month, Tiny weaned. Just like that. One morning she had milk when she woke up and unbeknownst to me, that was it. She did try here and there before bedtime but for the past two weeks, Tiny hasn’t tried. She says she doesn’t want to because the milk isn’t there and it makes her too sad.

Tiny made the transition better than I did. I was heartbroken and cried daily over it. But you know what – we are both ok, moving forward in our changing relationship, and I will admit…I kind of like not having another human attached to my breasts three times per day. I think I was more ready physically than mentally.

I am still grieving a bit. 4 years and 5 months is a long breastfeeding relationship and my hormones are a bit all over the place because of it. But I have a lot of fond memories of breastfeeding Tiny and am so very proud that we made it as long as we did. My breastfeeding journey was a difficult one fraught with so much pain and physical challenges but we both made it and Tiny is healthier and happier for it.

What was your experience with night weaning? Did you let it happen organically or did you have to jump start the process? Share your tips and tricks!

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  1. says

    I breastfed my first for two and a half years. We stopped abruptly because I was pregnant and the pain of it was unbearable. My nipples were so sensitive. I also was living in a remote area of Costa Rica and did not have access to enough nutrients to nourish my toddler, my growing baby and myself. My daughter was heartbroken. I felt horrible about it. When I had my second I swore I would never do that again. I would do child led weaning. but after 3 and a half years he showed no signs of wanting to stop. I was ready to discontinue the breastfeeding relationship so I told him that when he turn 4 he would be a big boy and wouldn’t nurse any longer. so for 6 months I told him this. on his 4th birthday he tried to nurse I told him no and he gave a little whine and then accepted it. This smooth transition is in contrast to the sadness and guilt I associate with weaning my daughter. Now my third is three and I am preparing her for the transition. She is resisting the night weaning, so I am unsure if I want to set a cutoff date. Many years of pregnancy and breastfeeding with little sleep is leaving me frayed. Don’t think I can get a hold of some of my health issues and hormonal imbalances until we cease nursing, but she does not seem quite ready. I will continue for now knowing the end is near. Then my days as a nursing mother will be complete, something bittersweet in my heart.

  2. Julia says

    How does one maintain a loving and healthy relationship with your husband/babydaddy etc? I nursed both of my children for about 9 months and it was a beautiful and bonding experience. I did notice the drift between me being a mother and my relationship with their father. He supported every move I made but I felt I neglected our relationship. OUR love created our beautiful children, nurtured them, “paid” for them, provided for them etc. My husband had a hard time, I believe he felt he was not involved because I was their source of nourishment. We have talked at length about this, I’m just curious how 4+ years worked. No judgement, more curious as I am pregnant with our third :)

    • Momma Jorje says

      I don’t see how a lengthy breastfeeding relationship really has any effect on a spousal relationship. I mean, yes – I think my babies have been more bonded to me due to our BF relationships (and partly just because I *am* mother), but… my breasts haven’t been off limits to my spouse, if that’s what you mean. We joke about him having to share with the kid, but otherwise… he’s come around and gotten used to them leaking.

      My 1st self-weaned at 3½ years old. I had to night-wean at about 2½yo, then nudged her to completely wean at 3yo. My final child is going to be 2yo soon and I am hopeful for a very lengthy nursing relationship – however long is mutually comfortable and beneficial.

  3. Momma Jorje says

    Night-weaning Sasha at 2½yo was very difficult… for the first few nights. It was not something I wanted to do, but she was waking more than Spencer (my newborn)! She literally kicked, bucked and screamed in the middle of the night. But I held her tight and kept reminding her how much I loved her and stuck to my guns. We made it through it and she continued to nurse until shortly before her 3rd birthday, when I nudged her to complete her weaning process.

    I wish I had built it up more like you did.

  4. TRACEY says

    Can you please share the book you made for Tiny with us? I am trying to wean my almost 4 year old, who sounds very similar to your little one. I think she would love a book made just for her and it may even help to just night wean if nothing else. Such a wonderful gentle idea. Thanks for sharing :-)

  5. Ana says

    These weird weaning problems are why you wean kids BEFORE they are old enough to cry and scream about your boobs, like, in complete sentences. Screw “I just knew he/she wasn’t ready because I’m such an intuitive attachment parent and all that jazz.” Toddlers on the tit is a bad idea.

    • Megan says

      yah people do what you want but please 4yrs old come on. they can get all they need from food by 1 so by 2 mine would have been done no mater what. again your kid your boobs but don’t ask sill ? just ween if you have problems. you have got to be over tired night feeding that long. at 7months all I wanted was a good night sleep. by 8m I was getting that.

  6. Anna says

    Thank you for this post! My daughter is almost two and sounds similar to Tiny. As the two comments from 2014 show, nursing beyond one year is often met with negativity and judgement, and it’s just so nice to hear that there are other women and children and families who have been where we are. I appreciate the reminder!

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