If you’re considering weaning your baby from breastfeeding to a bottle or cup, you’re probably thinking about which weaning method you’ll use. Or, you might be considering which bottle or cup will make the transition easiest. And, if you’re reading The Baby Sleep Site, you are probably also thinking about how this may impact your baby’s sleep. This article will discuss ways, both good and bad, that weaning from breastfeeding may impact your baby’s sleep.
Weaning from breastfeeding can cause an otherwise great sleeper to wake and fuss more often, and if your baby already struggles with sleep, weaning can make your nights even more sleepless. On the other hand, if your baby is breastfeeding to sleep, weaning can improve sleep, in some cases.
A Word of Warning: A Reason Not to Wean from Breastfeeding!
Breastmilk digests faster than formula. For this reason, formula-fed babies do tend to sleep for longer stretches at night than breastfed babies, sometimes, depending on the baby. That said, if you’re considering weaning to formula in an effort to get your baby to sleep through the night, please reconsider. This isn’t a strategy we recommend here at The Baby Sleep Site®, simply because we’ve found that it is possible to breastfeed your baby AND have him sleep well at night and for naps. Changing your baby’s food source probably won’t change his sleeping habits; instead, you’re better off working on the sleeping habits themselves. We work with many families who don’t breastfeed that have just as many baby sleep problems and babies who do not sleep through the night.
Why Will Weaning Impact My Baby’s Sleep?
The reason weaning can have a major impact on sleep is because weaning is about more than simply exchanging one food source for another. For our babies, the end of breastfeeding can be an emotional, difficult experience.
How Will Weaning Impact My Baby’s Sleep?
For starters, weaning means the end of prolonged skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby. Remember that breastfeeding is more than just feeding time; it has comforting associations for baby. Some babies even end up using mom as a “human pacifier”! For these reasons, weaning can make your baby much fussier than normal, which can lead to interrupted naps and lots of nighttime waking.
Weaning can also disturb your baby’s sleep if you’ve made a habit of nursing your little one to sleep each night. If that’s the case, then nursing has likely become a sleep association for your baby. Therefore, when you change that feeding, you’re changing the thing he needs to fall asleep. This can make bedtime an exhausting battle each night.
If your baby is no longer feeding at night, then her nighttime sleep may or may not be affected. Her naps, however, could be. If you’re weaning and find that your baby’s naps are disrupted because of it, consider downloading our FREE napping guide, 7 Common Baby Nap and Sleep Schedule Mistakes.
Weaning can also impact your baby’s sleep when the weaning is “mom-initiated” instead of “baby-initiated.” Generally, at some point between 1 and 2 years of age, a baby will show signs of self-weaning. Baby-initiated weaning like this is usually easier and takes less time. Of course, baby-initiated weaning isn’t always possible; sometimes weaning has to happen earlier! If you’re weaning your baby before the one-year mark, however, it’s important to remember that the process may take longer, and your baby’s sleep may be disrupted.
Once you begin to wean, you may notice that it takes a little time for your baby’s appetite to adjust. This can be another reason for sudden nighttime waking and sleeplessness — your baby’s appetite is adjusting to this new method of feeding. This adjustment can take 1-2 weeks. You can help your baby during this time by making sure you’re offering enough nourishment during the day. But, remember that breast milk and formula should be your baby’s primary nutrition during the first year, so do not overcompensate with solids, if it’s not time. Check with your doctor on adequate amounts of formula for your baby’s age.
Finally, it isn’t just baby’s sleep that may be disrupted during the weaning process — mom’s may be, too! Weaning can lead to engorgement and possible infection, called mastitis. This is especially true for moms who try to wean their babies quickly, cutting out multiple feedings at once.
How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Well During the Weaning Process?
Avoid a “cold turkey” approach (in which you abruptly stop nursing). This can be very upsetting for your baby, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely to cause complications for you. Instead, opt for a gentler, “baby-led” or “slow and steady” approach; it’ll be far less disruptive to your baby’s sleep. A “slow and steady” approach would look something like this:
- At feeding time, nurse your baby as you normally would. Then, offer your baby a bottle of formula or cup of milk.
- When your baby has gotten used to the bottle/cup, then reverse these steps: offer the bottle/cup first, followed by a nursing.
Consider using the “Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse” method. This is the gentlest way to wean. With this method, you don’t offer your baby the breast, but if your baby is clamoring to nurse, you don’t refuse her, either. This method is slower, but if you have the time to put in, it’ll mean more restful nights and restful naps for your baby!
Don’t wean too fast! Nicole remembers that while weaning one of her sons, he’d start biting her shoulder when she’d hold him. That’s a classic sign of weaning too fast, and she had to slow down. Experts recommend that you eliminate no more than one nursing at a time; then, wait about a week to let your baby’s appetite adjust.
Like so many other things in life, weaning goes best if there’s a plan in place. Try to plan weaning during times when life is most normal — in other words, don’t wean around a holiday or a vacation, during a move, right before the birth of a new baby, etc.
That said, remember that you work the plan — don’t let the plan work you! Life happens, and unexpected things like teething, illness, a work-related trip, new medication for mom, etc. can sometimes destroy a mom’s best-laid plans. What’s more, you might find that your baby simply refuses to cooperate! You didn’t exactly consult him when you made your plan, after all. If this is the case for you, remember that like sleep training, weaning is not a battle to be won. Consider taking a break and trying again later if your baby is showing major signs of resistance.
46 thoughts on “How Weaning from Breastfeeding May Affect Your Baby’s Sleep”
I am on day 6 of going cold turkey with breastfeeding my 2 year old. I wasn’t awake that going cold turkey was a bad thing to do. But now I’m 6 days in I don’t want to go backwards. He’s stopped asking so much and doesn’t pull at my top. He’s at the age that he understands what I’m explaining to him. He’s just started nursery so I explain he’s a big boy now. He’s never slept through the night. Always nurses all day long and 5 times roughly every night. It was just getting too much for me and one day I said no more. But since I’ve stopped. He’s poorly with a cold. So he’s very unsettled but I feel he’s crying. A lot! And he’s waking at 4am every morning wanting to get up. No matter what time he goes to bed. Is this because he’s hungry and not getting those breast milk too ups all night that he’s use to? Or is this something that will just stop? He goes to sleep at night fine. He won’t nap in the day now because he isn’t getting the breast. So by 6:30 he’s exhausted. I just lay in his bed with him and he drifts off. But the mornings and the tears are tearing me apart.
Hi @Beck –
Thank you for writing to us, and sorry to hear that weaning your toddler from breastfeeding is not going well! Sorry to hear your little guy is ill too! Your suspicions about him waking from hunger may be correct, but it is too had to say without an expert sleep consultant taking an in-depth look at all of his eating and sleeping schedules and history. But, if he was/is used to eating all night long, he may be having a harder time going without. You might want to work extra hard at getting plenty of liquids and calories in him in the daytime. And, if you want to add back some nursing at some set times in the day, don’t worry too much about taking a few baby steps back to get more calories in him or to help him nap! I hope that things smooth out, and please contact us if you would like more help with this at any time! One of our experts would love to help with this! Hang in there Beck and I hope his cold is better very soon!
Hi!! My daughter just turned 7 months. She was exclusively breastfed until 4.5 months when she started solids (baby-led). She is now taking 3 solid meals with 6 breastfeeds during today. She was sleeping most of the night 9pm to 7 am before solids were introduced. We currently have her on a decent schedule. Naps are variable (half hour to an hour, 2 or 3 between 10 am and 4 pm and she goes to bed at 8 pm (with nursing). However, since she started eating solids, she has started to feed “several” times at night. I work full time as a physician and can only get some sleep by allowing her to do this. If I don’t let her feed she wakes up crying and is difficult to put down.
I say several because we both are half asleep during these feeds and I don’t keep count. I do know that I get a let down and she empties me each time. She usually lets out a small cry, touches my face. I feed her and we both are back to sleeping. She is in a cosleeper in our bed which makes it easier.
Unfortunately, this has made it impossible for us to do any sleep training or night weaning. This allows her a full night sleep, but mine is interrupted and not a deep restful sleep. Any suggestions??
Hi @Vanjul Agarwal, thank you for visiting the Baby Sleep Site and for sharing your story with us. I am sorry your daughter’s sleep has gone backwards a bit since introducing solid foods to her. We have a free guide on sleeping through the night that covers several things you may want to look over and see if you can determine the cause of her sudden need for the additional feedings. The link to sign up to receive the guide is here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
If you find you need more help with this, we also have a team of sleep consultants that would be happy to help create a plan for you and walk you through the sleep training process. They want to work to write a plan for you that works with your parenting style and your baby’s temperament. You can view the package options online here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/contact
I hope this helps!
Nice article 🙂 I’m glad that I saw the recommendation of ‘How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone’ guide by Susan Urban. The technique in this guide gave my family desperately needed sleep in just 3 nights 🙂 Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@Connie, we are so glad the article was helpful and that you got the sleep you need and deserve!
This is the problem. It’s hard to wean a child, but a book by Mrs. Susan Urban (available on Amazon, check it out) can be helpful. It is about the HWL method and other factors, that can positively affect the spontaneous falling asleep of a child.
@Jennise – Thank you for stopping in to our sleepy little village and for your comment. Please keep reading!
Read this article while searching for something that applies to my situation – 17 month old, only breastfed (never offered bottle, can drink milk/water fine with straw cup) who wakes through night to nurse and then I get mastitis so bad it puts me in hospital for 3 days and and poor baby has a cold turkey forced wean. He is so sad (as am I) and wakes at night and there’s nothing I can do for him. It’s worse when I go in because he wants to nurse and doesn’t understand why not. We are suffered through day 10 and just writing this makes me cry. How can I ease this for him.
Thank you so much for your comment – I’m so sorry for you and your baby! What a difficult experience. I hope you are feeling better now, and that things have improved for your toddler, but if you’re still having trouble, just giving him a lot of reassurance and cuddles, and also just making sure he’s eating enough during the day, will help him through. He may be dealing with some separation anxiety since you were in the hospital, too, and since the weaning was traumatic, and he may also be having trouble learning to fall asleep on his own at night if he’s used to nursing to sleep, but toddlers are resilient, and he will be okay with your support. If you are still having trouble with night waking, we do recommend developing a routine to help him settle, just like a bedtime routine, but a lot shorter. You can read more in our sleep training series here (since you are effectively sleep training, though I know accidentally, the method is very similar): https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-training-from-no-cry-to-cry-series-part-1/
I really hope this helps, but do not hesitate to write to us at [email protected] if you need more support! We would love to help and can talk with you further about your situation. Good luck!
I’ve recently weaned my 17 month old daughter who I nursed to sleep. She goes down fine at night, but nap times are a different story. She will cry and fuss in her crib for hours if I’d allow it. I used a similar routine as the bedtime routine with no luck. Can you offer any insight?
@Karen, Thank you for commenting. I am glad to hear your daughter goes fine at night, but I am sorry you are struggling with naps. Here is a link to an article with reasons your baby may not want to nap: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/baby-wont-nap-5-reasons/
And here is a link to a toddler schedule so you can compare to her current schedule and see if maybe the timing needs to be altered a little bit: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/toddler-schedule/
If you’re still having trouble you may want to check out our ebook, Mastering Naps and Schedules! You can read more about it here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/mastering-naps/
Good luck and thank you for using The Baby Sleep Site as a resource!
@ Tina — you ask a really good question here! We have an article on the site written specifically about the practice of dream feeding; it’ll likely help you answer these questions. You can read the article here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/dream-feed/
Hope this provides some insight, Tina! 🙂
I have a night weaning question. My baby just turned 9 months old. He slept pretty terribly for the first 6 or 7 months. A couple months ago I stopped nursing him right before bed in order to avoid having a sleep association (and because he often wasn’t hungry after eating solids). I also heard about dream feeds and decided to give that a try. I’ve been nursing him around 4:30 or 5 and then feeding him solids. Then I put him to bed around 7 and do a dream feed around 9 or 10. The last month or so he has been sleeping most nights from about 7 to 7, so I’m hesitant to change anything, but I’m wondering if I should stop doing the dream feed.
Would it be better to feed him before bed and try to completely night wean him? I noticed in your sample schedules that it says to nurse right before bed, but usually when I do that he falls asleep nursing. But, I worry that although the dream feed has been working so far, it’s going to start creating a new problem (sometimes he wakes up just before I am going to feed him, and I also wonder if he’s not eating as much during the day because I feed him at night).
@ Kat — “the mummy snack bar” — that made me smile 🙂 So glad you’re finding the Baby Sleep Site helpful! Thanks for spreading the word. And thanks, too, for sharing your experience. This is a good example of the fact that what works well for some (going slow when weaning) doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Good for you for taking control and figuring out what was best for your little guy!
Dear All, first let me say that I have gleaned so much wonderful information from this site and have shared it with others much to their relief…so thank you for all your hard work.
On the subject of breast feeding and sleep I would like to share my experience and knowledge. In my case I had to have my son weaned and babysitter trained at 12months as I had to return to work as a full time continental shift working ICU nurse. I started slow at five months, but it took six weeks to even bring a bottle near his mouth without him screaming and bawling. Long story made short: when it came to night time weaning as the last step, he was waking every two hours or so for a 5 minute nurse, and was often crying and squirming. After researching the issue I discovered that going slow was the wrong call at that point, and finally closed the mummy snack bar for good. I found out that nursing to resettle him was actually causing the reason he was waking; short nursing or if your milk supply changes during the weaning process supplies foremilk high in sugar which when digested creates gas and in sleeping position he could not relieve himself. He would wake and want nursing again starting the cycle all over again. This in fact may have contributed to my son now having developed GERD which is a whole different sleep issue….the puke fairy comes to visit.
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