When it comes to night weaning a breastfeeding baby, you might have a lot of questions. Many moms worry that if they night wean, their baby might lose interest during the day, too. Also, some moms experience a drop in their milk supply when they night wean their baby. This sponsored post will share 5 steps to night weaning a breastfed baby and maintaining your milk supply.
What is Night Weaning?
In my experience as a sleep consultant for over 15 years, night weaning can mean different things to different people. When it comes to night weaning, it is important we set expectations.
For this post, it is important to keep in mind that night weaning your breastfeeding baby means reducing milk feedings at night to an age-appropriate number of times. That means that after you “night wean,” you might still be feeding your baby at night, depending on the age of your baby.
Maintaining your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is the #1 priority while also maximizing sleep for both of you
When Can You Night Wean a Breastfeeding Baby?
It is important not to start night weaning your baby until your milk supply is fully established. In my experience, breastfeeding babies eat more frequently at night than other babies. The reason is that breast milk is digested more easily and faster than formula.
Newborns should be fed every 2 hours. By 4 weeks old, babies are going 2 to 3 hours between feedings. And, by 6 weeks old, your baby might be able to do one longer stretch of sleep at night of 3-4 hours. By 3-5 months old, most breastfed babies eat 2-3 times at night. And, by 6 months old, we can usually night wean to just 1-2 feedings. After that, many breastfeeding babies continue to eat at least once a night until 7-12 months old, depending on a variety of factors. It is important to feed your baby the appropriate number of night feedings by age.
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But, how will you know when your baby is ready for fewer night feedings?
There are a few signs it’s time to night wean your baby, including your baby showing less interest in feedings at night, or your baby isn’t eating as much during the day. Once you start solid food, that is another common time that some babies will drop one of their night feedings. But, it’s important not to overdo the solid food simply to decrease night feedings.
Another thing to consider is whether your baby is eating out of habit or due to a sleep association with breastfeeding. If your baby is getting older and still comfort nursing every 1-2 hours all night, this is a common time to consider night weaning.
All babies are different, so the age at which you drop all-night feedings will vary for each mom and baby pair.
You might want to take our Is Your Baby Ready To Night Wean? Quiz.
How to Night Wean a Breastfed Baby
So, now you have set your expectations about what age to night-wean your baby. How do you night wean? Here are the 5 steps to successfully night weaning a breastfed baby without negatively impacting your milk supply:
1. Maximize Daytime Milk Feedings
Most moms try to encourage their baby to eat more during the day, so baby stops waking up so much at night. Consider that there are a few keys to this you might not have thought of.
If you are trying to feed your baby very often during the day, this might increase night feedings. When your baby does a lot of “snacking” during the day, your baby might not get as much of the fattier hindmilk. This is because you are not emptying your breasts.
We want to encourage fuller feedings during the day. For some babies, that means spreading out daytime feedings once it’s comfortable for your baby.
Some babies will nurse every time they are offered the breast but then not nurse very long. Consider the time between feedings during which your baby nurses the “best.” It might be a longer session where you feel your baby is emptying at least one or both breasts. Again, the amount of time varies with each mom and baby pair.
My firstborn could only go up to 3 hours between feedings and never go more than that. I’ve worked with some moms whose baby goes up to 4 hours. The average, in my experience, seems to be every 3 hours once baby is past 2-4 months old.
2. Decide How Many Night Feedings Are Appropriate, Then Add One
Once you have spent a few days trying to maximize milk intake during the day, there may or may not be any change to the night feedings. Consider that it’s a chicken and egg problem in that your baby might not eat more during the day until you cut back at night.
In this step, decide how many night feedings you plan to end up with and then add one. For example, if you have a 5-month-old and plan to night wean to two feedings, plan for three feedings to start.
Now, feed your baby that many feedings at night, if you’re not already. Using the previous example, if your baby is waking every two hours, up to 5 times a night, plan to feed them three times and set the feedings at least 3 hours apart. An example might be to feed your baby at 10 PM, 2 AM, and 5 AM, to start. Choosing the times to start with might involve taking the time of the first feeding right now and adding 30-60 minutes.
What do you do when your baby wakes up and it’s not a feeding time?
You would settle your baby in other ways as much as possible. If your baby is unhappy about the change, this is where gentle sleep coaching often comes in. Don’t be afraid to take several days to gradually work your way up to this, though. The pace is up to you and small changes can mean big progress.
Once your baby is comfortably feeding this many times at night, you can move on to the next step.
3. Begin to Delay Feedings
Finally, start delaying the first feeding of the night by 30-60 minutes each night until you are only feeding your baby the target number of times. This often only takes a few nights. Voila!
But, there are a couple of more steps to consider.
4. Keep Up Your Milk Supply When Night Weaning
When you are night weaning your breastfeeding baby, you do need to be careful about your milk supply. When you don’t breastfeed for many hours in a row, this can negatively impact your milk supply. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes two weeks to notice the drop in supply and it’s tough to get it back up. We can’t predict which moms will experience this, unfortunately. In my 15+ years as a sleep consultant, I’ve seen it enough times that we guard against it.
In addition, sometimes your goal is to drop one night feeding, but your baby decides to sleep through the night! That can be a blessing for your sleep but a curse on your milk supply.
Therefore, it’s best to be proactive to maintain your milk supply while night weaning. Here’s how:
Breastfeeding operates on a supply-and-demand basis. The more your baby demands, the more milk your body makes. If your baby stops demanding milk for 12 hours at night, your body might think this is a signal to stop making milk at all times.
So, the easiest way to simulate demand for milk is to pump your breastmilk!
But, didn’t we night wean so we can get more sleep?
Yes, indeed! Depending on the age of your baby, you might only need to pump once a night and can do so right before your bedtime. The younger your baby, the more times you will need to pump, of course. One idea that works well for younger babies is to pump before your bedtime and then set your alarm about 5 hours later for one more pumping session.
When I was breastfeeding my two boys each for about a year, I was pumping as well. I used a Medela Pump In Style, so I’m a big Medela fan. The same pump was able to pump for two years! But, that was over a decade ago and pumps have come a looooong way! That’s why I’m delighted to introduce you to my favorite Medela pump, the Freestyle Flex Double Electric Pump.
The Freestyle Flex has a light, compact, and portable design that offers true mobility. It is perfect for the active mom who pumps several times a day. Here are a few details about this great new pump:
- Small and Lightweight – This pump fits in the palm of your hand and weighs less than a pound. You can easily put it in your pocket, in your purse, or in your baby bag.
- Wider Breast Shield – It has a wider entry point to the tunnel with a different angle. They measured moms getting 11% more milk per minute as it promotes better emptying of the breasts. This is really important because breastfeeding moms constantly worry they don’t have enough milk. This will help reassure you that you probably do!
- USB port – You can use your computer to charge this pump rather than needing an outlet. And, once charged, it stays charged for two hours, which will give you ~3 separate pumping sessions.
- Overflow Protection – Unlike other pumps, this pump has overflow protection so milk doesn’t get in the tubing. This makes it easier to clean, and you won’t need to replace the tubing.
- Comfort – This pump has PersonalFit Flex breast shields that offer a four-way fit and adapt to your natural shape.
- Two-Phase Expression™ Technology – This technology mimics a baby’s natural sucking rhythms by allowing you to switch phases before and after let-down.
- Quiet – This pump is very quiet, which can give you the confidence to pump in all kinds of places! One thing I really liked is that the tubing connects more vertically, so it’s more discreet to pump.
- Flexible – If needed, you can pump just one side or both at the same time. So, if your baby only empties one breast, it makes it easy to pump the other breast for some milk stash.
Pro Tip: Some insurance companies will reimburse your pump purchase at any major retailer such as Amazon. Check with your insurance company directly to find out more.
The Freestyle Flex pump also has an app, MyMedela. Using the app is another way to help you be successful. You can track breastfeeding and pumping sessions, baby’s height, weight, sleep, and diaper changes all in one place.
If you are also going back to work during this time, you might be especially nervous about your breastfeeding relationship. Medela also has resources for working moms with their New Moms’ Health Returns program.
5. Keep Offering More Milk During the Day
Lastly, the final step in night weaning is to go back to the first step and continually offer more milk during the day. As you gradually reduce how much milk is offered at night, you might find your baby’s appetite increases during the day. It’s important to make sure your baby is getting enough milk in a 24-hour period.
I hope this post has given you confidence in night weaning and maintaining your milk supply, so you can achieve all of your breastfeeding goals! If you need support, be sure to check out Medela’s free breastfeeding support and community The Moms’ Room!
We hope we answered your questions about night weaning your breastfeeding baby!
This is a sponsored post by Medela LLC, but the opinions are all my own.
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