Night Weaning FAILS: 7 Reasons Night Weaning May Not Be Working

Night Weaning Fails 7

There is no script for night weaning. When night weaning happens varies widely from family to family – some babies are basically done night feeding quite young (around 4 or 5 months, for some), while other families are perfectly happy to keep feeding their 2 or 3-year-old at night.

And how to night wean? That’s unscripted, too! Some parents opt for a cold-turkey approach, while other parents prefer to use a longer, gentler, more gradual approach.

Remember, too, that when and how to night wean is a purely personal decision. Some moms are desperate to night wean as soon as possible, while other mamas really love the cuddly night feedings, and are reluctant to give them up! The when and the how are totally up to you – you should never feel pressured to night wean at a certain time, or in a certain way.

But all that aside – if there is one thing EVERY family wants, it’s for night weaning to be successful. Whenever you do it, and however you do it, you obviously want it to actually work.

But what if it doesn’t? What if all your best efforts to night wean your baby or toddler fall flat?

That’s what we’re talking about today, readers! Join us as we look at 7 common reasons why night weaning fails.

7 Reasons Night Weaning May Not Be Working

  1. Your baby is too young to night wean safely. This is just common sense, in some ways – don’t try to night wean a 2 month old, because that little baby is just too young to go all night without feedings! But we do find sometimes that parents are trying to night wean their 5 or 6 month old, because they are under the impression that all babies should be able to sleep through the night by 4 months. But really, it’s perfectly normal for a 6 month old baby to need one, or sometimes two, night feedings. So don’t rush this – if there are signs that your baby still needs her night feedings, then don’t rush to eliminate them. Not sure if your baby is ready to night wean? Check out our quiz, Is Your Baby Ready To Night Wean? for help.
  2. Your baby is eating too much solid food. Keep in mind that while it’s fine to start introducing solid food when your baby is about 6 months old (with doctor’s approval), breastmilk or formula should still be the primary source of nutrition for your baby’s first year. Why? Because breastmilk and formula are calorie-rich and nutrient-packed, compared to solid food, which is actually fairly light on calories. If your baby is taking in too much solid food, and not enough breastmilk or formula, he may be making up for some of those lost calories by feeding at night. To solve this, simply cut back on the solids and add in one or two more breastmilk or formula feeds.
  3. Your baby is a distracted daytime eater. Sure, you can feed your baby every 2 hours during the day in an effort to pack in all her calories during daylight hours…but if your distractible little eater is too preoccupied with what’s happening around her to actually each much, odds are she will continue to wake at night to feed. You can work on this by feeding your distracted eater in a dim, quiet room; this will minimize the stimuli around her, and help her focus on feeding.
  4. Your baby isn’t getting enough breastmilk or formula during the day. One of the most common errors parents make when night-weaning is not adjusting how much they offer milk/formula or solid food during the day. They mistakenly think baby either doesn’t need additional calories during the day or they believe they will automatically get them. But, in some cases, you need to make a concerted effort to increase daytime calories precisely so your baby doesn’t need them during the night.
  5. In your baby or toddler’s eyes, breast is better than the bottle. Just because your baby CAN get nourishment from the bottle doesn’t mean he WANTS to. Even babies who will take a bottle willingly may still strongly prefer mama’s boob, and that may be at the root of your issue. If your baby will grudgingly take formula or expressed breastmilk from a bottle, it may be that he’s not taking enough, because he’s waiting to get his milk fresh from the source (a.k.a. YOU!). This tends to really be a problem for working moms whose kiddos drink from a bottle all day, but then who want to nurse all night. The solution here is simply to gradually phase out the nighttime nursing until your little one gets the picture, that the boobs just aren’t available for nursing anymore.
  6. Your baby doesn’t know how to self-soothe to sleep. Here it is – this is the reason why most night weaning fails, in our experience. If your baby doesn’t know how to fall asleep independently, without being fed to sleep, then there is no way night weaning is going to work, because every time your baby wakes during the night, he needs you to come and feed him back to sleep. You can usually spot these sleep association kinds of feedings – often, your baby will wake, cry, you’ll feed him for about 90 seconds, and then he’s back out. Clearly, he’s not hungry – he just needs help to fall back to sleep. The solution for this? Teach your baby how to fall asleep independently, without feeding to sleep. Or, in other words, work on sleep coaching. 😉
  7. Your baby knows how to fall asleep independently, but the association of nursing to sleep is very strong. This is the one that stumps many parents. Your baby knows how to fall asleep independently, and does it sometimes (like at nap time, and at bedtime) – but she’s still waking all night and needing little mini-feeds. In these cases, it’s likely that your child just has a particularly strong association between feeding and sleeping, and that strong association is showing itself at night. The fix here would just be to stay very consistent and committed to your night weaning plan, and to help soothe your child during night wakings without feeding to sleep.

A quick disclaimer – sometimes (very, very rarely) night weaning may not work because you have a hidden, hard-to-spot nursing problem. For instance, you may have low milk supply, so even though you are feeding often during the day, your baby isn’t getting enough nourishment and needs to feed at night (just as an example – there are other nursing problems that can cause night weaning issues). This is most likely NOT a problem for the vast majority of you, and you shouldn’t worry about it unduly. But if you suspect that you might have a nursing issue, it’s best to get in touch with a local lactation consultant for more information.

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19 thoughts on “Night Weaning FAILS: 7 Reasons Night Weaning May Not Be Working”

  1. My 14 month old nurses at 8pm (bedtime) and wakes at 4am to nurse. Is this consistent wake up time a sign that she has gotten into a habit, or a sign that she’s truly hungry at 4am? She is a great eater, consistently nursing and eating food throughout the day (although less so in the evenings). I would love to skip the 4am feeding, but my first priority is doing what’s best for her. Thanks for your insights!

    • Hi Ellen,
      Thanks for checking out The Baby Sleep Site! This is a tough question to answer briefly – the majority of healthy babies this age can be night-weaned completely, but there are always a few who aren’t ready. It can depend how much milk vs. solids they’re taking in during the day, and sometimes on when dinner/last snack is, to say whether they can make it through the night.
      We do have a quiz on whether your baby is ready to night wean that might be helpful for you here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/night-weaning-2/night-weaning-quiz/
      And if you’re a member, this is a great kind of question to ask a sleep consultant, either in Member Chat on any article or blog post in our Members Area. They can look at your entire schedule and get a better sense of what’s going on, and give you some ideas. I hope this helps!

  2. My 6 month old daughter has on occasion gone through the night other nights wakes 8 or 9 times. She wakes cries and feeds then falls asleep on the boob only feeding for a short time but wants to use me as a dummy i think. This week have tried water rather than the boob once she realises she is upset and awake. Need to help her to soothe herself. Any advice appreciated am very tired.

    • @Zoe Rose – Hi, and thank you for visiting the Baby Sleep Site. I am sorry you’ve been experiencing a mix of good and bad nights with your daughter – that can be difficult to figure out and to go through! If you haven’t yet, you might find some helpful tips by downloading our free ebook to help your child sleep through the night. You can sign up to download the free guide here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
      Hang in there! I hope this passes for you quickly and let us know if it doesn’t and we would be happy to provide some more information. 🙂

      • Hi, my 7.5 month old son self settles no problem at bedtime but wakes regularly from around 1am until 7am and I find feeding is the only way to settle him (unless I do CIO for anything up to 1.5hrs and risk waking his siblings). He is breastfed mainly but has a formula feed before bed at around 6pm. He doesn’t nap well either. I’m lucky if I get two naps a day and only the morning one is guaranteed and sometimes only lasts 20-30 minutes. He cat naps in the car and pushchair on the school run. He is eating 3 solids meals a day. Porridge for breakfast, a selection of fruit and veg at lunch and a meal for dinner. He has regular breast feeds throughout the day but usually doesn’t take much and is easily distracted. He is waking 4-5 times a night and by 5-6am I often give up and bring him into our bed but even then he still doesn’t sleep well and I have to feed him to stop him crying…. please help!!!!

      • Hi @Jo –
        Thank you for writing to us. I’m sorry to hear your family is having sleep problems and your son is struggling with so many night wakings and with short or non-existent naps too! You’re not alone!! We’ve been helping families like yours since 2008 and we would love to help you, too!
        It is common for babies to learn to self-settle at bedtime, but then struggle when they wake at night, or when they are partially waking at night. Naps can be a bit tougher too, so again, you’re definitely not alone!
        Your goal will be to teach him how to fall back to sleep at night, (and asleep for naps) on his own, as you did with bedtime. This can be challenging, especially when you’re also working on fixing the schedule.
        We have E-books and premium resources available where the research has been done for you, if you’d like some help. Or, for the fastest service, we have expert sleep consultants who can help you determine why your baby is not sleeping well if you’re interested. We are able to tap into our 10+ years of experience with thousands of families to quickly diagnose your sleep problems.

        In our consultation packages, we will work with you on a step-by-step plan to which you can commit and feel good about. All of our email consultation packages for new clients include a Personalized Sleep Plan, which is a detailed guide customized just for your family given your specific sleep history, which you will share via an online questionnaire that takes just about 15-30 minutes (not necessarily all in one sitting).
        You can read about all of our sleep consultation packages and purchase directly online here:
        https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services
        I hope I’ve been able to help answer your questions so that you can get started sleeping better right away Jo! If you have any additional questions, or if you need any assistance at any time, please let us know. We’re here to help!

  3. Hi! My son is 9 months old now, ever since he was around 1.5 – 2 months he’s been waking up 2-3 times at night to feed and even now he seems genuinely hungry and finishes the whole bottle snd only when he’s full does he pushes the bottle away and fall into sleep again. He eats moderate amounts frequently during the day. If I try not to feed him during the nighy he cries continuesly and babbles as if trying to tell me that he’s hungry. How do I wean him please?

    • @Zee Hi there and welcome to our sleepy little village! I’m sorry to hear your 9-month old is still waking 2-3 times at night to feed. That’s considered excessive for his age. If his doctor has approved night-weaning, you may want to consider our gentler night-weaning approach we outline in our e-Book, The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Here is the chapter on night-weaning, if you are interested in becoming a member of the site: https://members.babysleepsite.com/help-your-child-sleep/night-weaning/ . You can ask a question on any page of the e-Book or join in live chat, if you have any questions. Good luck!

  4. My baby is 9 months. She has started waking up every 3/4 hours to nurse. I have tried to stop breastfeeding her at one of the feeds but she screams and screams, the longer I hold out not feeding her, the worse she gets to the point she is hysterical. Do I just keep feeding her, hoping that it’s just a phase? She does not feed to sleep at bedtime settles ok. She’s not keen on puree foods and insists on feeding herself finger foods. She nurses regularly throughout the day too. I am hoping this is a phase/growth spurt or maybe separation anxiety and will pass.

    • @ Linda – Good question! You may be experiencing the 8-10 month sleep regression, honestly. This can be a tough time to work on sleep and to work on night weaning. I’d suggest waiting until this phase seems to have passed (maybe once she’s 10 – 10.5 months?) and then work on pushing that feeding back until you can cut it out altogether.

      Hope this helps, Linda! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. Thanks again!
    I ve been trying to.find the book in uk, but no bookshop seems to have it… Might have to order from Amazon when i get a chance…
    I should add he s a very spireted and persistent child… It might take a while still…

    • @ irene – hope you can get your hands on the book! And yes, may take awhile to wean completely, if he’s a persistent little one 😉

  6. Hi Emily, thanks for your reply.
    He gets plenty of milk during the day, and I try to give him good balanced meals and snacks.
    I really don’t know if he s having enough food as some days he eats well, whilst some others he just picks…
    He s slim and tall (as tall children 1-2 years older than him) and very active!
    He probably uses most of the calories by the time he goes to bed (i do try to feed him close to bedtime)
    He takes a long time to eat…
    I love breastfeeding him, But I would love to sleep more than 3hrs in a row…

    • @ irene – intersting…so it sounds like he’s getting adequate food during the day. You could try offering an extra snack or two during daylight hours, and then simultaneously cutting back on the night feeds gradually. You would simply find other ways to soothe your son at night, instead of nursing – not an easy process in the middle of the night, of course, but toddlers usually get the picture pretty quickly. There’s a great book called Nursies When The Sun Shines that many parents have told us is fabulous for weaning toddlers – maybe you want to check it out? Might make a great resource for you!

      Best of luck to you, Irene! 🙂

  7. @mamama. I had a similar plan, but did not work out for me. I even tried to go cold turkey, but did not manage as by the time bed time came I was in agony (not the breast as such, but my entire body) so i had to quickly change my mind.
    At night I tried to offer water and comfort, and occasionally it works, but when he wakes up around 1.30am or 3am if I don’t feed him he ll cry a lot and not just for a couple of minutes…
    He s quite tall for his age, maybe his metabolism is just really fast…
    I wish I could find a magic food that would keep him going till morning!

  8. I’m in the process of completely but gradually weaning my 22 month old after consulting a few people I trust. i have a one month plan, and i want her completely weaned by 2 years. I’ve tried in the past to night wean her and keep the day feeds, but it never worked for us. It’s been a week now since I started, and now I got to a point of refusing to nurse her during the day and in the middle of the night. She only gets one feed in 24 hours before bedtime. And so far even tho she slept straight until 5am for a few days at the beginning, she is going back to waking up after only 4 hours of sleep and asking to nurse again. I’ve held my grounds and decided to be consistent and refuse. She usually cries for a minute then falls asleep. Same during her nap, she still asks and I refuse and she goes to sleep anyway after a minute of fussing. I hug her and tell her that I love her and ask her to please lay down and go to sleep now. During the day I basically just distract her. I’m also teaching her to sleep in her own bed (we co-slept before but we both didn’t get good night’s sleep). So now she starts out in her bed and when she wakes up she crawls into my bed (in the same room) and we co-sleep for the rest of the night. My next step is to put her back in her bed at night, but I’m usually too tired in the middle of the night to do this, but I know it’s got to be done.

    • @ mamama – Sounds like you have an awesome plan in place! The steps you’re taking sound great, and I imagine that if you stick to it, you’ll see great results soon. 🙂 Keep us posted – and thanks for commenting!

  9. My 2.5yo still nurses at night… He wakes up at least three times at night… He knows how to fall asleep on his.own!
    But he seems genuinely hungry. In fact he normally finishes both breasts then turns around and falls asleep again…
    If i don’t feed him he ll just cry n cry n sometimes even scratch me.
    Don’t really know what to do…

    • @ Irene – Is this a problem you want to fix, or are you okay with the nursing? From your comment, it sounds like you might want to change this…if that’s the case, then you’d want to first take a look at his daytime eating habits, and make sure he is getting plenty of nourishment during daylight hours. 3 night wakings for food is definitely excessive for this age (although again, not necessarily a problem if you’re okay with it). Could it be that he’s not getting enough to eat at his daytime meals?

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