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7 Reasons Night Weaning May Not Be Working

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.

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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, breastmilk or formula should still be the primary source of nutrition for your baby’s first year. Why? Because breastmilk and formula is 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. You aren’t feeding your baby enough 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, your boobs > 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.

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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.

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