Step-by-step Weaning Advice
Question: Hello, I’m a big fan of your books and my husband and I are AP our 7.5-month-old girl. Currently she nurses to sleep for all naps and to go to bed and if I leave her for naps, she won’t sleep very long. I’m just wondering if I should be breaking the nursing to sleep association? And if so, how do I go about this? I’ve read Elizabeth Pantley’s book on gentle weaning from this association and am contemplating giving it a shot. If I don’t do this I’m worried she will never learn how to fall asleep without me. Do you have weaning advice for me?
Have a Happy Baby and Happy Mother
Answer: Your baby is blessed to have you as a nurturing mother. Besides the general weaning information you will find on our website, in The Baby Book, The Baby Sleep Book, and the Attachment Parenting Book, here is our step-by-step weaning advice personalized for you.
- Remember our parenting advice, “Baby needs a happy, rested mother”. Do you need to night wean your baby? Are you reasonably well-rested?
- What is your natural “mommy brain” or maternal intuition prompting you to do? Do you feel she needs to be nursed to sleep or does she just love it?
- Sleep problems are now epidemic. Sleep clinics are in nearly every major city. By your baby associating going to sleep with her favorite attachment prompt – breastfeeding – you are imprinting into her mind a valuable sleep-well tool, that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a pleasant state to remain in. Our theory as to why this association works is that uncontrolled stress is the top sabotage of good sleep. Breastfeeding relaxes the head brain to “cool it” and dial down stress hormones. Also, your breastmilk is the favorite food for your baby’s gut brain (called the “second brain”). When the gut brain and head brain both feel good, a good night’s sleep follows. Is her breastfeeding to sleep a need or a want? You, her mom, will be the only one to tell. When in doubt, consider it a need.
- Put yourself behind the eyes and into the brain of your baby. Ask: If I were her, how would I want my mother to react when I cry to snuggle at the breast and drift off to sleep? You know what the answer will be.
- She is only 7.5-months-old and, despite what you read and hear, associating falling asleep with breastfeeding is a normal and healthy sleep association at this age. In Dr. Bill’s pediatric practice, he has noticed, after over 50 years of baby-learning, that the breastfeeding-sleep association is one of the best long-term investments you can make in raising a happier, healthier, and smarter child. While your child may not remember her mother-infant naptime and nighttime attachment, subconsciously this beautiful mother-baby bonding is forever imprinted into her brain’s memory file, to be replayed when needed.
- Once she is older, around 15-18 months, you can enlist her daddy to do some “father nursing” for a few nights in a row if you feel her night waking is too much. This will help her accept a gentle “no” and have only one or two nursings. At that age, she will be more able to handle a certain amount of frustration. And once she is old enough to understand, you can tell her, “We only nurse when the sun goes down and when the sun comes up!”
Be reassured, she will learn how to fall asleep without you!
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”