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So You Want to Night Wean Your Toddler

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 34 Comments

Sometimes It Feels Like . . .

I make schedules and “to do” lists just so I can ignore them. It makes me feel spontaneous. This week I wrote a list of topics I want to cover and so far I have completely denied their existence.Until today.There is a deadline looming over my head. Okay, not my head . . . someone else’s.

I would love to know how to get my two year old to sleep through the night without waking up to nurse – before our number two gets here in 7 weeks! I love nursing her to sleep and nursing her down for naps, but some nights she literally stays latched on for hours upon hours and it’s making me go crazy!

~ Kate

When I got pregnant Katie was two and still waking me up several times a night to breastfeed. I knew I couldn’t handle a pregnancy on such disrupted sleep, much less be physically ready for the demands of a newborn. I wish I could say I handled my concerns with grace and dignity, but in reality I began freaking out. Finally Daniel insisted we buy “The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers.”

He took a day off work to read it with me while Gigi watched Katie. By sundown we had a plan. I’ll admit I was skeptical.  Amazingly, it actually worked! Here’s what we did:

The Goal: Break the Nursing to Sleep Association

“Is that all?” you ask. Hey! I can hear that sarcastic tone in your voice! Give me a chance, because I felt that way, too. It is possible to move most toddlers past their need to breastfeed to sleep while still nursing at bedtime AND co-sleeping (if that’s your thing). The trick is to incorporate a different soothing technique after breastfeeding but before sleep.

Step 1: New Bedtime Routine

Nursing a child to sleep is such a sweet ritual. It’s so simple nothing else is really needed. Daniel and I found that when we were ready to discontinue said ritual, a lot of things were needed to replace it. In short, she needed a “wind down” ritual. So, about an hour before she needs to go to bed we begin dimming the lights and talking more softly. Then, in the exact same order every night, we:

  1. Put on her pyjamas
  2. Brush teeth and hair
  3. Read stories
  4. Breastfeed
  5. Take a last trip to potty

The final step involves Daniel laying his hand on Katie’s back while she gently falls asleep. Although at first she protested his presence instead of mine, it was easier for her to accept going to sleep without nursing if I wasn’t present. However, it wasn’t long before she began enjoying the time with her daddy, and now she “shoo’s” me away when she is done nursing and ready to cuddle.

The ritual you create will most likely be different and may include bathtime, a stroll around the block, or quiet play of some kind. If you focus on making the “wind down” ritual something your child looks forward to I promise the process will go much more smoothly.

Step 2: Slowly Eliminate Night Nursing

Once Daniel had proven that Katie was actually capable of falling asleep without nursing or “crying it out,” we moved on to Step 2. In her book Elizabeth Pantley describes a variety of strategies for reducing the frequency of nighttime nursing. These were the two that we had the most success with:

Tip #1: The Pantley Pull-Off. Although originally developed for younger children, Pantley modifies this technique for toddlers.

A helpful first step is to create a phrase that means, “We’re all done nursing.” You’ll want to first use this during the day at the end of each nursing session. As you finish nursing and are moving your child off your lap and closing up your clothing, repeat your phrase two or three times. Choose your own phrase, based on your personality and your child’s age, but it could be something like, “All done. Milk is all done. Bye-bye milk.”

Once you have established your phrase, you can use it at night to shorten nursing sessions. When your child wakes up and wants to nurse go ahead, but before he/she falls asleep use the pull-off technique. If there’s a fuss use your phrase and try to soothe via touch, patting, etc. If there’s a big fuss go ahead and start nursing again, then try it as soon as the sucking reflex begins to slow down. You may have to do this many times before your little one decides it’s not worth the hassle and goes to sleep after you disengage them. Eventually (often sooner than you think) your child will realize they can fall asleep without nursing and will wake you less.

What worked for us: In addition to a post nursing cue, I have found that telling Katie she can have “one more minute” of milk before our nursing session is over helps her transition more easily when I give the “all done” cue. Now if I give the “all done” cue without the “time’s up” phrase she’ll lean back, look directly into my eyes and say “ONE MORE MINUTE.” Stickler.

Tip #2: Set Time Perimeters. We used this and it worked well:

If you’ve been on call for your nursling all night long, you don’t necessarily have to go “cold turkey” and stop all breastfeeding.

. . . Set a period of time when you will say no to breastfeeding, such as from midnight to 6:00 A.M. During that time, if your child wakes to breastfeed, tell him “the milk is sleeping” or a similar description that he can understand. Hold him, pat him, let Daddy or your partner rock him, but persist in the idea that the milk is asleep.

The first few times you may do this may be quite difficult. (OK, truth be told, it may be very, very difficult.) But if you are consistent, after a few days of this your child will begin to understand and the fussiness will dissipate. When that happens, you can then expand the milk-sleeping time by an hour in either direction and continue to make adjustments until you reach a point you are happy with.

Allthough Katie did protest and cry throughout this process, I felt okay about it because I was right there with her, comforting and soothing as I could while remaining firm that we would not nurse until morning. In the short-term I actually got less sleep doing this than when I just went ahead and nursed her, but it wasn’t long before she began waking me up with requests less often. Now we never nurse at night, and except for normal pregnancy stuff (getting up to go to the bathroom, braxton hicks, etc.) I sleep great!

What did I miss? Please share your tips!

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34 Responses to So You Want to Night Wean Your Toddler

  1. Tiffany@ The Coconut Mama says:

    Great post! I feel so fortunate that my DD has been sleeping through the night since she was 5 months old. I nurse her about 30 minutes before bedtime, I get her pj’s on and then read her a few books. She goes down like a champ!

    I’m going to have a hard time weaning her when the time comes. I love nursing so much! Its our special time together.

    • Heather says:

      Tiffany, that’s awesome! Any tips you’d like to share? I’m hoping to have an easier go of things with baby #2 ; – )

  2. Karen says:

    hello – as those of you who read my co-sleeping post here will know I still have a toddler in my bed and she is STILL breastfeeding. The last time I seriously tried the Pantley technique she was around a year, since then I kept hoping she’d give up on her own but NO here she is aged 2 and 8 months and though she wakes less she does still wake, even though I have ‘trained’ her to let go on command and she does. I agree with Mommypotamus that it is the sleep association thing as she will accept me lying down with her awake after breastfeeding and has occasionally fallen asleep this way but usually is desperate to fall asleep on the breast. . I feel inspired to try again, reading this as I really want her sleeping better by the time she is 3 and maybe even being weaned around then too!

    • Heather says:

      Karen, I tried some of Pantley’s techniques when Katie was about a year old as well, but found they were easier to apply to a 2 yr old than a 1 yr old. WIth #2 I am reading her newborn sleep book BEFORE baby arrives, because honestly who can even process all that info while sleep deprived? We are not a “cry it out” family, but until reading Pantley’s book I wrongly assumed that there are gentle options for helping to improve the length and quality of a baby’s (and my own) sleep.

  3. dianthe says:

    i night weaned Sydney around 13-14 months – she’s always been a bad sleeper (like her mother!) and i thought it would help her sleep through the night (and transition to the toddler bed in her room!) – we used Dr. Jay Gordon’s method and it worked very well for us – a year later, she still occasionally asks to nurse if she wakes up in the middle of the night – i either offer to hold her instead or tell her that Mommy’s nurses are sleeping and that we can nurse in the morning

    as far as nursing to sleep, i still nurse her to sleep about 90% of the time – if she doesn’t fall asleep in 10-15 minutes, i count to 10 – i just tell her “ok, Mommy’s going to count to 10” and then when i get to 10, she usually lets go and then i’ll continue to rock her or sit next to her bed until she falls asleep – sometimes my husband takes over after i nurse her – i implemented the counting to 10 thing when i was pregnant because i was getting really touched out – i still use it fairly frequently now because she wants to nurse all.the.time and because i’m still really touched out :/

    • Heather says:

      It sound like you are finding a way to care for your son while still helping your daughter fall asleep gently. That’s very encouraging news! I’m hoping to be able to do the same ; – )

  4. Kate says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I have the No Cry Sleep Solution, but I didn’t know she had separate book for toddlers – that’s very helpful! I can’t wait to try these techniques… hopefully they will work for us… only five weeks to go before baby 2! The hardest thing is hearing my little girl cry so hard for something that only I can give her, but it’s so encouraging to hear other moms’ stories and you’re right, it’s not the same as letting her cry it out if I’m with her the whole time. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    What a great plan! I’m glad it worked for you. I couldn’t come up with anything between all and nothing, so my son nursed at night until he was 4!

  6. THAT Mom: How I Got Here « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] got The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and it WORKED in almost no time at all. After two solid years of frequent night waking I was rewarded with many […]

  7. THAT Mom: Understanding Sleep « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] Following Leah’s advice, I try to mix up how Micah falls asleep as often as possible: nursing to a sleepy state and then drifting off, in the sling, walking, rocking, etc. Note: If this seems impossible because your baby has a strong nursing-to-sleep association, check out the Pantley Pull-Off as described here. […]

  8. Krystal says:

    Thanks for the suggestions! I will definitely be trying this starting tonight with my 14 month old. I am just so exhausted but love our nursing times as well!

  9. Jeff says:

    Love the post. Just came across it. My wife and I have a four year old son who now pleasantly sleeps through the night. Our 20-month old daughter still wakes frequently at night. We’ve read the Gordon plan and Pantley and others. We are not a cry it out family. Our big challenge is that she will accept daddy for the initial wind at night. However, any time she wakes at night she will simply scream “mama” until she gets milk. It’s of course exhausting. The pantley pull off has not been helpful because she drinks superfast then conks again right away. So we’ve been left with the option of just holding her, rocking her, pacing, etc., while she cries hysterically hoping that after a few days of this she would be night weaned and no longer wake so much. But to be honest, this just feels like cry it out anyway which we don’t have the heart to do. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Emily says:


      It’s been a year since you posted your struggles with night weaning. I am assuming that your daughter has been weaned by now. I am just curious how you did it.

  10. martine says:

    What about to wean the milk bottle for the night ? somebody can help me!

    • Heather says:

      So sorry, Martine! I’m totally clueless on that but if you want to give me some more details (like your baby’s age) I’ll ask around!

      • martine says:

        Hi Heather,

        She has 3 years old and she need to suck to the bottle and prefers stop drinking milk than drink in a sippy cup so the problem is because her raw milk is the perfect way to sneak her vitamins in !
        I honestly don’t know what to do

        • Heather says:

          Martine – I’m sorry, I don’t really know. When I transitioned Katie from nursing to drinking chamomile tea before bed we had many discussions to prepare her for it before hand. When the time came she accepted the transition without a fuss. Sorry I cannot offer anymore ideas :(

  11. Alison Westermann via FB says:

    thanks for reposting! i have an almost 2 year old that wakes between 3-10 times at night….would love to have a better sleeper! i might just have to buy this book….

  12. Alison Westermann via FB says:

    thanks for reposting! i have an almost 2 year old that wakes between 3-10 times at night….would love to have a better sleeper! i might just have to buy this book….

  13. Dianthe White Hall via FB says:

    i’ve been trying to night wean Myles for a couple of months – nothing works – he still flips out and throws a tantrum 95% of the time – it was so easy with Sydney – Myles will be 2 next week and still nurses like a newborn!

  14. Dianthe White Hall via FB says:

    i’ve been trying to night wean Myles for a couple of months – nothing works – he still flips out and throws a tantrum 95% of the time – it was so easy with Sydney – Myles will be 2 next week and still nurses like a newborn!

  15. Vanessa Stegner via FB says:

    Thank you! We are working this now and this helps with more ideas on how to handle the melt downs…from me! Haha

  16. Vanessa Stegner via FB says:

    Thank you! We are working this now and this helps with more ideas on how to handle the melt downs…from me! Haha

  17. Roxanna Farnsworth via FB says:

    when my son was 2 we did a version of this but I found both my son and I couldn’t handle being in the bed together for the transition… so I slept on the couch while hubs took over night-time soothing. I was back in our family bed within a few weeks :)

  18. Kristine Winniford via FB says:

    My first was about 18 mo. when we started a similar process, he fought it very hard and made nursing miserable (I was expecting #2 at this time as well). We wound up just weaning entirely at about 20 mo. My second has more or less self weaned during my current pregnancy. She’ll be 2 next month, about week before #3 is born, and while some times she would still like to nurse before bed we have found a compromise with some milk and a story with Daddy. Come to think of it, she hasn’t nursed in or 3 or 4 days. I don’t knnow if I feel happy or sad about that. I find nursing during the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy to be horrible, I don’t enjoy it all. I think it is my body telling me its time to get ready for the next one. Although I know may people tandem nurse and love it, I just can’t. It’s amazing the differences in nursing habits from 1 child to the next!

  19. kristina says:

    I am begging someone to help! I have read Pantely, Jay Gordon, Weissbluth, and nothing is working for us. My 22 month old nurses to nap and bed, and wakes up at both every 40 minutes or more to nurse. By 4am, it’s like every 15. I am at my wits’ end and pregnant with #2. I cannot handle this schedule with a newborn in the mix, so it needs to end soon. I can pop my daughter off and she *can* fall asleep without nursing, but she WILL NOT 99% of the time. She will come off when I count to ten, but will sometimes come right back on. Popping her off for months now before she is asleep has done nothing to lessen night or nap wakings. Tonight I tried to let her go for 5 minutes, then take it away (with much prepping and reminding for days) and it was all-out sobbing, kicking, vomiting…. I gave in. I don’t agree with crying it out, but please someone inform me: Must I just accept hours of sobbing in the end, if I want it to stop? Is there really no way to gently do it without tears? I don’t know what’s harder- the constant sucking and pulling and twisting, or the sobbing and vomiting.

    • Heather says:

      Kristina, I am so sorry for what you are going through. Pregnant mamas need SLEEP! Though I don’t have any suggestions in addition to what I’ve shared I am curious about something: Have you ever checked your daughter for a tongue or lip tie? Tongue/lip tied babies tend to wake more frequently than normal and can sometimes get stuck in this pattern. If she is then there is a good chance your newborn could be too, so it’s something to watch for. You can find out more at

  20. martine says:

    Hi Jeff,

    It wasn’t easy at ell but we finally switched her regular glass bottle for a glass lifefactory seapy cup !

    She didn’t liked it and stopped to drink durring the night !

    Here we go


  21. Night Weaning a Toddler for Sleep Training says:

    […] A blog with tips for night weaning a toddler for sleep training, very similar to what we did. […]

  22. Lanette says:

    I was glad to find that you wrote about night weaning. My middle child nursed at night until she was 2 to the point where I was exhausted. The thought of having another baby at that time was put on the back burner. We made it through that period and eventually she started sleeping well most nights. Now, I have a third baby. She slept through the night at 3 months, but this only lasted for about 6 weeks. I thought, woo hoo, we made it, ha! She is close to a year now, and I’m okay with night nursing. But when I’m ready to wean her from night nursing, I will try the methods you tried! Sounds gentle and loving. Glad to find your article on this so I can be ready if the time comes. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  23. Lucy says:

    Dear Heather,
    Thank you for this article, it is helpful yet like for everybody, every child and parent dynamic is unique making every case one of a kind. I wish there was one rule-fits-all but that is not the case. My 19 month old daughter has been nursing to sleep since she was born (we also co-sleep). I have no problem nursing her to sleep but I am facing the following challenge. It happens that often nights she is not ready to sleep at bedtime, taking over an hour to sleep. I don’t mind that she is taking that long (although in some very rare cases I do become impatient), what I mind is that she lifts her bum in the air while breastfeeding and will twist her body and causes a lot of pain to me. At the end my nipples are sore. I put her down again and again to stop her from twisting my nipple, but its a long and painful process. I then told my husband that in order for me to relieve my pain is to put her to bed when SHE is ready to sleep and not at bed time WE set. He was not happy to hear this simply because he wants to sit back and watch TV (we have a rule that TV is off while she’s awake). My second thought was to take myself and daughter into another room and exhaust her there until SHE is ready to sleep and nurse fast to sleep. I am not sure if my problem is more my husband’s inability to have our toddler among us when he is ready to unwind or I am dealing with my daughter’s twisting wrongly. My situation may sound odd but its tormenting me. On the one hand I am thinking its time to wean here but on the other hand nursing her sleep is not bothering me, or should it? Any thoughts? I’d highly appreciate your input.

  24. Anna says:

    Hi Heather, I’m in the same bind right now with our first son. I’m going to try all you said and read the book to hell. We are expecting our second child and so that was our push just like yours. Can you please explain to me how your second child slept, what you did differently from the start, what worked well, and was he/she a better (longer) night sleeper than the first? I’d love to have some tips so I don’t fall into the same trap with this one. Thank you!!

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