Q&A: Weaning a 1-year-old

Megan writes:

"My daughter is 1 year old now and I'm ready to wean her from breastfeeding.
She only nurses at night. I've managed to wean her from day time nursing
by just laying her down in her crib and letting her cry herself to
sleep. Problem is, I've recently moved into an apartment and I don't
feel that I can let her cry herself to sleep at night for fear of
disturbing the neighbors. It's not that big of a deal when she first
goes down for the night, I let her cry part of the time then, but when
she wakes up during the night she won't put herself back to sleep, she
wants me to nurse her back to sleep. She's to the point where she's
waking up almost every 1-2 hours and my boobs can't take much more of
this, she digs her little teeth in. The other thing that compounds the
problem is that we now share a bedroom so she knows I'm right there and
will scream and cry until I come nurse her. I've thought of trying to
make my breasts unpleasant to her, but I'm not sure what I could use. I
joked about tobasco sauce. Help! My boobs are killing me! Oh and I
think she's waking up so much partially due to teething. I give her
Advil and Orajel before bed, but that doesn't seem to cut it anymore."

Problems I vaguely remember but am so so glad I don't have anymore for $1000, Alex.

First, let me say that there's a sleep regression at 13 months, so it's possible that your daughter is in the middle of that, and if she is you'll have better success if you wait a few weeks until the sleep regression passes. Or it could be teething, too, and there's not much to do about that until the teeth come in.

It seems to me that you have two problems:

1. Your daughter wants to nurse in the middle of the night and you're ready to stop.

2. She cries when she can't nurse in the middle of the night and you don't want her to cry.

To attack the first problem, instead of putting Tabasco sauce on your breasts (which made me cringe and laugh at the same time), why not try drying up your milk? All kinds of things will dry up your milk when you don't want them to (like red wine, mint, stress, etc.), but if you're trying to specifically, I'd go with sage tea and/or old-school Sudafed containing pseudoephidrine. Beware, though, that if you go with the Sudafed, it dries you up all over, so you may feel like a desert and you'll need to drink extra water while you're taking them. So maybe you want to try sage tea first. Buy sage (fresh or dried) at the store and then just brew it with boiling water. Yes, it tastes like the dressing you eat with turkey at Thanksgiving, but whatever if it works to dry up your milk.

Now, for the second problem, can you give her something else that will comfort her when she wakes up? A bottle of water? A pacifier? Anything that will comfort her back to sleep while keeping your boobs out of the loop is fair game.

I would also, in support of the other plans, talk to her during the day about how your breasts don't have milk anymore, but if she wakes up she can have [whatever substitute you give her]. A lot of talking about it and rehearsing verbally during the day will help her have the right tapes playing in her head to stay calm and accept the substitute in the middle of the night.

Who's night-weaned recently and has some tips or words of support for Megan?


(I was going to link to Dr. Jay Gordon's nightweaning method, but his whole site seems to be down. Not sure what's up with that. So this message board has summarized his method. It sounds like Megan is already doing basically this whole thing without success, though.)

35 thoughts on “Q&A: Weaning a 1-year-old”

  1. I just night-weaned my 15 month old about 3 weeks ago and we were in a very similar situation: baby waking up multiple times per night to eat, baby sleeping in our room, baby refusing to sleep without feeding. We went cold turkey. Like Moxie suggested, we told her for several days it was coming. On the big day I rocked her to sleep. When she woke up in the night I offered her a sippy with water and then rocked her back to sleep. I’ m not going to lie, that first week was rough with very little sleep. She woke up multiple times each night and was awake for 30 minutes to one hour each time. But at the one week mark things suddenly got better. Now she actually sleeps through the night 1 out of three nights, and the other nights she only wakes up once and just needs a quick cuddle before i put her back in her crib. If i would have known night weaning would improve her sleep so much, i would have done it sooner.

  2. I haven’t night weaned recently, but I do think the key to successful and peaceful night weaning is to replace the breastfeeding source of comfort with another source of comfort.Megan didn’t mention if she has a partner. For a lot of people, they key to successful nightweaning is having mom go sleep in another room or at another house for a few days while her partner takes care of comforting the child at night.
    My son ended up night weaning while I was on a 3 day business trip when he was 22 months old. He nursed at least 3 times a night before that trip and went down to rarely waking and being able to be comforted with a quick snuggle if he did.

  3. I didn’t have this situation because my daughter self-weaned at 11 months, but I cannot stress how much smoother things were when I explained over and over what was going to happen. Even if she can’t talk to you, she understands so much. Even our days went smoother when I’d wake her and run down what our day would be like. My daughter rigidly liked things to be exactly the same every day (hard when mom works 2 days, dad works 5, vacations, etc). It finally dawned on me that she liked the sameness because she knew what was coming. More explaining from mom meant every day went more smoothly.Good luck. I hope it gets better soon.

  4. When I nightweaned at around 14 months, I switched the nursings for a bottle containing milk (cow’s milk). Every couple days, I added more water and less milk until he was just getting water in the bottles when he woke up at night. May not have been the best plan of attack, but he got some comfort, something to drink, and I wasn’t nursing any more.

  5. I’m one to talk because my two-year-old is STILL nursing, but here’s a unique weaning method that I learned while living in Japan. A mother would cover her nipples with band-aids, then draw a character (like mickey mouse, or Hello Kitty, or a bunny or whatever) on her boob, and tell the kid, num-nums all gone! Look it’s Kitty-chan!!I never tried it, but thought it was worth a mention even if purely for cross-cultural interest.

  6. I night weaned about 6 months ago using the method described in ‘The Sleepeasy Solution’ by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack. My son was 11 months old at the time and was waking 2-3 times during the night to nurse. Basically you wake your baby one hour BEFORE he would normally feed, and start decreasing the length of the feed session by two minutes each day. Eventually you work down to a quick two minute feed, and then skip it altogether.I was extremely skeptical about waking my son out of a deep sleep, but it worked like a charm! He was sleeping through the night within a week or two.
    It might be more difficult to implement since it sounds like baby is waking frequently (making it hard to predict when ‘one hour before feed time’ will be) but I thought it was worth mentioning. Good luck!

  7. I used the Ferber method for night weaning, first you track when she wakes up one night, then let’s say the shortest period between feedings is 30 min, the next night you wait at least an hour between feedings. Repeat each night making baby wait at least 30 min longer than her shortest span the night before.I found that all her wakings were bunched together in a 4-hour span, so it really didn’t take that many days.
    I kept nursing before bed for a long time, but when I was ready to stop, I did replace it with a bottle of mlk or water instead of going cold turkey.

  8. I think would try this from a different angle. It sounds from your note to Moxie like nursing is the only way you currently have to soothe your baby to sleep. I would start by changing that part of the equation. I think you have the perfect opportunity to do this during the day, if she’s already crying to sleep at naptime.What else could you do that you would like to have associated with sleep? At a year, you could certainly still try rocking. Or singing or patting. Or even a bottle or sippy cup with milk. Does she have a transition object/lovey? I would establish a time-to-go-to-sleep routine during the day when you’re not exhausted and desperate to just Get Her In Her Bed Already. Then once that is established, and it doesn’t include any nursing (and hopefully not too much crying), you can transition to using that routine when she wakes at night. If it were me, when I was ready to start that night-time transition, I would probably sleep on the couch or something for a little while, too.

  9. I also recommend sleeping in another room (or house), if possible.Also, when it came to breastfeeding, I was the one in charge. When it came to bottle feeding or NOT breastfeeding, I am not in charge. That’s what other people are for. So, I put milk in bottles, but I don’t bottle feed. I don’t handle night weaing because I don’t wean. I breastfeed. It’s just my little thing. If there is a partner involved (or even loving grandparents), this might work. Have any grandparents who want a long, 3-day weekend with your daughter? The newness of the locale and the differentness of the people and routines could mix it all up, plus the milk would dry up from not being used.

  10. I don’t know how useful this is (I didn’t do what I’m about to write until my kid had just turned two) but mine night-weaned without fuss after I decided that I didn’t mind nursing him to sleep, and nursing first thing in the morning, but I didn’t want to nurse during the night anymore. And then I bought and read to him one million times this book:Nursies When the Sun Shines
    It portrays a co-sleeping family, and the mom telling her little one that the boobs sleep when the sun sleeps. It made me feel kind of silly, but it totally, totally worked on my kid after a couple of weeks. He is willing to accept “The boobies are asleep, we can’t nurse” without much complaint.

  11. I used sage to dry up my milk – it worked amazingly fast – and there is a better tasting way to do it. I just used regular old dry powder, 1/4 tsp 3 times a day. If we were having a meal that would it would taste fine with, I sprinkled it over my meal. In the morning and at lunch, I folded it into a teaspoon of peanut butter (make a well, sprinkle it in, and smush it over it. Put the whole tsp in your mouth and you can’t taste it at all. I was done in 3 days.

  12. Does she fall asleep without nursing? I think that was part of the key for us… Plus I was more willing to be a hard ass at 8PM than at 2AM. My kids were older when I did this though – more like 1 1/2… after those damn pointy teeth came in – I swear they just NEEDED help through those teeth.Anyway… I just started cutting down the time of nursing before bed til it was more like one quick sip and then rocking to sleep… then I started putting them in bed before they fell asleep… I stayed with them til they fell asleep… and then laid on the floor by the crib… and eventually moved away and out. With my second I finally got to the point where I’d just say “I have to go potty I’ll be right back” and just lengthened the time it took be to “come back” til he stopped caring if I did. (It got so I put him in bed and he said “go potty” instead of “night night” to me!)
    My process took a long time… but once my kids learned to fall asleep without a boob, that helped their night sleep/waking…

  13. Try tylenol instead of/alternated with advil. Around a year, the drug that worked for my son’s teething pain changed, I think as we went from incisors to eye teeth and molars.

  14. My daughter was a biter when she teethed too! I would put her back in her crib if she bit me when nursing. I weaned my baby at just over a year and offered water in a sippy cup instead of boobs while we cuddled in the rocking chair. It took a few nights, but she got the idea that we were no longer nursing and eventually just stopped waking up. Good luck!

  15. I just finished weaning my 15 month old. In fact, 2 weeks ago if you told me this question was being asked, I’d have thought I wrote in. The key for us was to figure out WHY she was waking up during the night. She’d wake up around 4 or 4:30, starving (signing for milk). Once the tooth she was working on finally broke through and we figured out that she was waking up hungry, we changed what we fed her right before bed. Now, we focus on trying to get her to eat protein and fiber at dinner (ie Cheerios and a cheese stick). That way, she doesn’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night. The other thing I did was tell her that we weren’t nursing anymore (no more milk). She seems to understand and goes down quietly (but she normally goes down quietly so you shouldn’t necessarily expect that).Good luck!

  16. My son had a horrible time w/molars coming in the months around 12 months, and woke up every two hours to grind my nipples between his teeth. I was so sleep deprived and sore I had difficulty nursing him during the day. We chose to night wean, and my husband took over, and walked him when he woke. We have a tiny house so I couldn’t escape his crying, but there was less crying each night, and after 3 nights we were done. He still woke some, those molars are bears, but was more easily soothed by my husband after the weaning. As soon as the molars came through, sleep improved. If you have someone who can help you at night with comforting, or talk to the neighbors & explain she’s having a rough time at night.Good luck!

  17. I may be completely off-base here, but I am wondering if you and your daughter have gone through some major life changes recently? Nursing is not only about nourishment, it is also about nurturing and bonding. If your daughter is sensing major change in your lives, she may also be needing to be close to you, to know you are there, to be comforted. She may also be sensing your frustration. When I was weaning my son, I introduced him to a raised mole on my arm that he could twiddle when feeling mad/sad/sleepy. He was still in contact with me, but the nursing (eventually) stopped. I won’t tell you how old he is, that won’t help me case here. Ahem. Perhaps if you substituted your boobs with something almost as comforting it would ease the transition.

  18. Thirding (I think) the suggestion to sleep in another room while you are figuring this out. With my eldest, we shared a room and came to the point of letting him cry-it-out a bit at night. We found we caved almost instantly when he was in the room with us. But once we put him in another room (our dining room!) we were able to give the cry-it-out method a chance and got on with it. I also think we were all sleeping lighter because we were in the room together.As far as disturbing your neighbors, if you do decide to try crying-it-out, I would let them know in advance when you will be starting and how many night you think it will take, offer earplugs, and just get on with it. I think we had three rough nights and were done.

  19. Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner offers another perspective on this issue. In Chapter 8, “Getting Enough Rest,” Bumgarner mentions a number of the suggestions already mentioned in the comments. She also says this:”I would suggest that you and other mothers of older nurslings everywhere are awake mostly because of being the mother of your child at this time in her life. Instead of lying in bed, you could be stumbling around fixing a bottle or an apple slice, or rocking and patting, or fumbling among the toys under the bed looking for a lost pacifier. It was my experience that, even though I too at times felt really resentful of night nursings, they never disrupted my sleep as badly as did tending to the nighttime needs of my toddler who did not nurse and who was confined to his crib” (p. 152).
    “Caring for anxious, wakeful children at night can be tiresome, and we all resent it sometimes. But a combination of flexibility and creative laziness helps mothers survive these nights and the days that follow them. Keeping children secure and comfortable at night contributes toward a lifetime of easy sleep for them, an objective worthy of the weariness you may feel now. Hang in there; these nighttime needs will not stay so urgent forever” (pp. 162-3).

  20. I’m sorry but the only sentence that stuck out and made me very sad for that baby was “I’ve managed to wean her from day time nursing by just laying her down in her crib and letting her cry herself to sleep.” I couldn’t even read through the comments I’m so upset.Is there any comfort being given to a helpless 12 month old? goodness this baby is hungry or needs closeness and her mother is plopping her in her crib to cry herself to sleep? does that seem normal? I’m frankly appalled. what’s a mother’s purpose than to nurture and make sure her baby feels safe and happy? why bother having a child? really, I think it’s time for a reality check.

  21. Yikes crisHow judgey.
    She’s not letting the baby wail for hours. There are many reasons to wean and to let a baby cry to sleep. I let my baby cry to sleep (after being bathed, clean diaper and fed) at 8 weeks old and she was sleeping through the night within a week. Happy Mom = Happy Baby.
    To each their own. I think you are the one that needs the reality check. Realize that your mothering technique will be different from others’ mothering techniques.

  22. Any mother who claims to need more rest probably needs more rest. I don’t think there’s any place for guilting a mother or cajoling her to hang in there because “Keeping children secure and comfortable at night contributes toward a lifetime of easy sleep for them, an objective worthy of the weariness you may feel now,” even if “a combination of flexibility and creative laziness helps [stay at home] mothers survive these nights and the days that follow them.” Sleep is a legitimate and sometimes urgent need.I realize, rereading this, that I assume Megan wants to wean because of sleep issues, but that sleep is really *my* problem. She simply states that she wants to wean and to not have sore breasts. STILL LEGITIMATE, for whatever reasons. It’s not like she said she won’t feed or soothe her child.
    Megan, for what it’s worth, it was really my husband who did the night weaning. I couldn’t find any way to be with my son while night weaning without it just being a big frustrating tease for him. And yeah, he glommed on to this mole on my husband’s arm, so that might totally work if it’s an option. Continuing to night nurse was, for us, the easiest option for a while — we tried night weaning a few times before it stuck. If you think it might still be an option for you after the teething, it might be worth riding it out (but of course if you want to wean, you should). Then again, my son could teeth on one tooth for months….

  23. I am right with you, Cris. I felt a deep sadness reading about this situation. There is a huge focus on moms’ needs in this discussion, which I don’t argue are important, but what about the baby’s needs? Our culture continues to perpetuate the myth that babies should be able to make it through an entire night without human contact AND without crying. This is not how babies are wired.My grandmother confided in me that she deeply regrets leaving her own babies in their cribs to cry. She said that at the time, it was simply what was done. In hindsight, she recognizes what a fleeting time this was and wishes she could go back and pick up those babies and offer them the comfort they needed. I have thought of this often when at my wit’s end with the night waking, the nursing marathons, and the exhaustion. This is a short season of life, and I don’t want to look back on it with regret.

  24. Sleep deprivation SUCKS A LOT. I used the “wait it out” method and my son just slept through the night for the first time last night at 11 months and 3 weeks (!!!). He went through a period recently when he was waking every two hours and I thought I would die of sleep deprivation, but I got through it because I prefer the sleep deprivation to hearing him cry. We never did any sleep training or CIO, but when he was 9 months I moved him into his own room and he started sleeping better (waking twice a night instead of 4 times). You might try putting her in her own room, just to see if it helps at all, and then if she keeps waking often in the night, let her cry for literally one or two minutes to see if she goes back to sleep. I did that once or twice and he put himself back to sleep (he wasn’t fully awake and hysterical). If he didn’t stop after a minute or two, I would get up and nurse him because I knew that he really “meant” it. Don’t worry about the neighbors.

  25. At 11 months of WIO, with 4 or 5 nightwakings PER NIGHT, I finally did CIO. There has been less crying in my house since I did CIO and my family, and my baby are happier. CIO doesn’t always mean more crying, nor does it mean that I am immune or insensitive to my daughter’s daytime needs.I agree with the above poster – waiting a minute or two, occasionally, will give my babe enough time to resettle. She’s now only waking once or twice a night. And if you decide to CIO, warn the neighbours and relax. Finally, when we nightwean in a few months, my husband will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

  26. I’d say she’s waking during the night to feed so often becuase she is being left to her own devices for naptime and she’s trying to reclaim that comfort when you are at your most vulnerable.She gets comfort from nursing. You have to replace that security and comfort with something else and it’s not letting her cry alone in her crib. Imagine if your source of comfort was suddenly gone. Letting her cry alone, I’m sorry, is kinda cruel. She’s only 12 months old, she does not understand.
    Go to her when she screams and cries and cuddle her, rock her, dance, sing to her, whatever it takes except nurse her. Have a cup of water or milk nearby for a quick drink incase she is thirsty or even hungry.

  27. You can’t walk. You can’t talk. You’re in a crib. You can’t sleep. And the person you depend on most in the world won’t help. But worries about the neighbours. Does that sound OK to you?The human baby is one of the most vulnerable mammals and they are designed to require nurture and comfort. The commenter that states her eight week old baby was bathed, diapered, fed and then put to bed – wow. Of course those things are required but they just ensure the baby survives – why have a baby if you’re not going to put in the hard yards and, oh, I don’t know nurture it at night as well as in the day time?
    Cris might sound ‘judgey’ but she was the first of few commenters to actually think about it from the babys point of view. Tired mother – sore boobs – yeah, I get it. I’ve done the Tabasco, the fish sauce – the lemon juice. I have been out of my mind. But the OP sounds like she is more concerned about her neighbours than her baby. Twelve months is not old.
    This probably sounds like an over reaction but I read this two nights ago and it has been on my mind ever since. Suck it up. I did the Dr Jay Gordon nightwean – it failed miserably on my first child and worked well(ish) on my second. Give it another six months.
    I like asraidevin’s comment. It’s what I would have written if I was feeling polite. Read this short article of a recent study of babies at a New Zealand sleep clinic and ‘sleep training’. And tell me that letting a baby cry itself to sleep (if it isn’t a ‘tension releaser’) is OK:
    Of course everybody’s idea of CIO is different – a few minutes of whinging and then sleep is not a big deal. But screaming so loud that people next door are going to be bothered sounds like CIO to me. I like Moxie’s answer, but felt it left a few things out. Obviously.

  28. I think for the sore nipples – I would contact your local le Leche League Leader. They’re not all granola hippies who are going to strong arm you into doing something you don’t want to do. But I bet they can offer you some support and guidance.As for the up all night thing. That’s so tough. But I bet its teeth! And even if its not, your mommy gut knows best. If its a pretend whine or a serious anxious cry. Whine-it-out is different from CIO.
    This too shall pass. It really, really, really will pass. But I would encourage the mom to hang in there and seek out at a LLL who can offer some tips on this very thing! They’re the experts – use them!

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