As a mother, it can be hard to set clear and healthy boundaries with our loved ones. We can feel afraid to make things harder on everyone else. Afraid to put ourselves before anyone else. Afraid of being too much. But here’s the catch - when we don’t speak up for what we want and put our own needs last, everyone loses. This type of self-sacrifice that feels ingrained in our role as mothers, fosters deep resentment and disconnection.
What if we saw our needs as valid? What would it look like if we began to recognize that our own well being creates a ripple of wellness in our families?
At 18 months postpartum, I decided that I could no longer compromise my sleep and mental health in order to night-nurse and co-sleep with my son. I was struggling to parent him during the day because all of my resources were being drained each night. What once felt like the sweetest and most intimate experience was no longer serving me or my family. I so deeply wanted to follow my son’s lead and rise to meet his every need, but like many times before and many times ahead - I was coming undone. I had reached the very limit of my capacity. I was coiled up tight, filled with rage, and disconnected from the self I once knew. It became clear that night weaning my son was the most loving thing I could do. I learned that loving myself is the greatest way that I could love my son. By giving myself the gift of rest at night I was able to show up as a well rested and patient parent during the day.
Through the process of night weaning my son, I learned that the boundaries that I create with him are, in fact, a gesture of love. While setting my own body boundaries has been utterly exhausting, it has also been filled with beauty and sweetness. I watched my son grow right before my eyes as he navigated this new terrain. We cried together as this precious chapter of night nursing came to an end, and embraced the newfound intimacy that began to emerge between us. At times I found myself mourning the loss of being a fountain of endless comfort and nourishment for my son. In my heart and in my weary mama bones, I knew that we were on the right path; a path towards sustainable motherhood.
Before night weaning my son would typically wake up 4-6 times a night. After months of interrupted sleep, I could feel the exhaustion deep in my bones. Every cell in my body longed for sleep. After night weaning he shifted to waking up once or twice a night. Once he began sleeping I felt my sanity return. I felt the contracted parts of me begin to breathe once again and I could find my footing in this new chapter of motherhood. As the energy slowly crept back into my body, I was able to reconnect with the joy of being my son’s mother.
Here are some of the steps that helped me along my path of night weaning:
Getting clear that we were ready. This was a process that only I could go through. I spent many hours journaling and asking myself what I needed around night weaning and sleep. If there was any part of me that was not crystal clear about our decision, I don’t think I could have made it through. There were a lot of rough and tender moments where it would have been so much easier to bring him to my breast for comfort. Night weaning was a sleepless and grueling process, but it got us to our goal of better sleep for our entire family.
Open communication with our son: We talked about the night weaning process with our son for several weeks before getting started. We made him a book called Ronan’s bedtime book, that included photos of our little family. We talked through all of the stages of bedtime as well as what happens after he goes to sleep. “When baby goes to sleep, mom goes to sleep, and the milk goes to sleep. In the morning when the sun shines, the milk wakes up and he can have milk again.” The book was a tool for us as his parents as well as something that our son was able to look at and engage with around the night weaning process. We also purchased a second book called “Nursies when the sun shines”, by Katherine C. Havener. I love this book and highly recommend checking it out. Talking about night weaning with him multiple times a day, every day for several weeks was foundational to this shift.
Snacks! Snacks in the middle of the night as well as having a full tummy before bed were essential. We made sure that dinner was substantial by creating a balanced meal with fat, protein, carbs, and fruit/veggies. Before night weaning I noticed that my son was waking up to feed because he was hungry. We had some low glycemic pouches and bananas which are high in magnesium and potassium (helpful for sleep). These snacks provided my son with alternative sustenance when he woke up feeling hungry in the night. We also had a water bottle at the ready to help with hydration and comfort.
Preparing for big emotions. Night weaning can be a big emotional process for our babies. My son had really big feelings the first couple of nights and still continues to wake up missing his mom. It’s our work as parents to grow our capacity to hold space for our little ones and their big feelings. To cry alongside them if we are feeling tender while remaining grounded and focused on the work that we’re doing with them.
Night weaning was not linear for our family. After we completed our journey, my son got sick and we went back to nursing for a period of time. That meant another round of night weaning. Two steps forward and one step back. In time, we made the transition to nights with snuggles instead of milk. My son now co-sleeps with my partner, who was an essential part of our night weaning process. My partner’s love, commitment, and support to both me and my son has been monumental.
Night weaning can be a physically and emotionally exhausting process, but it was totally worth it. So if you are ready to wean at night wean - hang in there. You will get through it.