Babies nurse for more than nutrition. It's for comfort too. Imagine that you've always fallen asleep a certain way - maybe reading a book, while laying your head on a pillow. Now think of what it might be like to be told one night that you can't have your book or pillow. You'd have a hard time falling asleep!
Now you might have valid reasons for not wanting to nurse overnight. And we can't let them breastfeed FOREVER, can we? So what are we to do?
There's several parts of night nursing to consider:
- Nursing as they fall sleep.
- Nursing throughout the night.
- Nursing first thing in the morning.
- Discontinuing pacifiers.
From my experience, you only want to work on one of those at a time. Most of us will look at the list and see one aspect that we could eliminate without much fuss. Start there! You may have to think of something to replace the breastfeeding. Just make sure "something" is a comforting routine-like thing, rather than giving them a food or drink. Also consider that as you work on one habit, the others may become more common. Eventually there will be no more breastfeeding, but it can take time!
Nursing as they fall asleep
If your child falls right asleep on the breast every night, save this one for last. Because it's darned hard to get them to sleep without the boob!! For my daughter, we replaced the breastfeeding with a massage. We now have a cute routine where I massage from her feet up to her forehead every night.
Nursing throughout the night, AKA dream feeding.
This is probably the hardest to cut out! When we're at our most exhausted, in the middle of the night, the last thing we want to do is make things harder for ourselves. If your child is only nursing a couple times throughout the night, I'd just leave this alone and let it peter out over time.
Nursing first thing in the morning
This is an easier nursing session to eliminate, because you can just get them busy and excited about the day. I used to use my very full bladder as an excuse to delay, then jump right into doing things.
We eliminated pacifiers at 18 months old! It was surprisingly easy. Over a couple weeks, I found myself getting tired of the nightly pacifier hunt. So one night I said "oh well, you'll just have to go to sleep without it!" She did! When I found pacifiers around the house, I tossed them. If she noticed, I'd say "you don't need those anymore, you're so big now!"
When to night wean
Unless there's a medical reason to night wean (or they're biting you, ouch!), I wouldn't recommend it until your baby is at least two years old. It's especially important if you work during the day, because nighttime breastfeeding is how they maintain a bond with you and get enough nutrition. N ight weaning doesn't usually equal less awakenings.