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Should I night wean my toddler? There is always more than one loving answer to the surprises we encounter in parenting.

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Q: My two-year-old is still waking up a few times each night to breastfeed. She sleeps next to me in our family bed. I am expecting another baby and am really needing my sleep. Can I wean my toddler from night nursing without causing her emotional harm? How do I do that?

A: Yes, it is possible to gently guide a two-year-old to wean from night nursing. Emotional harm is only possible when the child doubts her value in the first place. What makes human wee-ones resilient is their knowledge that they are worthy and cared for. They can then handle varied situations and emotions while staying rooted in this self-assurance.

Your question makes clear that your daughter is loved and cared for with prompt responsiveness. Nursing at night into the third year is not a primal need. Her sleeping needs are met; you are right next to her, she knows her worth and is safe and cared for. She is not going to lose this sense of security due to night weaning.

Although I love child-directed weaning, night or day, I have learned through years of counseling parents to relinquish dogma and to respond to circumstances in the kindest possible way. With more than one child, a well rested mother can be more valuable to the child's development than night nursing. Our perfect intentions are sometimes not possible. Yet, there is always more than one loving answer to the surprises we encounter in parenting.

Will My Child Cry?

Many attachment mothers believe that a child should never cry. This is not true, not possible and not beneficial. Babies cry to communicate needs and we meet those needs. Toddlers have wants that are not always primal needs and we cannot supply all these wants. Crying is a way for the child to release emotions and feel empowered to move on. She can handle change and deviation from a given choice when she is rooted in feeling cared for and worthy.

I will offer a gentle way to night wean. While, most likely, the transition will include crying, your daughter will always have your affectionate and loving presence and she will benefit from the process. How long and how many nights she will cry depends on her experience with emotions. If she knows that emotional expression is valued for its own sake, she will only cry until she regains inner peace.

Support your child through her transition with peace in your heart and she will go through it seeing herself as capable and resilient. Your well bonded child will mirror you in how she responds to any change.

Therefore, before preparing for night weaning, practice supporting your child when she cries. Minimize limits and frustrations, but when crying is unavoidable, don't give her the idea that crying has to be stopped or that it is a tool to alter reality. If your daughter thinks that a long crying episode will change the plan, she will cry much longer. If, however, she knows that generally her needs are met and that crying is a tool of emotional release, she will cry until she feels truly at peace with reality. A secure two-year-old who cries upon departing from a former habit is not being traumatized, but is self-expressed and empowered.

The Aldort Night Weaning Method

In your imagination, take yourself on a trip into the future after your child is weaned of night-nursing. Notice that she is the same content child. With this assurance in mind, follow these short or longer night weaning guidelines or create your own passage with your child. Flow with it with joy. You already know she will do well.

The one step night-weaning:

Once you feel at peace, your child will follow your lead. It is possible that just letting her know that night nursing is coming to an end "tonight" is enough. Your benign attitude tells her that it is no big deal and that you know she is ready. Nurse her to sleep in bed and tell her that this is the only nursing in bed for the night. Sleep with a bra and gown. If she wakes up, stay laying down in bed in the dark and just remind her that nursing at night is over and hold her lovingly until she settles. Let her know that you understand that she is not used to it yet and that you will hold her as long as she needs to cry. This will generally last two to four nights and lessen gradually.

The eight steps night-weaning:

If you want to make the transition more ceremonial and prepared, you can follow the longer protocol or any creative variation of it:

1) Plan an event for the day of night-weaning, three days in advance. You can plan going to the zoo, a boat ride, a visit to grandma, etc. Explain the plan to your child.

2) Count and mark the days with your child.

3) Talk about it with joy and positive anticipation, daily. Respond to her questions with the truth: "It is for my sake so I can get more sleep." (Don't pretend she has a choice when she doesn't. She can handle your leadership when life in general flows with her needs.) Tell her that she will still fall asleep on the breast as usual.

4) If your child expresses doubt or sadness, validate with trust in her ability: "If you wake up, I will remind you about no nursing. If you cry, I will hold you until you are ready to sleep again." (This tells her that you will support her emotional expression and that she can get through this.)

5) When the day arrives, celebrate as planned while talking about the weaning with positive anticipation. (Depending on the child's preferences, you can include relatives or friends in the festivities.)

6) On the big night, breastfeed her to sleep as usual reminding her about it being the last feeding until morning. Sleep with a bra and a gown.

7) If she wakes up, support her tears without fear. She is not traumatized, only struggling with change. Keep the room dark and stay laying in bed holding and loving her. She will be done and go back to sleep peacefully and even relieved.

8) To avoid confusion, do not breastfeed in bed in the morning or when she is waking up from sleep at any time. She is learning that there is no more breastfeeding upon waking up from sleep. Therefore, upon waking up in the morning, get out of bed, get yourself and your child dressed and start your day. Now you can breastfeed her if she wants, on the couch in the living room.

With this kind connection and clarity, the transition takes between two and five nights and, rarely, (if the child still believes crying changes plans) up to a week. Whatever your child's way of making the transition, learn, celebrate and delight in the way she is. She is learning to handle change vulnerably and powerfully.

Naomi Aldort is the author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Parents from around the globe seek Aldort's advice by phone, in person and by listening to her CDs and attending her workshops. Her advice columns appear in progressive parenting magazines in Canada, USA, A U, UK, and translated to German, Hebrew, Dutch, Japanese and Spanish. She is married and a mother of three. Her youngest son is fourteen-year-old cellist Oliver Aldort www.OliverAldort.com. Her middle son is seventeen-year-old composer and self-made pianist Lennon Aldort, www.LennonAldort.com. For more information: www.NaomiAldort.com or www.AuthenticParent.com.
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Author:Aldort, Naomi
Publication:Natural Life
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:1275
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