Is My One Year Old Ready For Night Weaning?

I’ve been talking a lot on my Instagram stories about Baby Boy's sleep recently. Now he has passed his first birthday it feels like it’s no longer acceptable for his sleep to be as bad as it is. My patience is wearing thin and I seem to bump into a disproportionate number of parents with newborns who sleep though the night which only makes me feel worse.

Having a small baby that doesn’t sleep is pretty normal, but at one? Well all babies sleep well at one don’t they? So many people have told me I need to night wean him, but is a one year old really ready for night weaning?

A baby boy with his head resting on his mothers boob thinking of the milk he wants to drink at night maybe
Just because he is now one doesn't mean he is ready to be night weaned

What does Baby Boy's average night look like?

When I first place Baby Boy in his cot asleep in the evening I never know how long I will get before he wakes up. It might be 10 minutes, 3 hours or anywhere in between. My partner normally goes in to resettle him, and sometimes that works, but other times he wants me, or more accurately boob.

After around 3 hours regardless of how well he has slept he tends to wake up and want a feed. Afterwards he will rarely go back in his cot for longer than 90 minutes and he just wants to come into bed and cuddle up next to me. We then feed and co-sleep for the rest of the night. I couldn’t tell you how often he wakes up most nights as I don't fully wake up each time.

Why Isn’t My 1 Year Old Sleeping Through The Night?

Well  I’ve turned to Dr Google to do a bit of research about a baby's sleep at one year old and found the following:

The deepest part of babies sleep is at the beginning of the night, this means that even if they sleep badly the rest of the night the longest chunk of sleep tends to be early evening.

If a baby is too tired (eg from not enough naps) then they are more likely to wake up soon after going down. 

When babies are awake for extended periods in the night it is apparently due to them going to bed too early.

And the hourly wake ups for most of the rest of the night? That’s because they don’t know how to resettle themselves without help. 

Are you confused yet?

How To Get My 1 Year Old To Sleep Better

The most popular suggestion to get babies to sleep better is to night wean them. Especially if you are breastfeeding. The internet would make you believe that no breastfed baby sleeps through the night, but that just isn’t true. Equally there are plenty of formula fed and night weaned babies who don’t sleep well. So will night weaning help and is my baby ready?

A photo of a baby asleep in a cot in a sleeping bag. A baby might sleep better at night if night weaned
The rare sight of my baby sleeping in his cot

Asking the Experts

The Advice of A Lactation Expert

I recently had a consultation with The Milk Meg who is a brilliant IBCLC based in Australia. You can book skype or email appointments for pretty reasonable rates. I wanted to talk through how Baby Boy was feeding (and sleeping) at night and she reassured me that he is completely normal. She pointed out that we could spend ages analysing why Baby Boy wakes up, but the reason doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same: he wants me and a breastfeed to comfort, nourish and to get him back to sleep.

We touched briefly on night weaning which she felt would make him sleep longer, but she pointed out there is a big difference between night weaning a 12 month old and an 18 month old. 

The ability of a 12 month old to understand is not the same as an older baby. With an older baby you can explain that there is no milk at night and help them to understand the difference between night and day. They might be annoyed, but they can begin to understand. A 12 month old will wonder why they are being refused the food and comfort they are used to. 

Having night weaned my daughters when they were one I agree that it is easier when they are a bit older. Little was around 15 months old when we started and she was more ready for it than Baby Boy is now. That doesn't mean it is wrong to night wean now, just that the process is a lot harder on everyone.

The Advice of A Gentle Sleep Expert

When Little was about 15 months old we had a sleep consultation with Sarah Ockwell-Smith. While Baby Boy’s sleep patterns and behaviour are different to his sibling I realised I needed to revisit her advice and implement some of her suggestions.

Sarah advised that the sleep of a baby (or child) at night is affected by the day time so the whole routine needs looking at. Rereading the sleep advice we were given has reminded of a few points I need to implement:
- the importance of nutrition (low levels of protein, Omega 3, Iron and Magnesium can all be linked to sleep problems).
-a snack shortly before bed, ideally something high in tryptophan which aids melatonin release.
-using a red night light because many babies don’t like to sleep in total darkness.

Unfortunately there are a few areas where we can’t make changes: Baby Boy’s ideal nap times clash with nursery and school pick up so he often isn’t getting to sleep when he wants or needs too. We also aren’t able to change when he goes to bed either because Little goes to bed at the same time and she really needs the sleep.

The sleep expert also suggested night weaning would be required before a big improvement in sleep would be seen, but following her advice confirms that Baby Boy isn’t yet ready to wean. In her gentle weaning plan she suggests gradually comforting the baby for a little longer each night before feeding them, but the longest even after a few nights is 15 minutes. My partner has spent longer than 15 minutes comforting Baby Boy on several occasions when I haven't been there so it suggests he isn't ready to night wean.

As Sarah Ockwell-Smith advised and as I have found from my own experience, a child can be night weaned at night and still fed to sleep initially. Feeding a baby or child to sleep initially is often the easiest way to get them to sleep and doing so doesn't mean they are unable to move from one sleep cycle to the next on their own through the rest of the night.

A baby in an apron towel being cuddled by his daddy at night before going to sleep
Bedtime routine is important in helping babies to get to sleep

So what is the takeaway? At 12 months what am I going to do to make my baby sleep better?

  1. I’m going to make sure Baby Boy is getting plenty of the right foods during the day and give him multi vitamins where I am concerned he isn’t getting what he needs (as he is breastfed and it is winter the NHS recommend Vitamin D anyway).
  2. I’m going to give him a snack before his bath and bedtime routine to help him sleep longer.
  3. I’m going to keep sending my partner in at night initially to try and get him back to sleep. When I go in he will always expect milk, but he will settle sometimes with my partner.
  4. I’m going to keep bringing Baby Boy into bed with me and cosleeping so we both get some sleep. This isn't for everyone and safe cosleeping advice should be followed.
  5. I’m going to start talking to him more about day, night and introduce the concept that there will be no milk at night soon, the Nursies When The Sun Shines book* is perfect for this (Amazon Affiliate Link) and we have it from before.
  6. I will review how it is going in around 3 months time and see if he and I are ready for night weaning.

Like everything else in parenting you need to decide what is right for you. Individual circumstances might mean you feel the need to sleep train or night wean. Waiting until your baby is developmentally ready makes the process easier on everyone, but it may well be worth a few nights of no sleep to get everyone sleeping better.

A night weaned baby will still wake up at night for many reasons. They may be in discomfort, thirsty or lonely, so many things that can be soothed by breastfeeding. When you take away the milk you have to fine another way to help them through the wake ups, but for most babies they will wake less. For all the rest? They all sleep through eventually.

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