Gentle Night Weaning: How to get your toddler to sleep through the night

This post is very personal and I’ve decided to write it because I’ve realized that we are not alone in the way we have raised our son. Since the day he was born he has slept in our bed and at around 18 months old we transitioned him into a toddler bed for the first part of the night until he woke up. When he woke up we would bring him into bed with us for the rest of the night. This little set up was working well for us. However it slowly stopped working a couple months ago and here’s why. 

  • Little Coco-nib began to wake up multiple times a night similar to a newborn 
  • The only thing that would keep him happy and asleep was nursing
  • I had the hardest time getting restful sleep with a toddler attached to me half of the night

My husband and I discussed it, and as a TEAM, we decided it was TIME for our 20 month old son to start sleeping through the night. We talked about the gentlest way we could teach him how to soothe himself to sleep on his own. We didn’t read any books on the subject; we simply made a decision based on our son and what we felt was best for our family collectively. And guess what??? After 3 (very very very long weeks) it worked!!! We don’t believe in letting our children “cry it out” but there were tears-one of us stayed by his side for every tear, offering comfort and affirmation. 

Find an alternative “comfort” for your child…

 

I  have loved being Coco-nib’s cozy place for the past 20 months, it has truly been a pleasure but I’ve slowly realized I cannot continue to do this for him at night. It has disrupted my sleep so much in the past couple months that mothering him in the day time was exhausting.  My husband and I decided that little nib needed something to comfort him in the night as a replacement for nursing. We decided to try out a stuffed animal. Unfortunately, you can’t just give your child a stuffed animal and expect them to jump on board. We introduced him to the stuffed animal and made sure to tell him to get the stuffed animal to sleep with him at night time and nap time. Here is a cute 100% organic puppy or you could try a cozy blanket like this one.

 

Explain to your toddler the “new deal”…

 

Every night at bedtime my son nurses. Before his usual nursing session we pray together and give lots of kisses. We also started talking to him about our new night time routine. This is what we say-“Henri you can have milk right now but after you are done the milk is sleeping until the morning. If you wake up hug Emma (the name of his stuffed animal) and go back to sleep. In the morning when it’s light outside you can have milk again.”

You might think this is all very complicated but toddlers understand SO MUCH. My son  understands this “new deal”  SO COMPLETELY that he can explain it to me now (in a mix of signs and words).

Enforce the “New Deal”….

 

Ahhh wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just give a simple explanation to your child about night time and “voila!”- 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep! Unfortunately that’s not the case. Transitioning into this change is going to be tough on everyone. The most important thing you can do is agree with your spouse on the parameters. Our “new deal” was that when my son woke up my husband would go in and soothe in back to sleep until 4AM. At first it meant picking our son up and walking with him or laying in his toddler bed with him when he awoke. We wanted Coco-nib to know he wasn’t alone or abandoned but that he could no longer have milk to go back to sleep. 

Shift the Parameters with Your Toddler…

 

Here’s what happened. David began to stop laying with Henri or picking him up because he was less upset by the fact that he couldn’t have milk. A simple pat on the back or sound of David’s voice became reassurance enough to fall back asleep.  Coco-nib also began to wake up less because-well, what was there to wake up for? Within a couple weeks little nib was sleeping until 4 or even 5 on his own. We decided to shift the parameters and get him sleeping all night in his bed. David went in at 4AM and got Henri back to sleep. We stayed in this place for a while where Henri REALLY wanted to have milk and Mama. At this point we really started to enforce the language about “milk when it’s light outside” and “snuggle your puppy because mama is still asleep.”

A Full Night Sleep for EVERYONE…

 

One day my husband and I woke up at 7AM, it seemed too good to be true but our little nib had slept through the whole night! He did it! There were tears through the process but Henri was never alone. Changes are hard on everyone but this change has been beneficial for all of us. If you are going to try this with your child, please remember that I am simply a mom following my instincts and trying to do what’s best for my baby. If you do they same you are sure to succeed. 

 

Here’s a quick overview of the COCO family “New Deal”

  • Get a lovey for your child-either a blanket or a stuffed animal 
  • Talk about night time- ” the milk is going night night-if you wake up, snuggle your puppy and go back to sleep. The milk will be back in the morning.” 
  • Enforce this “new deal”- give lots of comfort but no milk up to a certain point in the night
  • Once your toddler gets to the time you and your partner agreed upon extend the amount of time until they sleep all night

Every toddler is different. Did anything work for you that I didn’t mention that might help others? Let me know in the comments below! 

Read more about having happy kids from Kula Mama 

 Gentle Night Weaning How to get your toddler to sleep all night www.cocoswell.com

15 Comments

  1. lisa

    Thankyou for posting. My son is 12 months and is waking alot during the night, more than he used to. He will drink almost as much milk during the night as he does all day. He refuses to eat much solids yet. I’ve been thinking of ideas about what to do, I don’t like the cry it out idea either.
    My parenting system is- if he’s crying, check his needs, feeding, diapering, sleeping, comforting. Usually its something and once taken care of, happy baby again. He didnt have any anger fits until about 10 months, and it was over something he couldn’t play with. And even now, he has very little behavior issues during the day, provided his basic needs are met. Night time is becoming a different scene tho. Between 12am and 5am he will be up almost every 45 min. Then he will sleep til 7 or 8. Your post has given me some gentle ideas to apply to the problem. Thank you.

  2. Eva P

    Good for you!! So encouraging to read how you worked it out in whatever way was best for your family 🙂

  3. Sarah

    I have a 21 month old that is waking up every hour or so to nurse. Her older sister did the same thing til she stopped nursing (at almost 3 when I got pregnant with baby sister & dried up), she started sleeping through the night immediately once she weaned. I’ve been thinking about night weaning this time because I’m sooo tired. Hard part is we ALL sleep together so I’m not sure if its possible.

  4. Sarah

    He works shift work so I don’t really have him here consistently at night to help. Guess I just need to get pregnant again since that the only way I’ve figured out how to wean :). Haha!

  5. Rachel Paulus

    We just did something very similar but used a book called “Nursies when the sun shines” that you can get on amazon. Also loved this article: http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html

  6. bilbi

    Me and my husband also support gentle parenting and it was interesting to read that also other families instinctively try similar approaches. We also introduced a soft toy (cheeky monkey :)), and our daughter needs to put him to sleep and shouldn’t cry at night as she’d wake up the monkey. It works 🙂

  7. A.D.

    Thank you for your post!! I have a 12 month old with the same problem and it’s so encouraging to know I’m not alone and we can transition him to his own toddler bed! Also thanks for the stuffed animal tip….he loves them!!

  8. Jennifer Barry

    When my little girl turned two I didn’t want to deny her the breast so I rubbed raw ginger on my nipples and told her that when you turn two booby tastes yucky. She cried for a while and sometimes she wanted it that bad she would withstand it but finally she never wanted it anymore! now to get my 18 month old off as we’re having another :)she’s doing the same, waking every hr for booby and I need my sleep so I only give in about 3 times a night now and hugging her back to sleep is working and she doesn’t cry for it as much.

  9. Priscilla

    HI Julia,
    I am desperate for a solution. My 2 year old will not sleep through the night. She wakes up several times and has the hardest time falling back asleep unless she’s being rocked. She gets real restless too when she wakes up and cries a lot if I don’t pick her up. Did your son cry a lot too? Thank you so much for the post.

  10. Jessica

    I love this approach! I hope it will work for my 21 month old. She wakes up every hour to nurse at night and I’m 11 weeks pregnant with my second. I’m so tired! I hope to use these same methods and get my little one to sleep through night–or at least a few hours at a time! You said that your husband comforted until 4 am. After 4, did he go to bed with you? How did you eventually get him to sleep all night instead of just until 4?

  11. rose

    This was a awesome post. I have a 30 month old, YES 2 1/2 , who still does not sleep through the night. I have not gotten a decent nights sleep in almost 3 years, including last parts of pregnancy, . It is really effecting my energy, patience and overall life. I feel like I’ve done my best, but I’m just SO TIRED of it. My daughter wakes up 3-4 times a night on a GOODS night. On a bad night, it’s literally hourly. She doesn’t nurse anymore but drinks a bottle of water. She will wake up and if I give her a bottle right away, she falls right back asleep, if not…. Lord HELP US. It’s a total nightmare. I’m just too tired to deal with a mid night melt down, so I just give her the bottle. . I’ve tried every essential oil out there for sleep, nothing helps her STAY ASLEEP. She has a ” night night” blanket that she always sleeps with and like you , we Co slept until 1 , then out her In a twin bed. She usually comes into our bed still , around 12. Any advice you have would be amazing. I’m so exhausted , especially being a sahm

  12. This could not have come at a better time. I am in this exact situation with my 20 month old. It’s time he slept on his own and night weened but I’ve been so unsure as to how to go about it. This is awesome! Thank you!!!

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