Weening My 17 Month Old Daughter from Co-sleeping and Breast Feeding.

Updated on February 16, 2010
J.L. asks from Beaverton, OR
18 answers

I have a beautiful 17 month old little girl that is the sparkle of my eye. I love her very much and I am so glad that I decided to breast feed her. It has been an amazing experience, but I am ready to begin weening. She has NEVER slept through the night. She nurses 4 times a night still, however she nurses for 2 or 3 minutes and then falls back to sleep. She has co slept with me since birth and I am ready to have her sleep in her own bed. I made a HUGE mistake with my daughter... I have nursed her to sleep since birth. As a result, she will not go to sleep unless she nurses. I am not a big fan of letting her cry it out, but I am starting to feel that this is the only option. Also, I think I am pregnant and I am waiting a few more days until I do a pregnancy test (my period isn't due until Feb 21). If I am pregnant, is it okay to nurse my 17 month old still?... or can it harm the pregnancy?? I am desperate for advice. I am exhausted from the lack of sleep over the past 17 months. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

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answers from Seattle on

I would suggest tackling one thing at time. And I think the nursing at night is logically (I cringe when I use that word with nursing) the first. Get a "binky" and pop it in when she wakes and wants to nurse for those two or three minutes.You need your sleep!

Then decide what comes next.

Try nursing after you feed her, include whole milk in the meal. She will be less hungry and take less from you.

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answers from Seattle on

Hi J.,

You've received some great advice so far. I just wanted to add a little piece of my story. By about 15 months, my daughter only wanted to nurse to sleep and during the night. I, too, was exhausted and couldn't handle the night feedings anymore. We tried some of the soothing methods others have mentioned (daddy cuddling her, me holding her without nursing) but those just made her angry. For us it became an issue of "I WANT" rather than "I NEED," From the way she responded. She was already spending most of the night in her own crib, so we did let her cry it out. We would go to her, reassure her, and put her back to bed. The resulting temper tantrum lasted up to an hour, maybe more the first night. After the first trip, going back into her room only made her mad. It took about 2 or 3 really rough nights, and she figured out how to go back to sleep without nursing. It felt mean, but she's slept much better since. We still nursed to sleep before naps and bed until she lost interest, around 20 months.

Best wishes!

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answers from Seattle on

Congrats on breastfeeding so far!

Yes, you can breastfeed while pregnant. I breastfed throughout my pregnancy and am now nursing my girls who are a little over 2 years apart. It's perfectly safe for most growing babies if their mom breastfeeds while pregnant. Make sure you talk with your provider about it if you are indeed pregnant though. There are some times when it's better to wean (high risk pregnancy, multiples, etc.) but it is generally considered safe. I am so glad that I nursed my toddler through my pregnancy. It's been such a blessing for us and has given me many sweet moments of my girls holding hands while nursing or simply gazing at each other.

I just read a great book called "How Weaning Happens" that I would recommend strongly. It talks about a lot of options on weaning and has a lot of quotes from other moms who've been there. It generally suggests gentle weaning instead of any sort of cry it out method which sounds like it might be a good fit for you.

There are a lot of reasons for toddlers to nurse and they don't necessarily have anything to do with calories. What are your daughter's needs?

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answers from Phoenix on

You did nothing wrong at all! My son and daughter were both like that, and it's ok! With my son, I started gradually night weaning when I was pregant. I then cut him down during the day. I tandem nursed for a while, then just weaned him at 3. I highly, highly recommend The No Cry Sleep Solution By Elizabeth Pantly. It was NOT a crying, traumatic experience for either of us, and it's because I used her gentle methods. Good luck!



answers from Topeka on

First of all...you should only change one huge issue at a time...don't try to wean her AND move her to her own crib at the same time...that is WAY too much for her to process all at once. Could I suggest that you google for an "Attachment Parenting" group somewhere near you....a large majority of those families practice co-sleeping and nursing until they are toddlers or older, so they would be a great source of information for you.
As to the nursing while pregnant question...I have known Moms who have nursed more than one child at a time so it shouldnt be a problem to nurse while you are pregnant. I have learned ( through my oldest daughter who is still nursing our 26 month old grandson and also co-sleeps with him) that breast milk changes as your child ages, and if you are nursing a toddler and a newborn that the breast milk will be the "type" that the youngest child needs the most. It shouldn't be an issue since your older child is demanding less and less milk from you as she grows and eats more and more table food.
Good luck and congratulations on a great start for your little girl!!



answers from Dallas on

First off, you haven't made any mistakes. You've done what you had to get some sleep. Some babies are just not the best sleepers (mine included), so you do what you have to. Don't feel like you've ruined your child, because you haven't. She will sleep in her own bed in time.

You may want to start weaning the night nursing first. I know you want a change, but that will be your first step and will help a lot especially when it comes time to transition to her own bed. This is a good article that may help: http://www.drjaygordon.com/development/ap/sleep.asp

And yes, you can nurse while you're pregnant -- especially this early in. You might want to talk to someone at La Leche League for more info on that.



answers from Gainesville on

Check out Dr. Sears sleep book for babies and toddlers. Sounds like he will be along your lines of thinking (and mine too!). I don't believe in Ferberizing children either. Not that there won't be some tears as you train her to sleep on her own but it shouldn't be her wailing for an hour all alone in her bed, know what I mean?
If you have uncomplicated pregnancies you can nurse while pregnant but you need to make sure your intake is nutritional sound to support everything your body is doing. Check out Kellymom.com for some great info on this.



answers from Portland on

Nursing will not hurt your pregnancy. You could continue nursing her to sleep. A broken u p night is what is very difficult especially when you may be extra tired being pregnant. When I was ready to wean my son at 19 months, I had to sleep downstairs for about a week until the night-time feeding routine had been changed. My husband would give him a banana and a bottle during the night when he awoke. After a week, he was weaned during the night which allowed me to sleep. I still breast fed him during the day sometimes.


answers from Seattle on

I think it depends if you have other risk factors. Nursing can cause uterine contractions. Last year I was pregnant with twins and was told to wean my son, I think mainly because twins are more likely to be premature. Even with weaning my girls were eight weeks early.
When I weaned my son, my husband took over the bed time duties.
Good luck.



answers from Seattle on

i had very similar experience. i actually was ready to wean after a year but my son was not. i ended up doing it at 17 mos also. i did a very slow transition- over several months. nursing to sleep was the last to go.

what i did was after nursing to sleep i would put him in his crib. the first time he woke up, i would not nurse him back to sleep. i would walk him, rock him, whatever it took to get him back down. i didnt let him cry alone, but he did fuss plenty. the second time he woke i would bring him to bed w me and resume nursing. (this was for me to get some sleep). after that went better, i started doing that the first two times he woke. somewhere in there, there was a switch and he started sleeping longer. i still brought him to bed w/ me in the early morning to snuggle, but eventually he didnt wake up til about 5 am.

after about a month, i started toning down nursing in the day (he was in daycare by then so it was really only the weekends) after he was down to very minimal BF, i went away for a weekend and when i came back he didn't try. (the first time he saw my boobs (naked) about a week later he tried to come up to nurse and started crying. i just told him there was no milk in there and gave him big hugs and it was alright.

(full disclosure- my son ended up back cosleeping a couple months later after we took a vacation and all slept together on the trip for a week. so if you really want to keep her out you have to make it a permanent change)

good luck.



answers from Salt Lake City on

I agree, it will be tough to break her of her night-time nursing habit, but after a few rough nights, it will be over, and you will be so glad you just bit the bullet. I started letting my babies cry it out around 4-5 months, and in less than a week, both of them were sleeping through the night and have been awesome sleepers since. Both my babies nursed past a year. For weaning, I started heating up milk in the microwave and snuggling while they drank that. With both of them, after a few weeks, they started preferring the cow's milk.

Good luck! I think I'm pregnant too....get to take a test next week!! Can't wait! Be sure to let us know the results!!



answers from Seattle on

Our daughter was cosleeping and breast feeding until she was over 18 months. We finally night weaned her, and I wish I had known more about this and would have night weaned her earlier. My husband had to get up with her when she woke up for about a week and then she stopped waking up almost entirely. She was doing the same thing you describe -just waking up a little bit to nurse and then going back right to sleep -but I was turning into a wreck from sleep deprivation.
I wasn't quite ready to entirely wean her yet. We started weaning in July and then finally weaned her completely in December (when she was 2 and 1/2). -Would have probably happened sooner but was complicated by me going back to work in the fall.

Some people nurse when pregnant, others advise against it. It may depend on your body. I know I was unable to get pregnant at all when breastfeeding -although may also be pregnant now.

Good luck. If you have a partner who can get up with your daughter to night wean her it's a lot easier -she'll know she's not going to get milk and will eventually go back to sleep. I wish we had night weaned earlier. I was surprised how quickly she started sleeping through the night.



answers from Portland on

Definitely do one thing at a time. It would be easy to soothe her back to sleep the first time she wakes, then start with the second time, if she is still waking, etc.
Also, my daughter had reflux very badly and the meds only partly took care of the problem. So, she would wake frequently and only nurse for a few minutes. She learned to take in only 2-3 ounces at a time to alleviate or lessen the effects of the reflux, even though she was on meds.
I weaned my daughter at 23 months. We just started slowly and I made sure she had a bedtime snack and full enough belly. We co-slept, as well. I just gave her some water when she woke and quietly told her to go back to sleep. We had about 3-4 night wakings and just slowly worked on each.
She sleeps wonderfully now. Shortly after weaning, we moved her into a big girl bed and shortly after that, her brother was born. I was 4, almost 5 months pregnant when I weaned my daughter. It just hurt way too much and I wanted a little me time before starting all over.
My son is 2 1/2 and sleeps through the night, but still nurses 2-3 times per day. We are slowly taking out the daytime feedings and he is doing great.
It is all about how many calories you can get in them during the day and the bed time snack helped a bunch.
Good luck to you and possibly congrats,



answers from Portland on

Let me tell you what. Nobody likes to hear a baby cry. But I have learned that severe sleep deprivation can do bad things to me and make me not able to function, so at some point I always do it. It works. With both my son and my daughter it took about 2 or 3 nights of misery, and then they would sleep through. Considering that she only nurses for a couple of minutes, she's not doing it for food; it's a habit. It will be less painful in the long run to let her CIO. Trying to comfort her in any way will just prolong the process and misery for everyone involved.

Nursing won't harm you in pregnancy at all. But it could soon get uncomfortable. I weaned my daughter at 20 months; I was about 3 mo pregnant by then, and it hurt for her to nurse. She was only nursing once a day by then, so it wasn't hard.

So what I would do in your case is first cut out the night feedings, asap. Start on a weekend so that if hubby can't sleep at least he won't have to go to work the next day. If you start Friday night, by Monday she should be sleeping through with nary a peep. You need your sleep to cook the new baby properly. If you still want to nurse during the day, that will be fine. But you might want to start gradually (every week or 2) cutting out a feeding if you start to get sore. There's no need to make you more uncomfortable than you need to be. Though some moms I know nurse all the way through (though some simply can't and dry up) and then nurse in tandem.

That's what I would do. Hope it helps.


answers from Portland on

Aww J., you haven't made a HUGE mistake. It'll take a little undoing, but you can absolutely do it. I did this with my first child too (always nursing to sleep). My advice is to take it slow. She can understand you very well by now, whether or not she is a big talker. Explain things to her. Start by limiting nursing. See if you can get through 2 or 3 of those quick night-nursings by patting her back down instead of nursing. You might be surprised. She might sometimes still "need" to nurse, but the more you put her off, the more you and she will realize that she can go back to sleep without nursing and nursing will gradually taper off. I recommend a book called, "The No-Cry Sleep Solution," by Elizabeth Pantley.

It is okay to nurse your 17-month-old even if you are pregnant. Your milk will change, however, back to colostrum, which your daughter might not like. She might wean herself! Or if she is really attached to nursing, she might want to continue even though it tastes funny to her. Some women nurse through their whole pregnancy and when they have their new baby they nurse their newborn AND their toddler, but I don't think that's for everyone. I have a friend who just weaned her toddler due to pregnancy because her nipples were so sensitive from the pregnancy that it was uncomfortable to nurse. It shouldn't harm your new pregnancy, but nipple stimulation can cause contractions so if you had a threatened miscarriage you might want to stop nursing. In general, though, sex or nursing are fine in pregnancy unless there is some other risk factors.



answers from Anchorage on

I would do one thing at a time. Start with night feedings, there is no reason for her to still be nursing at night, in fact my doctor said babies no longer need night feedings after the first 2 weeks of life. If you use CIO, I would use the modified version. When I was teaching my boys to go to sleep on their own I would put them to bed awake at the same time each night. If they fussed, I would wait 5 minutes and then go in to comfort, but without picking him up or nursing, just rubbing his tummie and singing softly. Once he was calm, I would leave again, and if he fussed I would go in again after 5 minutes. I never had to go in more than once, and even once was rare, but I started this at 3 months so your transition will likely take some time. The same method can be used at night. When my boys would wake I would wait 5 minutes to go in (unless it was a really distressed cry of course). I never had to go in, they always self soothed before the 5 minutes was up. You did not say if your daughter drinks cows milk or just breast? If you still need to introduce cow's milk, you can start by mixing it with breast milk to help her adjust to the new flavor.



answers from Charlotte on

Hi J.,

You won't harm your unborn baby by nursing. The fetus will take everything it needs from you. Your body will give whether or not you are strong enough to give, because that's how it works. Women do nurse while they are pregnant, but if you choose to do this, you really need to be healthy, and work with your doctor to ensure you stay healthy, and you need to get some rest.

Really and truly, you are only comforting your daughter by nursing her 4 times a night for a few minutes at a time. She doesn't need the milk. You don't mention how much she's nursing during the day - what about her solid food? Do some research into nursing at this age - you can read about it through La Leche or talk to a nursing specialist. DON'T let anyone make you feel like you are selfish or not a good mother for wanting to wean - it's your body, not theirs.

You will have nine months to make changes before the baby comes unless you want two children in the bed with you. The first thing you have to do is decide whether night time nursing is over. If it is, wear your bra to bed to give you resolve. Just keep turning away from her and pretend to be asleep. This will be hard, but you gotta do it. At some point she will stop waking up for it. After this is established, then put her into her own bed. I know you hate the cry it out approach, but there are different ways to do it. Read about the Ferber method. Instead of letting her cry without going in to her, you could go in and pat her on the back and go out (don't pick her up), then come in 5 minutes later, do the same (only stay for a few seconds, don't engage), come back in 10 minutes later, etc. Extend 5 minutes every time. You must actually watch the clock. It may take two weeks, but if you cave in and take her back to bed with you or pick her up, you might as well not even bother.

With the new baby, if you decide not to co-sleep, keep her in a bassinet in your room - not in your bed. Have a pad under her that you pick up with her to put her in your bed to nurse. Put her back in the bassinet after nursing her, with that warm pad still under her. It'll keep her from being cold when you lay her back in the bassinet and make it easier to lay her down away from you. After she weighs 12 pounds and the doctor clears it, move her into her own room in a regular size crib. Make sure she has enough nursing during the day - consider giving only one breast at a time so that she empties out an entire breast to get that thick hind milk. She'll sleep longer on that than the lighter front milk. If you want to get up and feed her in the middle of the night, try to keep it to once so that you aren't getting up all night long. At 12 pounds, she doesn't need to nurse all night long. At some point you can knock out the night feeding and then everyone will get much needed sleep.

I hope you will at the very least stop the nightime nursing. At least you'll have a shot at getting some sleep. You really need rest to give your new pregnancy the same TLC you gave your first pregnancy. Try to remember that when you are teaching your 17 month old to self-soothe and do without you in the middle of the night.

Good luck and all my best,


answers from Eugene on

Big hugs to you for nursing your daughter so long! It sounds like you have been doing what's best for you and your family and if it's not working anymore it just means it's time to reevaluate - not that you made a mistake.

I thought I had made a huge mistake too in nursing my daughter to sleep, but when she was two she naturally started sleeping longer and then we night-weaned (and I still nursed her during the day and to sleep until she was 3.)

If you stop nursing, your daughter will need to cry to relieve the feelings she's having about not being able to nurse, but crying with you there supporting her and loving her is totally different than leaving her to cry it out alone. It's also helpful if you can talk to someone about your feelings during this process too. You'll be better able to listen to your daughter if you have the support of a friend listening to you talk about how hard this is, how much you want to do the best you can, and whatever other feelings come up during this time.

Here's an article called "Listening to Nursing Children" that I found really helpful. http://www.handinhandparenting.org/csArticles/articles/00...

And here's a blog post about a mom helping her son sleep in his own bed: http://superprotectivefactor.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/hel...

I hope these help and you get the rest you need!

Next question: Questions for Moms Who Have Nursed While Pregnant.