I want to preface this by saying this blog post is written based on my personal experience. I am not a lactation consultant and always suggest speaking to one if you have concerns about milk supply when weaning or are looking for help when weaning.
My Breastfeeding and Weaning Story with Olivia
Going into breastfeeding, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wanted to try, I wanted to make it to a year, and that was about it.
Before I started nursing and shortly into our nursing relationship, a few people asked how long I planned on breastfeeding and I would say something like, “I’m definitely stopping before she can ask for it”; like it was preposterous to nurse a child beyond the point where they could ask.
I cringe thinking back to that comment.
Our breastfeeding relationship quickly became something I cherished so deeply. Though it was exhausting and physically taxing at times, I loved that I was the “only one” able to give Olivia exactly what she needed, whenever she needed it.
I actually dragged my feet when it came to pumping for the first time, starting a freezer stash, and practicing bottles, because it meant that I wouldn’t always be able to directly nurse her.
But I was a first and second grade teacher at the time, my maternity leave was only 12 weeks long (of course mostly unpaid!), and alas, it was time to start building that stash and practicing bottles.
I remember “going for a run” when Jason gave Olivia her first bottle. I desperately wanted her to take the bottle while simultaneously wanting her to reject it because I was “better.” Even typing that feels strange, but it was how I felt.
I had a really tough time being away from Olivia when I transitioned back to work, but pumping while at school and nursing while at home is what made me feel like I could continue providing for her when I couldn’t be with her all day, like I wanted to.
So when 12 months came around, I had no desire to stop nursing her any time soon and she wasn’t ready either, so we kept on going. And you know what? She asked to nurse, all the time! “Milk” was one of the first signs we taught her, and “boob” was one of her first consistent words.
And I LOVED that she could ask for it!
[p.s. We sleep trained her at 10 months old, so yes, I was still breastfeeding. You can 100% breastfeed and sleep train. You can read more about our sleep journey here.]
Olivia turned one right as I went back to school in the fall, and I certainly didn’t expect to still be bringing that pump to school with me a year later, but it was the right choice for us.
I started pumping twice a day at school like I did the year before, but that quickly turned into just once a day, then just a couple months in I wasn’t pumping at all, because she was eating solids really well and didn’t need as much breastmilk.
We also started introducing Olivia to whole milk shortly after her first birthday – we started by filling the bottle with three parts breastmilk, one part whole milk. Then two parts breastmilk, two parts whole milk. Then just one part breastmilk, three parts whole milk.
And she was super picky about temperature, so we always had to heat it up…it was quite the ordeal!
So once my freezer stash ran out, we just gave her warm whole milk in the bottle, and she eventually transitioned to cold whole milk in a sippy cup. She would have whole milk with every meal, but she still nursed in the morning, before bed, and likely at some point in the afternoon if we were together.
The first feed we dropped was actually the morning feed, simply because I wanted to be able to sleep in again. (I not only love helping others get sleep, but I really love to sleep, too!) Olivia was almost 16 months old and we were going to my parents’ house for Christmas, so it was great timing.
When Olivia would woke up in the morning, rather than me nursing her in bed, Jason took her downstairs and she’d hang out with Grandma. New house, new toys, grandma to play with…it was easy!
She really didn’t seem to notice, and I was so thankful. I still enjoyed nursing her and didn’t want weaning to be an emotional struggle, so not even seeing me first thing in the morning made that so much easier.
I don’t remember specifically, but within a few weeks I dropped the bedtime feed, and to do so Jason took over bedtime for a few weeks.
Once she was 17 months old, I felt read to stop nursing and we had just gotten pregnant with Avery, so I wanted a bit of a break before starting over again.
So when Olivia would ask to nurse, I’d simply say, “Not right now,” and would try to distract her. It worked most of the time, but if it didn’t, I would nurse her – again, I didn’t want it to be hard on either of us.
Eventually we came to a space where she would nurse one day, not the next, nurse the next day, etc., until eventually she just didn’t ask. I actually don’t remember the last time I nursed her, because all of a sudden she hadn’t nursed in a few days, and that was that.
It was a really sweet ending to our breastfeeding relationship. We certainly could have kept going, but I was ready for a break and we had a great journey!
My Breastfeeding and Weaning Story with Avery
My journey with Avery had some similarities to Olivia’s, but was also much different. I didn’t have a specific age in mind with how long I wanted to nurse Avery, but again, wanted it to feel like right timing for both of us.
I taught up until the day Avery was born, and had just become a sleep consultant a few months before. So I took the rest of the school year off in hopes that Via Graces could kick off enough that I could stay home with my girls while still contributing financially to our family, and the rest is history!
So nursing Avery was just different. I didn’t hesitate to start pumping, because I wasn’t going to be away from her 40 hours a week. I pumped so that someone else could feed our precious baby and I could go out by myself or with my girlfriends, or my hubby and I could go out, and she’d be fed!
Rather than being the connection I still had to my baby while working all day, it was the sweet cuddles I got with my baby as my toddler was running wild. There weren’t many moments it felt like just Avery and me, but nursing was just that (even if Olivia was cuddled up next to us!).
And then a global pandemic hit when Avery was five months old and I really didn’t pump much after that as I was always with her, so she didn’t take any more bottles.
Fast forward to when she was 11 months old and I got mastitis for the first time. I hadn’t ever had it before and was nervous about how it could affect my milk supply, because I wasn’t anywhere near ready to be done. I remember someone actually said to me, “I would just stop nursing now if I were you, she’s almost one. Just let that side dry up!”
I knew she was trying to be helpful, but I was nowhere near ready to be done nursing, Avery certainly wasn’t ready, so it definitely stung. And I knew I for sure wanted to nurse her for at least a couple more months, and so we did!
My weaning journey with Avery looked much different than Olivia’s, as well. We actually started by pulling her bedtime feed first.
As a sleep consultant, around 12 months old is when I suggest families pull any sort of milk from the bedtime routine (breastmilk, formula, whole milk), as it can cause lingering feed-to-sleep associations that can cause night wakings and/or early morning wakings.
With Avery, that actually happened at 11.5 months old, because I was finding that she was eating a big dinner, nursing at the start of her bedtime routine, and then burping her way through the rest of the routine and she just seemed uncomfortable as she was falling asleep. It was as though she was too full, so once I pulled that post-dinner/pre-bedtime feed, she did much better.
At 12 months old we started introducing a sippy cup of whole milk with her meals and she took to it fairly quickly (we did not mix part whole milk part breast milk and we didn’t heat it this time and she was fine)! So she always had some milk with her meals, and I still nursed her a handful of times throughout the day.
Then similar to Olivia, at 18 months old we were going to visit my parents and were staying for two weeks, so again it felt like the perfect timing to pull the morning feed, which I knew would be the toughest. She was still nursing in the afternoons, and I was happy to keep that going, but I was ready for the morning feed to be done.
So when Avery woke up each morning, Jason took her downstairs to Grandma so she couldn’t see or smell me, and she did great! My mom said she really didn’t struggle or ask for me.
I didn’t plan to pull both the morning and afternoon feed at the same time, but she wasn’t asking for the afternoon feed once we pulled the morning feed, so it felt natural. About three days in to all of this she woke up super grumpy from her nap, so I offered to nurse her and she of course happily obliged.
But I knew that was likely going to be our last time nursing, so I actually took a picture and little video, as I didn’t remember the last time I nursed Olivia.
About a week and a half in, my mom and Jason were both working early, so I had to taking morning duty. And Avery was not happy that I wouldn’t nurse her. I actually “gave in,” because I didn’t want this to be hard, but she only nursed for about a minute on each side (pretty sure I was empty!), and was then more frustrated because she wanted to nurse but wasn’t getting anything out.
Then coming back home, my husband went back to his early morning counseling sessions, so I was on morning duty. And again, Avery was not a fan of the fact that mom wasn’t nursing in the morning anymore.
It was hard for both of us and it was exactly what I wanted to avoid, but I was definitely dried up by then and our journey had come to an end, and after a couple of weeks, she no longer asked and we just enjoyed morning cuddles and story time.
The Weaning Process for Me, Physically
Because I gradually weaned both girls and they were eating solids and drinking whole milk well, I didn’t have any physical challenges weaning.
I didn’t need any sort of medicine and did not have to put cabbage leaves in my bra, I didn’t pump or hand-express as I was weaning, and I didn’t struggle with any discomfort throughout the process.
If, however, you are not able to wean gradually and/or are worried about what that process will look like for you physically, again I suggest speaking with a lactation consultant to give you specific advice and support for your breastfeeding journey.
Will weaning affect your child’s sleep?
Let me first start by saying, you can absolutely breastfeed your baby or toddler AND sleep through the night; the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
And you can actually still sleep train a baby, meaning teach them to fall asleep independently, who still requires night feedings! (Read this blog post to learn more.)
Now to answer the original question…
In my personal experience as a nursing mama, as well as in my experience as a sleep consultant, I have not seen weaning affect babies’ or toddlers’ sleep.
If you want to or need to wean your baby while milk is still their main source of nutrients (generally under 12 months old), certainly talk with your lactation consultant and pediatrician to make sure you have a plan to still give your baby full feedings and help them transition from breastmilk to formula.
Because full feedings are definitely connected to sleeping well!
If your baby or toddler is 12+ months and you are still breastfeeding, yet they have taken to solids well and are getting adequate nutrition from meals apart from you, you should not see the weaning process affect their sleep. Again, consult with your pediatrician if your nervous about the how the change might affect your child’s nutrition.
If your little one relies on breastfeeding (or bottle feeding) to fall asleep and get back to sleep in the middle of the night, then you will likely see a correlation to weaning and sleep challenges, as that’s the only way your child knows how to fall and stay asleep. In that case, this is a great time to teach your baby to fall asleep using other sleep props (i.e. rocking), or if you would like to sleep train, this is likely a good time to do so, as well.
Read this blog post about how to know if sleep training is right for your family.
Remember this blog post is my personal stories of breastfeeding and weaning my daughters. It’s not meant to serve as lactation guidance or medical advice.