Romper

Turns Out, Night Weaning Is Basically Hell On Earth

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

Every single night of my 2-and-half-year-old son's life has looked the same. I've laid him down in our shared bed, snuggled in next to him, pulled up the covers, and pulled down my shirt. Sunny is an active night-feeder — not a problem when you have a newborn, but a serious drag when you're 2-and-half year old won't go down or sleep through the night unless you're ready and available to breastfeed him. I nurse Sunny nightly until he is asleep, but I don't dare jump out of bed for fear of waking him. Instead I wait, counting down the seconds until he rolls away from me. Our nightly ritual can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, and even if I don't have the time to waste, it must happen. I am the only one who can do it. I am needed for Sunny’s most basic of functions — sleeping — but I want, more than anything, to night wean my son.

To be honest, I don't much mind putting Sunny to bed at all. I like our time together before sleep: the warm curl of him against me, the primal need to feed. I hold him close. He needs me, and no one else. Every night it feels like we're transported back to the earliest days of his life, to the basic tie between sustenance and love. I hold him. I read a book, or play on my phone. I truly don’t mind this going to sleep. But I do mind what happens next.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

At least once, before we go to bed, Sunny whines and cries. I have to lay down, pull down my shirt, unhook my bra, and nurse him for 10 minutes or so. Usually, when I can’t stand it anymore, I just pop the nipple out of his mouth. If I’m lucky, he stays down. If I'm not, the routine begins all over again. Then begins the no-whisper, no-touch phase between my partner and I. Because the three of us "share" a room, my husband and I speak only in low tones. If we watch TV, we keep the volume down. We’re carefully quiet in our toilette. And when we lay down in our queen with a side-car twin, we arrange ourselves so as not to disturb the small creature sleeping beside us, who, of course, has managed to take up more than half of the space on the bed. So my husband and I spoon on the twin, with me laying uncomfortably over the crack between the beds. I hold onto a pillow that I check (and recheck every five minutes) and assure is a safe distance from Sunny, because my husband will soon begin to snore, and I'll need to make him turn over, hand him said pillow, and then I will have to move away. This leaves me mere inches from Sunny. Mere precious, dangerous inches.

When he was a newborn, we drifted peacefully off together. Now, every night poses a new challenge.

Because it’s coming. It may come sooner — just before I fall asleep — or it may come later — around 5 in the morning. First, Sunny will whimper. Then he’ll cry a little. Then he’ll sit up and wail. And there's only one way to stop it. I have to roll over and breastfeed my nearly 2-and-half year old son until he falls back asleep. Once the stress of that is done, I then have to try to fall asleep.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
To be honest, I am done with night nursing. I want my rest. I want to go to sleep braless and be comfortable ... Even though I hope to keep breastfeeding Sunny for quite some time, it's the night-weaning I'm ready to be finished with.

When Sunny was younger, I didn't ever mind night-feeding a baby. I slept through it. Now, however, I don't sleep through Sunny's gym-nurstics. He slaps my breasts to get more milk. He rubs them. He switches boobs and then switches again. He takes it out of his mouth and has a conversation. When he was a newborn, we drifted peacefully off together. Now, every night poses a new challenge.

If I forget to wear a bra, Sunny grabs the nipple that isn’t in his mouth, which feels uncomfortable and icky. So I press an arm over my opposite boob. This enrages him. He claws at my hand. I swat it away. This continues through a half-stupor for hours. I don't sleep. I catnap. If I'm smart, I remember to put on a bra before bed so that Sunny can't grab my nipples. But he does what he’d do anyway: flip from boob to boob, one to another, as I desperately try to keep him down and in bed. I sleep in snatches. I pray he’ll sleep again, and not decide it’s 3 a.m. party time. Unfortunately, he does that sometimes.

To be honest, I am done with night nursing. I want my rest. I want to go to sleep braless and be comfortable. I want Sunny (and me) to get a full night's sleep. Even though I hope to keep breastfeeding Sunny for quite some time, it's the night-weaning I'm ready to be finished with. Yet I don’t want to wean during the night hours, and I don’t want to wean during the day. This kid, however, needs to get off my boobs during the night.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent
I don't hate breastfeeding — not at all. But I know I need to night wean Sunny.

The fact that Sunny is almost 2 and half and not yet weaned is partly our fault. My partner and I had pressing needs to night-wean our other sons at around 16 months. I was pregnant around this time with both of my middle son and then with Sunny, so when it came to bedtime, daddy took the boys to bed and I slept elsewhere. Periodically, when the crying got really bad, he brought them in for a heartily resented feeding. Every night, he brought them in less and less. And eventually, they learned to sleep with him.

But at that time both of my boys were barely out of babyhood. The routine changed, and they adjusted. Not Sunny. He's a healthy toddler with lungs as robust as his stubbornness, and night-weaning him would mean that my husband would have to basically forgo sleep for a week. Who knows how Sunny will react. On top of that, my husband can’t just "skip a week" of sleep right now and hold down a job. So instead of weaning, we have to wait until school lets out. That means three more months of nipple-grabbing, boob-clawing, midnight breastfeeding misery. Three more months.

But it's also three more months where my toddler will still happily, blissfully, nurse his way through the night. I don't hate breastfeeding — not at all. But I know I need to night wean Sunny. And I know that, by doing so, I’ll look back on these days with fondness at some point. I may even wish for another baby to snuggle the way I do Sunny, night-nursing and all. I may miss even the hours of catnap-sleep. Just not tonight. Tonight, I just want some sleep.