The sleep training vs. night weaning debate has been going on for a while. In this post, we will answer the question of which should come first and why.

Let’s imagine the following scenario:

After a few months of sleep deprivation, you’ve finally decided to give sleep training a go. 

But there’s a catch:

Your baby is still night feeding. 

And now you’re faced with a dilemma: what should come first?

Is it better to sleep train your little one before night weaning or the other way around? 

As luck would have it, we will discuss this sleep training vs. night weaning dilemma in this post below.

Let’s dive in!

Sleep training should come first.

Let’s jump to the answer right away:

It’s generally recommended to start sleep training first before proceeding with night weaning. When we at The Sleepy Cub work with parents who are still night feeding their little ones, we almost always put night weaning after sleep training in the sleep training program. 

And why is that?

Sleep training is such a powerful and effective method for improving your baby’s sleep. In many instances, babies wake up multiple times per night to feed because of negative sleep associations. In other words, your baby is used to falling asleep in your arms while being fed. When he wakes up between sleep cycles and notices he’s no longer in your arms, he’s going to get upset and need to feed in order to go back to sleep.

Sleep training can teach your baby positive sleep associations and help him learn self-soothing skills. He’ll learn how to go back to sleep without any help from you or your partner. So, if your baby is waking up multiple times per night to feed, chances are many of those night wakings will disappear with the help of sleep training. 

And once your little one stops waking up at night to feed, he’ll be ready to start the process of night weaning. 

sleep training vs. night weaning

How do you sleep train a baby who’s feeding at night? 

Many parents ask me:

If you do sleep training before night weaning, do you feed them and put them right back down after feeding? Do you repeat the sleep training process?

When your baby wakes up at night, you feed him and put him back to bed before he’s asleep so that he can fall asleep on his own. If your baby is already asleep by the time you put him down, he won’t develop any self-soothing skills and rely on feeding to fall asleep. Once he’s down, you can soothe him from the crib-side or however you prefer to sleep coach. 

3 scenarios when you should start with night weaning first.

Although the recommended strategy is to sleep train before night weaning, there are some scenarios where night weaning should come first.

Here are some of those scenarios:

  • You’re dealing with a medical issue. Suppose you’re struggling with a medical problem that requires you to undergo chemotherapy, for example, or take pills that might negatively affect your milk quality. In that case, it makes sense to night wean before sleep training.
  • Your baby only wakes up once or twice per night. We discussed the topic of baby temperament in one of our previous posts. Some parents deal with a signaller baby who has difficulties falling asleep and wakes up multiple times at night. Other parents have it easier as their baby is a self-soother who goes to sleep more easily and wakes up less often. So, if you’re dealing with a self-soother and want to get rid of only one or two night feedings, gradual night weaning should come first as your little one doesn’t have any serious sleep problems.
  • You want to continue bed-sharing. If you want to eliminate night feeds to get more sleep yourself without moving your little one to a crib, then night weaning seems like the obvious first step. Once you have successfully weaned, you can start with sleep training to teach your little one how to self-soothe. 
sleep training vs. night weaning

Tips for night weaning

Night weaning is no easy task. To help you, we’ve put together a list of some of the most effective tips for night weaning your baby:

  • Opt for gradual weaning. Start by nursing your little one for a shorter time on each breast or give him a smaller amount of milk in his bottle at night. Also, try to extend the intervals between feedings. If your little one fusses, try comforting him by patting him on his back. 
  • Make sure he goes to sleep with a full tummy. Babies who go to sleep with a full tummy are less likely to wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Consider giving him another feed before you go to sleep yourself. 
  • Don’t night wean while your baby is going through a transition or a critical milestone. If he’s teething, going through a regression, or if you just switched houses, consider postponing the night weaning until your baby is feeling more comfortable. 
  • Let your partner help you. When your baby cries at night, have your partner comfort him instead of you, as the smell of you or your milk might make your baby want to feed. If the baby sleeps in the same room, consider having the bassinet on your partner’s side of the bed. 

Final word

To sum up:

  • It’s generally recommended to start sleep training first before proceeding with night weaning.
  • If your baby is waking up multiple times per night to feed, chances are many of those night wakings will disappear with the help of sleep training.
  • Although the recommended strategy is to sleep train before night weaning, there are some scenarios where night weaning should come first, for example, in case of a medical problem.

If you feel like you’re not making some good progress with your baby’s sleep and his night weaning, consider hiring a sleep consultant to take an in-depth look at his sleep history and help you with this. An experienced sleep trainer can make the process easier for both the parent and the child. Connect with us today and get a personalized plan for your baby. We’ll be there to guide you every step of the way.