Breastfeeding:What if mom is away for the night?

My 18 month old nurses to sleep and usually wakes up two to three times a night to nurse. I must go on an overnight trip without my child. How can we prepare him for this separation?

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Kathy Kuhn

Kathy Kuhn is a registered nurse who has been working with breastfeeding families since 1981. She has been an International Board Certified... Read more

Start by trying to offer other solutions to your baby's night waking before your trip. This is not to suggest you should withhold the night nursings -- just see if he will accept other comfort. This usually works best if someone else, usually Dad, offers the alternate night comfort.

Some things you might want to try:

  • A back rub
  • Some cuddling or rocking
  • A drink of expressed milk, juice or water, from a bottle or sippy cup.

If you do offer your baby a bottle of milk or juice, be sure not to let him fall asleep in the crib with it. Your baby should be held for the bottle feeding since putting the baby down to sleep with a bottle of anything but water can increase the risk of dental caries.

You may also want to introduce a transitional item such as a teddy bear or blanket for him to cuddle during the night nursings that may eventually be accepted in place of the night nursings. Another idea to lessen the night nursings are to shorten them by telling your toddler you will nurse but only for a few minutes and then you or Daddy will rub his back, rock him, etc. You can also, try postponing the night nursings by offering one of the alternate comforting measures with a promise to nurse "in a few minutes." If either postponing or shortening of feeding method works you can keep extending the amount of time you provide the alternate comforting measures until eventually your baby drops the nursing altogether.

If your baby really resists these attempts to wean from the night nursings, it may be an indication that he is not ready to give them up. You may also want to try to nurse him more during the day, especially in a quiet environment, to see if that helps him to reduce the night nursings. The goal of these suggestions is not necessarily to produce night weaning, but to begin to teach your baby to accept other methods of comforting that can be used in your absence.

It's difficult to predict what your baby's reaction would be to missing those night nursings when you are on your trip if he has not given them up, or significantly reduced them ahead of time. Some babies will be miserable and fuss all night for their care giver. Others do fine, knowing mom isn't there and accept whatever comfort is offered. Most probably fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Be sure your care giver is someone the baby is familiar with and someone who will be willing to deal with a baby who maybe unhappy during the night when you are away.

As the trip approaches, if you feel that your baby isn't really able to manage without you overnight, consider not going if that is an option or take him with you if you can. Some moms who have to travel for work manage by taking the baby along with a baby sitter or relative so that the baby is cared for during the daytime business activities but with mom in the hotel at night.

Don't forget to take a good quality breast pump along on your trip, you will need it for your own comfort and to prevent any problems associated with the back up of milk, even if you are only breastfeeding minimally by the time you go..

Reference: Huggins, K. and Ziedrich, L. The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1994.

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