How to get more sleep and independence when you have a breastfed young child (2-3 years old)

Dear Tired Mum,

You have been breastfeeding your baby all his or her life so they’ve been blessed and not known anything different.

You’re exhausted however and dream about an evening out with friends without your little one in tow, a date night with your partner or just a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I *wish* I had a magic wand to wave over you and make it happen overnight but alas… even if I did, most mamas would NOT want to take away this way of comforting and soothing their children, would you?

It’s like a proper superpower! It’s exhausting and overwhelming but it works!! Most of the time anyway.

The first thing I want you to know is that you are an amazing mum, giving your little one years of love and free access to the breast: what a gift! 

I hear your yearning for a few more opportunities to have an evening out on your own or with your partner: it’s truly a valid need and it WILL happen sooner or later! Hold onto your wishes.

When I listen to your story I notice glimpses of independence in your small child: hours or even days at nursery, days with you without asking for the breast, spending time with relatives or friends while you take a shower or pop to the shops. This is a good start! Notice and utilise these moments: take some time to refill your cup: do some exercise, take a bath, treat yourself to a coffee or cake, phone a friend and enjoy a few minutes of adult conversation.


Super long super early morning feeds:

If endless morning feeds leave you at your wits end: those can often be the last ones to go. Reuniting after a long night of sleep, waking up slowly at the breast is dreamy for little ones and can be truly frustrating for mama.

It’s just possible to start nudging towards more sleep in the morning, even if it means a slightly later bedtime. You probably won’t get away with the same bedtimes and later waking in the mornings… 

I’ll try to list several approaches to achieve your goals, even if they are not firm goals but more ideas or a direction you want to be heading towards… It is NOT training, so will continue to be watching his cues for readiness or lack of it, and at that point you can either continue/accelerate the approaches or take a step back. You are NOT failing. It can be as simple as him having a cold or cutting a molar, or having had a scare at nursery or feeling the family stress a little more that day. It shall pass and in a week or 2’s time, all might fall into place beautifully if you try again. 

You can just be YOU. Honesty and openness shared on a 2.5 year old level in simple terms is powerful. You don’t need to lie or make up excuses. 

‘Mummy is tired right now. Let’s sleep together a bit longer.’ ‘Boobie needs some sleep so it can make you milk for the morning.’


Gentle limit setting is explained beautifully by the Hand In Hand approach to parenting. I have been using them for years and have seen many transformations in my own and other families. Check them out yourself. It is the only approach I know that takes care of the parent to the same degree as the child:

There are a couple of great books dealing with parenting a young breastfed child:

How To Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King (general parenting)


How Weaning Happens by Diane Bengson (more geared towards breastfeeding)

There is also a book on sleep by the founder of Holistic Sleep Coaching, the only approach to sleep I would recommend, it explains normal infant and child sleep alongside many practical tips and approaches to maximize sleep for the family:

Emma Pickett’s Insta feed, especially this talk is truly informative and there’s plenty of food for thought in it:


How to end breastfeeding being the SOLE sleep association for your little one:

HABIT STACKING could be one gentle and gradual way forward for bedtimes and during night feeds.

This is simply the act of associating various OTHER stimuli on top of breastfeeding, with falling asleep. This may take at least 2-3 weeks, if used consistently, to perhaps give way to you being able to remove breastfeeding on occasions and increasingly more, while the other stimulus takes the place of it as a soothing tool. Your presence throughout is consistent. 

Habit stacking is explained here by the amazing Lyndsey Hookway:

Some examples of what you might use as added stimuli:

  • Transitional objects
  • Your own clothing
  • Music or meditation (Insight Timer app is fab for these)
  • Your own voice live in the form of humming, shushing or singing
  • Your pre-recorded voice reading a story, singing, talking etc. 
  • Aromatherapy for all the senses: diffuser with lights, scent and a gentle whirring sound
  • Partner: coming in and out of the room initially for short periods, increasingly longer to help make sleep associations with daddy as well as mummy. Initially it can literally be like: ‘Daddy is coming in for a quick kiss and a hug to say goodnight, then I get you to sleep’. Daddy reading his story WHILE mum is breastfeeding to sleep?
  • If partner is already part of bedtime routines, maximise their presence and let them take the last turn getting little one to sleep 


Transitioning into own bed:

  • Talking about changes as such can take place in the daytime, alongside putting the child’s favourite teddies to bed, playing in the bed, talking about who sleeps in which bed etc.
  • Getting him/her to sleep on the floor bed next to his cot could work well, and transitioning them once asleep, then returning to the floor bed if he/she wakes in the night then repeating the ‘ninja roll’ away back into your bed may work. 

            In time, he might accept the other parent attending to them in the night or early            morning. 

  • Making transition gradual and no pressure, only changing 1 thing at a time


Night weaning:

  • Possible to try habit stacking in the night and see if little one accepts you cuddling, patting him/her and perhaps offering water in a sippy cup in the middle of the night after a period of offering it ALONGSIDE boobing. 
  • Extending the ‘no boob’ period in the early hours might yield results. 

Nursies when the Sun shines (children’s book) and a GroClock or a blackout curtain and you reminding your child of boobie needing sleep too are all good approaches. 

  • You could start by waiting till 5am for a few days, and just sticking to cuddles, patting etc. Then extending it by 20 minutes at a time until you reach his natural/desired waking time (and yours). 
  • Nudging toward later bedtimes might help with this too. 
  • ‘Cuddles and water’ at night can work well and may take 3-4 nights to transition if little one is ready

Holistic Sleep Coaching by Lyndsey Hookway will have lots more ideas for you. My fantastic colleague Lucy Ruddle runs Zoom workshops on this appraoch:

Just general support with the relentless of it all from Meg Nagle, the ‘Milk Meg’:

And Meg’s blog post on night weaning with a lot of humour and a bit of swearing:

My pop up virtual  mother support group will hold you through difficult times, alongside others at similar stages of parenting:

Wherever the journey takes you, know you’re a good parent and there’s support out there if you look for it!

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