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Weaning a Toddler
Are you mom enough?
That was the title on the cover of Time in May 2012. It was about a mom who believed in attachment parenting and was breastfeeding her three-year-old. There was a picture of her doing just that, for all the world to see and react to.
And react they did. They lost their minds over it.
Can a baby really breastfeed until they are three years old??? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked about an older child breastfeeding, I’d be writing this, semi-retired in some warm, tropical location.
They can, and they do. If you want to get picky about it, a three-year-old is not really a baby.
I have written about weaning before https://breastfeedingconfidential.com/weaning
That article talked about weaning in general. This article is for the mom weaning a toddler.
Sometimes weaning is child-led, when a mom lets her little one wean on his own. Sometimes weaning is mother-led, which is when a mom decides when weaning will happen.
A mom might have planned to let her child wean on his own timetable, and then gets to the point where she is ready to stop breastfeeding, and her little one is not showing any signs of slowing down.
Mother Led Weaning
Mom decides a change of plans is in order.
She may find that little Junior is not interested in this new plan and weaning a toddler is not as easy as she thought it would be.
Here’s a fun fact, the average age of weaning worldwide is 3-4 years. My guess is though, you are not looking for fun facts. You are looking for answers to your problem.
You are reading this article because you have a toddler who you are ready to wean and he is saying, “Nope, mom, not gonna happen.”
As parents, we make choices for our children that they may not like or agree with, all the time. This is one of those instances.
What is your motivation for weaning?
Some people will encourage you to determine what your motivation for weaning at this time is. If you think that would be helpful, by all means, do it. It might help to write one of those pro and con lists.
I’ve had conversations about weaning a toddler while I was putting gas in my car about this. I have been messaged on Facebook about it. Moms have called me on the phone to talk about it.
My perception is that some moms are just done.
It’s no one’s place to question them any more than it was anyone’s place to question why they do anything. It’s a decision that is made by them and really no one else’s business.
If you need help weaning a toddler, I am here to help you accomplish that.
Breastfeeding and Pregnant?
Some moms will be told that they must wean if they become pregnant and are breastfeeding. That is just not true. There may be reasons that it is unwise for certain moms. Other moms may decide it is a good time to wean. But pregnancy is not contraindicated for most moms. But that’s a whole blog post in itself.
Make a plan
There’s an old saying, make a plan or plan to fail. Or something like that. This is no different.
There are a couple of different ways for weaning a toddler:
- Cold turkey
- Just say no
- Take a vacation
- Expect some tears. From you and your toddler
- Gradual Weaning
What Is Your Starting Point When You Begin Weaning?
When I am coaching a mom who wants to gradually wean a reluctant weanling, I first ask how many times they nurse. It will be a whole different course of action if the answer is 2-3 times a day than if it’s ten times a day, maybe more.
If the answers is “Lots!” then a log is definitely needed.
If your child definitely, or even maybe, nurses more than 2-3 times a day, keep a log of how many times he’s nursing and what those times are.
This can be tedious when your toddler breastfeeds 20 times a day. Trust me; it is an essential step in the process.
Only when you know where your starting point is will you know if you are making progress.
Talk to your child about weaning
Even a younger child often understands more than a lot of people think. Tell him what is going down. Say what is going to happen at each step. I highly encourage a celebration when the weaning process is complete. This makes it a positive thing for them.
Should You Start Weaning Morning or Night First?
There may be a particular feeding or time of day that you are most interested in weaning from first. Morning feedings are easier to drop because you just get up and begin the day instead of nursing. It may be earlier than you wanted to get up. However, that’s easier than trying not to nurse.
Some moms love the night time feedings. Seriously, I have heard moms say that. I know some nurses love working the night shift. All I can say to those night owls is, I bow down to you.
For the rest of us, it’s time to formulate a plan to stop night time feedings.
If your child doesn’t nurse during the night but nurses right before bed, try another bedtime ritual. My first child would have a cup of warm milk with my husband, and I would go into another room.
If you are trying to eliminate feedings throughout the night, and if you have a partner, they are going to have to help with this. Weaning from night nursing will be easier if you don’t co-sleep, either in the same room or the same bed. It can be done though, even if you do.
Weaning A Toddler From Night Nursing
- Go back to your log.
- Define what a night time feeding is. What are the hours that you consider night time?
- How many times does your little one breastfeed during those hours?
Tell your toddler that there is no nursing until the sun comes up. Be consistent. It’s important to keep your end of the bargain and let him nurse when the sun does come up.
When he goes to sleep the first time of the night remind him, you can nurse when the sun is up. If he wakes up and wants to nurse, just remind him, he can when the sun comes up.
Talk about when he can. Don’t say that he can’t. Offer a cup of water. Remind him that this is sleeping time.
Distractions for Daytime Weaning
- During the day make sure you have written a list of distractions to offer when he asks to nurse.
- Decide on what the time periods will be between nursings.
- If he is used to nursing anywhere, anytime, say that nursing only happens at home.
- Once you have that established, make where you nurse a boring place.
- Do not nurse in front of the TV.
- Don’t talk or sing during nursing sessions.
- Don’t let him get on and off the breast. Once he is off, the nursing is over. He has to wait until the next time that he can nurse.
- Don’t get into discussions about why he wants to nurse just talk about when he can and what he can do until then.
- Be lots and lots of fun and do lots and lots of cuddling when you are not nursing.
Calendar and Celebration of Completing Weaning
- When the frequency of nursing make it realistic, get a wall calendar and decide on a date that nursing will end.
- Circle that day or put stickers on it.
- Write on each day how many days until nursing stops.
- Cross off each day that passes and talk about how many days are left.
- Talk about it in a very positive way.
- Say it will be so exciting!
- When that day arrives, say that today is the celebration!
- Talk it up.
- Have balloons and make cake or muffins or whatever celebratory food you eat.
- Serve his very favorite food.
What to wean to?
A toddler should definitely be using a cup by this time, so this really shouldn’t be an issue.
Feelings About Weaning
You might think at first, “I’m glad that is over!” Then you might feel sad. There may be moments where you miss it. There may be times when your toddler asks if he can nurse “just a little.” It’s usually best to say no. Otherwise, you might find yourself going down that slippery slope.
One Final Thought
Weaning can happen in many different ways. Be flexible but be firm if you have decided that this is the best thing for your family. Have a plan and follow it. There will be setbacks. Keep moving forward.
Are you trying to wean a child who doesn’t want to? How is it going? Let me know in the comments section.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.