Are you considering breastfeeding your baby into toddlerhood and wondering how the breastfeeding relationship will change? Are you wondering if your toddler is trying to wean or wondering why your toddler is suddenly breastfeeding round the clock?
Here are a few observations on typical toddler breastfeeding behaviour. As always, the way your particular baby approaches nursing will also depend on her unique personality.
Weaning: Planning Ahead
Weaning is likely to be a significant change for your child. For many older children, Breastfeeding is more about security and comfort than about food, so that weaning can be pretty stressful.
This means it’s probably best to avoid weaning when other significant changes in your child’s life – for example, toilet training, starting child care or moving house.
A few weeks or months before you start weaning, it’s a good idea to start talking with your child about what will happen. This will give your child time to get used to the theory and help make the change easier.
Are you or your toddler ready to stop breastfeeding?
Extended Breastfeeding — until your child is well into toddlerhood — is OK, as long as it is comfortable for both of you. But at some point, either you or your tot will be ready to move on. And if you’re ready to wean first, leave the guilt behind. You’ve done a fantastic job, Mama! Now, here are some tried-and-true tips for how to stop nursing and make the transition a bit easier.
Talking to Your Toddler About Weaning
Even if your child is barely talking, she may be able to understand and respond to a simple explanation of what’s about to happen. Tell her, in the language you know she understands (and you know your child better than anyone), why it’s time for the nursing to stop. (“You’re getting bigger, and you don’t need to nurse now”).
Reassure her that the two of you will continue to snuggle together, and list a few things that you might do more of, like play games, read books, build with blocks. That way, she’ll understand that you aren’t abandoning her — you’re just saying bye-bye to Breastfeeding.
Communicate what’s happening. Depending on your little one’s age, they may not be able to express their thoughts in complex sentences just yet, but they understand a lot.
Let them know that the end is near. Tell them how proud you are of how they’ve grown, what they’ve learned, and what they can do. Explain that as children grow, they no longer need to breastfeed. Emphasise all the great things they can do and how exciting they’re growing up.
Of course, not all toddlers are ready for this kind of talk. If these conversations about the future seem to elicit an adverse reaction or anxiety, it’s OK to hold off on these discussions. Instead, keep the focus on the positive and wait until they’re a little older and you’re a little closer to things winding down before you talk about stopping Breastfeeding. My Baby Nursery is your one-stop baby product store.
Don’t feel like you need to rush this. Allow for time to adjust to the idea. Weaning works better — both for their emotional response and your health — when done gradually. While you may not be feeding as often as you once were, a slight decrease helps avoid engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis.
Tips for Gently Weaning Your Toddler
So now that you’ve started the conversation, here are some tips to help move the process along.
When you’re weaning older children off Breastfeeding, an excellent way to start is never to offer to breastfeed, but never refuse.
Here are more tips that can help. You can start with the information you think will suit your child best, or use a few if that suits you both:
- Drop one breastfeed at a time, and wait a few days before you drop the next one. This will also be easier on your breasts, which might get engorged if you stop too suddenly.
- Consider dropping daytime breastfeeds first, then gradually drop any bedtime or nighttime feeds – these are probably the ones that give your child the most comfort.
- Introduce a few limits, like not breastfeeding when you’re out or feeding only after lunch during the day.
- Introduce activities and outings into your daily routine, so your child is too busy and distracted to think about Breastfeeding.
- Occasionally replace a breastfeed with a ‘grown-up’ alternative. Your child might be excited about having a special but healthy drink like a babyccino at a café when they’d typically be at home having a breastfeed.
- Try the ‘out of sight, out of mind principle. This involves leaving your child with someone they’re comfortable with at times when they’d typically have a breastfeed. Your child will be less likely to miss Breastfeeding if you’re not around.
- Avoid dressing and undressing while your child is around, and wear clothes that make it hard for your child to get to your breasts – for example, dresses rather than separates.
- If your child wakes in the night for Breastfeeding, try to let your partner or someone else settle your child with a cuddle or a cup of water.
Pick the Right Time.
It’s best not to start the weaning process until your toddler is in a good place. Avoid weaning if she’s not feeling well or if she’s in a transition: if she’s starting a new daycare, the family is in the process of moving, or if you’ve gone back to work recently and she’s profoundly missing her mom. Too much change at once could be problematic for your little one to handle.
Drop Minutes from Nursing Times.
Got a tot who likes to linger at the breast? Gently and gradually shave a few minutes off her usual feeding time. That way, the sessions may become less satisfying to her, and she might be more willing to stop nursing altogether. Don’t consider cold turkey or expect that weaning will happen overnight. Take it slow by reducing the number of feedings and the lengths of those feedings each day. Ideally, you want to lower your little one’s demand, reducing your supply, which will make the transition easier on your breasts.
Don’t Volunteer Nursing.
Another way to stop breastfeeding your toddler is to gradually stop offering up your breasts numerous times throughout the day. Only nurse when she asks. If you’ve been voluntarily opening your top frequently, this one change will immediately cut down on the amount of sipping your toddler does and make it easier for you to stop nursing.
Dial Back Your Nursing Routine.
If your toddler nurses at specific times of the day or tends to ask to do so under certain circumstances (when she gets overtired, for example), be prepared to do other things at those times. For instance, if she always wants to cozy in for a mid-morning snack, plan an outing for the appointed hour. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be a trip to the drugstore one day, a swing by the post office the next, a playdate at the park another time. If you sense a daily dose of crankiness coming on, take out a storybook instead of your breast.
Keep the Drama to a Minimum.
Toddler tantrums, clinginess, anxiety and other behaviours may be a sign that the weaning’s going too quickly for your child’s comfort. If your toddler starts acting differently, slow things down. There’s no reason for weaning a toddler to be traumatic. A few extra days or even weeks of nursing won’t hurt either of you.
Make Weaning Feel Special.
Emphasise your toddler’s positive development rather than the fact that she’s giving something up. If your toddler seems about ready to stop nursing, let her set a date for the final breastfeeding session. Plan a little party for that day. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. Cupcakes in the afternoon, say, or a trip for ice cream after dinner will seal the deal.
Distraction may become your best friend when weaning a toddler. Solid foods are an important one, and by this time, your toddler should be enjoying a wide array of them. Offer your mini her favourite foods when she traditionally asks for the breast and starts adding whole milk in a bottle or sippy cup when possible. When she starts to whine, offer her a favourite snack instead, pull out a special toy to play with together or head outside for a stroll.
Substitute Lots of Affection.
Nursing is built-in baby bonding time. For many toddlers, that’s one of the main reasons why they’re hesitant to leave it behind. Reassure your little one that just because Breastfeeding is coming to an end, that doesn’t mean that there will be any less affection to go around. During the weaning process, go heavy on cuddles and kisses, especially during the day when she was most dependent on Breastfeeding.
Involve Your Partner.
Sometimes it’s not so easy to wean a toddler when your breasts are front and centre, especially when it comes to nap and bedtime. If this presents an extra struggle in your weaning process, consider enlisting the help of your partner. As often as is possible, have your partner put your toddler to sleep at nap or bedtime until she’s fully weaned.
Buy Some Time.
If your toddler wants to nurse, try diverting her to another activity during that time, like baking cupcakes or going to the playground. She may wind up forgetting about the feeding she wanted, but at the very least, you will have extended the time between sessions.
Explain to your toddler that she can only breastfeed at home, in a particular room or chair, for a certain period. Set the timer and stick to the limits you established.
Stop nursing her to sleep. If your tot is using Breastfeeding to drift off to sleep, kick the habit as soon as possible. Move nursing to earlier in the evening or the bedtime routine, and replace it with a snack and a cup of milk, stories, songs. Better yet, turn over bedtime duties to your partner if you have one.
It may seem drastic and a bit harsh, but going away for a few days while you’re trying to wean your toddler is sometimes all it takes to get her there. Without you around, she’ll have no choice but to do without Breastfeeding, and she may not even miss it if there are plenty of fun distractions planned and cuddles to go around. By the time you get back, she very likely will have moved on. Just don’t offer the breast when you return, and distract her if she asks for it.
As mentioned before, it’s essential to replace the time spent together nursing with something that provides that particular time for you and your little one. What this can look like depends on lots of things, such as the time of day, your toddler’s likes and dislikes, and more. Looking for baby nursery toys? Look no further. My Baby Nursery has you covered.
Consider swapping breastfeeding sessions for:
- an extra story
- an extra song
- a special bedtime routine
- doing an activity together, such as a puzzle or game
- a big-kid snack, like a cup of milk or handful of cereal
- a walk around the block
- a phone call to a grandparent or friend
Avoid Weaning During Other Big Shifts
If you’re ready to transition from a crib to a bed or preparing for another pregnancy, it might seem like a good time to knock it all out at once. However, toddlers thrive on routine, and too many changes at once can equal tears and tantrums. If you’re going through other life changes or your toddler is sick, take some time to work through those changes before you begin weaning.
Remove Your Breasts from the Equation
This one might be necessary for resistant or stubborn toddlers who aren’t particularly interested in explaining why you’re cutting back on Breastfeeding. How you handle this depends on your circumstances.
If your little one likes to nurse off and on all night, try putting on a sleep bra or extra layers of clothing before bed. When they wake, you can reassure them and rub their back, but let them know that your breasts aren’t available.
Some moms cover their nipples with large bandages and tell their children that they’re unable to nurse as a result — but count on your babe demanding some applications of their own! Other moms rub vinegar onto their nipples so that the taste is unpleasant when an insistent toddler attempts to feed.
And sometimes, you have to remove yourself from the equation. Encourage your partner to take over the bedtime routine, whether for a night or the foreseeable future. Go out of town or stay with a friend for a night.
Decide to Stop on Your Terms
Know that no specific time is the “right” time to wean your toddler. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests breastfeeding for “1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant” and the World Health (WHO)Trusted Source offers “continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond,” those are just guidelines.
Each breastfeeding pair has to find the path that works for their partnership. After all, that’s what Breastfeeding is in many ways — a partnership. You and your baby have grown together through latching difficulties, sleepless nights, and many quiet (and not-so-quiet) feeding sessions.
In some cases, Breastfeeding comes to an end very naturally. As time goes by, your little one may begin showing less interest in breastfeeding as they’re busy exploring the world, and your feeding sessions may slowly start to shorten and fade over time.
As suggested above, taking a few steps might ease the transition, allowing you both a peaceful end to this time. However, in other cases, the future isn’t so simple. Sometimes you’re both happy to keep breastfeeding, but other people in your life, such as your partner, parent, or friends, begin to make you feel like you should stop.
Feel free to remind them that extended Breastfeeding is normal and natural. Remember that while they’re entitled to their opinion, you’re capable of making this decision for yourself. Other times, extended Breastfeeding starts to shift from a welcome connection to your little one to a daily struggle. Sometimes it reaches a point of feeling like you’re always on call and expected to show up with your breasts available, and it can start to feel like an imposition.
You may want to spend a night out with friends, have a peaceful night of sleep, or feel fully in control of your own body again — and that’s OK. Feeling ready to wean your toddler doesn’t make you a bad parent.
What to Do If Your Toddler Doesn’t Want to Stop Breastfeeding
Sometimes it’s hard for your toddler to let go of something she’s held onto this long. Eventually, it will happen, but in the meantime:
- Avoid comparing your toddler to others. No matter how frustrated you are about the struggle, avoid the urge to reach your toddler to other children who aren’t breastfeeding any longer. Even if you feel like you’re the only one still at it, remember every child and mom are different. And what’s suitable for your child might not be suitable for another child.
- Avoid comparing yourself to other moms. On the other side of the coin, just because other moms, you know, weaned ages ago and it went swimmingly, that doesn’t mean you should be embarrassed or feel guilty that weaning is taking some extra time.
- Change up your nighttime routine. Often, toddlers fall asleep nursing and losing that piece of security can make the process more difficult. Move the last feeding until earlier in her bedtime routine before giving it up completely. For example, feeding, brushing teeth and then lullabies, stories and cuddle time. The goal is to avoid your tot falling asleep while feeding and remind her that she can head off to dreamland on her own without your breast.
When children are challenging, you’ll often hear others say that it’s just a phase. Indeed, many of the biggest joys and challenges of parenting are moments that feel long while you’re in the middle of them but are fleeting in the course of a lifetime.
This is also true for Breastfeeding. It’s a phrase that’s not meant to last forever, and it’s normal and healthy to decide — at a time that feels right to you — that you’re ready for it to end. We have the best range of baby nursery blankets to keep your baby just right day and night.
It might be a struggle, and you might face some tears (both your and your little one’s). But take heart that you’ve done something unique together, and these challenges reflect that It’s difficult when beautiful things come to an end, but there’s another beauty ahead for you and your toddler, too.