Weaning your Toddler: 12 Simple Tips
First, let me congratulate you on coming this far in your breastfeeding journey. It’s a great achievement and should be celebrated. So, a big virtual fist bump to you mama! Now you’re interested in weaning your toddler, you’re so done. I totally get it. I was there too. In this post, I’m going to show you exactly what I did to FINALLY get my boob-obsessed toddler weaned. I’ll show you what worked for me and what didn’t so that you can find success in weaning your toddler.
Let me tell you a little about my journey and why I decided to stop breastfeeding my son. Don’t worry, I’ll spare the details for another post and get to the point shortly.
I nursed my son for 2 yrs and 2 months. My journey had its challenges, like an inverted nipple, several bouts of mastitis, the constant fear of a low supply, biting, and pumping at work. Those challenges came, we conquered. Then came toddler nursing. The acrobat nursing. The drive-by nursing. The twiddling. Oh. The. Twiddling. I was done by the time he reached 18 months, I gave a poor effort to quit, but decided against it and kept on nursing. Currently, WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding up to the age of two or longer, so that was my limit.
Now for the good stuff.
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12 Tips to Gently Weaning your Toddler
Tip #1. Make the decision
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that “babies should continue to breastfeed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby”. As long as mutually desired is key. If it is getting to the point of resenting the feedings, then it’s not contributing to a healthy relationship. Whatever the reason for weaning your toddler, make the decision and stick to it. I made the mistake of making a decision but then changing my mind a few times or starting halfheartedly only to fail. Once I decided I was REALLY done, I was successful.
Tip #2. Communicate with your toddler
This is a key point in the weaning process. Toddlers understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Abruptly taking away something that brings them comfort without warning can be somewhat traumatic and your toddler may resist and act out, making it difficult for everyone. I started to tell my son at 22 months. “When you turn two, you’ll be a big boy and you won’t need boobies anymore. Are you ready to be a big boy?” His response was “mm hmm”. “Do you know what that means?” His response was “mm hmm”. “That means no more boobies, okay?” He responded with “tay”. I kept repeating this often to warn him that nursing was soon coming to an end. Prepare your toddler by communicating with them about what to expect.
Tip #3. Don’t offer but don’t refuse
Lots of mothers say this tip helps get the weaning process started. It is probably one of the easiest to do since you don’t have to say no or withhold anything from your toddler. Not until I started to apply this concept, did I realize how much I actually offered the breast. I found that I was offering for my sanity every time he was fussy, every time he fell, every time he needed to sleep without realizing that I was creating dependency. Once I began to not offer, I significantly decreased the amount of nursing sessions throughout the day.
Tip #4. Drop one session every few days
At the time I made the decision to stop nursing my son, I was nursing him 5 times during the day and up to 3 times during the night. This gradual approach made it easier on both of us.
To decrease daily nursing sessions: drop one session every 3 days and assess how your toddler responds. A toddler who is not responding well would nurse more, become clingy, and possibly act out. If he responds well, then drop another session. Continue this frequency until you reach your goal. I nursed morning, snack time, nap-time, after nap, and after dinner initially. After applying this method, I was nursing morning and nap-time during the day.
To decrease nightly nursing sessions: Nightly weaning is a little tricky. My son never slept through the night since he was born. He needed the breast to fall asleep. In my deprived sleep state and while still co-sleeping, I let it happen because I was still able to catch some shut-eye in the process. It was just easier that way. To night wean, the idea is to get your toddler to learn to fall asleep on their own, without the breast.
Tip #4a. Night weaning while co-sleeping
I highly suggest Dr. Jay Gordon’s gentle night weaning method to start weaning your toddler during the night. This method works in 3 day increments. During the first 3 days, nurse to sleep normally but do not nurse to sleep after 11pm. You can pick him up, rock, sing, and nurse him BUT put your toddler down while awake. During the next 3 days, nurse to sleep normally but do not nurse at all after 11pm. The last 3-4 days, you can nurse to sleep but do not nurse or pick him up at all after 11pm. Implement other tactics like cuddling, singing, and rubbing his back or head. This method helped me begin the night weaning process even while bed sharing as I was still able to nurse to sleep and use other measures of comfort. I eventually started seeing my son sleep for longer periods throughout the night. Soon, he was only waking once during the night, then not at all until morning!
Tip #5. Decrease the time of each session
Choose a limit that works for you. Some moms are comfortable with longer sessions, some moms limit to 30 seconds. We decided on ONE MINUTE. If he asked to nurse, I would say “Okay, but just for one minute”. Soon, he got the idea. When he would ask to nurse, he would say, “Boob? un int?” (with his pointer finger in the air). This method helped decrease the drive-by nursing and it also helped drop random nursing sessions as mentioned in tip #4.
Tip #6. Distraction, distraction, distraction
This is by far the most common tip. Anyone you ask who is weaning will say that distraction is paramount to being successful. While I agree, it is difficult. I work the night-shift and when I come home in the morning, I just want to relax as much as I can so that I can be rested for work the next night. It was really hard for me to entertain and distract my son when he wanted to nurse. I gave in quite a bit of times just so that I could sit on the couch and let him nurse. On days that I didn’t work, it was easier but still a challenge. Some of the things I used to distract my son were food, toys, games, tickle fights, books, coloring, painting, and going outside. Sometimes, even the “Hey look! A giant purple monkey!” worked.
Tip #7. Wear limiting clothing
I love tank tops and yoga pants. It’s so comfy and relaxing but offers my son easy access to the goods. While it was great when nursing, the tank top was the enemy while attempting to wean. I started to wear t-shirts instead. It made it really difficult for my toddler to pull down my shirt while we cuddled. Slowly, he began to give up trying to get inside my shirt. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. This became especially helpful during the night. Try wearing a t-shirt or a robe so that your little doesn’t have easy access.
Tip #8. Change up the routine
Changing up the routine can really help “distract” your toddler from nursing at usual times. My son nursed first thing in the morning. When I was home, he nursed before we got out of bed. When at work, he nursed as soon as I got home. It was the routine. Once I was down to morning, nap-time, and bedtime nursing, I started implementing this method. Instead of nursing first thing in the morning, we got up right away and went outside. Instead of nursing first thing when I got home from work in the morning, we got dressed and went outside. Consistently doing this for a week allowed me to drop the nursing session!
Nap-time was a little more challenging. My boys at the time were already fighting nap-time so it took almost an hour to get them to sleep. Eventually, I dropped the nap altogether for a while. Once I was sure that my toddler could fall asleep on his own, we introduced nap-time again with success and no nursing! The trick was to get them outside and tired before nap-time.
Tip #9. Have someone else put them to sleep
Weaning your toddler doesn’t always have to be your responsibility. Enlist others to help you in the process. Not only will it help him learn to fall asleep without nursing to sleep, but it allows him to develop a bond with dad, grandma, or whoever it may be. My son had no problem going to sleep with Dad while I was at work. But when I was home, he HAD to nurse to sleep. Nap-time and bedtime were the last nursing sessions I needed to drop. One particular night, I needed to get some work done so I asked my husband if he could put him to sleep. He did! I joined later, and we all slept the entire night! Gradually, he began to need less nursing to sleep.
Tip #10. If co-sleeping, sleep on the other side of the bed
Co-sleeping is very common among breastfeeding parents. It’s easier. You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night, find your slippers, put on your robe, walk to your baby’s room, get them out of the crib, nurse them, and try to put them back to bed. Co-sleeping also has so many benefits when done right. But since the kitchen is so close, it makes it difficult to wean while your toddler is still in the family bed. One thing that I tried a particular night while attempting to night wean, was to sleep opposite of my son. I nursed him to sleep, then gradually moved toward the foot of the bed. Sometimes he found me, sometimes he didn’t and slept all night. Each time that he slept all night was a win and he began to learn to fall asleep on his own. Try it out!
Tip #11. Spend time away from your toddler
If you are a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) or a WAHM (work-at-home-mom), weaning your toddler can be quite difficult as your kids are always with you. As a Registered Nurse, I work 3 nights a week. Working nights allows me to be home with my kids which is what I love. But, being home with my kids all the time made it difficult to wean my toddler. I noticed that when I had a meeting or class for work, my son rarely needed to nurse and was totally fine without it. He learned to adapt and interact with the world around him without mommy by his side. Try enlisting help from family, friends, or hire a temporary caregiver to spend some time away.
Tip #12. Celebrate!
Most importantly, celebrate your successes whether big or small. Did you drop a nursing session? Sleep through the night? Celebrate together, make a big deal and praise your toddler for doing such a great job. It’s such a great feeling when you two can accomplish something together.
Weaning your toddler is very possible, mama. With these tips and determination, I’m sure you will be on your way to getting your boobs back!
What is your biggest struggle with weaning your toddler? How can I further help you in meeting your goal? Were you successful in weaning? Do you have any further tips? Leave a comment below.