Weaning Without Tears: How to Stop Breastfeeding a Toddler
28
Woman Breastfeeding Her Toddler in the Park

Weaning Without Tears: How to Stop Breastfeeding a Toddler

Congratulations, you successfully breastfed your child through the infant phase and well into the toddler years. That’s something you should be incredibly proud of – extended breastfeeding takes a lot of commitment and dedication.

But now that your child is older, how do you stop?

Toddlers are notorious for their tantrums and their unyielding desire to get their way, so it’s likely that you’re expecting the process of weaning to be tear-filled and difficult.

Thankfully, it’s possible to stop nursing your older child without all the drama. Here’s how.


What Should I Know Before I Wean My Toddler?

Before you begin the actual weaning process, there are a few things you need to know about your child’s nutrition, factors related to a toddler’s developmental stage, and the physical effects of weaning on your own body.

How Will It Affect Their Nutrition?

One of the first things you’re probably concerned about at the prospect of weaning your toddler is their nutrition. It’s impossible to know how much volume they’re getting from you on a regular basis – some mothers may be producing nearly nothing, while others may be producing quite a bit of milk.

Regardless, what you should focus on is making sure that you’re offering plenty additional calories throughout the day when you’re weaning your child. Extended breastfeeding provides your child with quite a bit of additional calories, nutrients, and fat (source). As you remove your milk as a food source, you’ll need to make sure your child is receiving those things through the food that you offer.

However, don’t get so caught up in tracking your child’s food intake that you make yourself crazy.

The amount toddlers eat varies greatly from one day to the next – some days it seems they eat next to nothing, while other days they eat more than a fully-grown adult. Recognize that this wild variance is normal and you should not expect your toddler to sit down and eat a well-balanced meal every time they come to the table.

Instead, strive for a balanced nutritional week. Children’s bodies are amazing and they will eat what they need; your job is simply to make a variety of foods available at regular intervals and their job is to decide whether to eat, and how much they’d like (source).

How Will It Affect Their Development?

For toddlers, rituals and routines provide them with a sense of security and predictability as they go through their day. For your breastfeeding toddler, nursing may have become part of this routine and contributes to their sense of stability.

Therefore, it’s important to understand that as you wean you will need to find a way to reinforce their need for security after breastfeeding has been removed. You can do this by identifying a nursing substitute. It may be an oral replacement, or simply a soothing activity. Some ideas for a substitute are:

  • milk in an extra-special sippy cup they picked out themselves
  • a pacifier (if your child still uses one; don’t introduce one at this age if they don’t already use it)
  • a water bottle
  • a story with mom
  • soothing music
  • five minutes of snuggle time

When your child asks to nurse at a time when the breast is no longer available to them because you’ve either dropped certain nursing sessions or you’ve weaned altogether, offer them their special substitute. You know your child best; choose something that they will enjoy and that will help comfort them.

It is also helpful that, at this age, your child is still easily distracted (source). This means that when your child becomes upset about not being permitted to nurse, distraction by substitution can be a great strategy to placate them.

What Are The Physical Effects To Me?

As you wean, it’s important to be mindful that as stressful as it is for your toddler, it can also be stressful on your body. Your breasts are a milk factory which are accustomed to producing milk for your toddler. As your breasts are emptied, they produce more to keep the supply in line with the demand.

As you decrease your nursing length and frequency, your body will respond accordingly and begin reducing its supply. However, abrupt weaning has the potential to cause breast engorgement, clogged milk ducts (which can be painful), and mastitis (if they become infected).

Clogged milk ducts have the following symptoms (source):

  • a small, hard spot in the breast
  • swelling or bruising
  • localized breast tenderness
  • a hot feeling in the breast

If you have a clogged milk duct, massage it to try and release the milk, place warm compresses on it, and continue nursing from that side until the clogged duct is resolved.

If the discomfort persists and you develop any of the following symptoms, contact your physician as you may have mastitis, which is an infection requiring antibiotics (source):

  • fever
  • discharge (pus) from the breast
  • chills
  • flu-like symptoms
  • quick onset of very ill feeling

How Can I Wean My Toddler?

Now that you know everything you need to know about the science behind weaning a toddler – here are the 6 steps you should follow.

1. Get Committed to the Process.

Mom, the first step is yours alone. While weaning will free you of the physical burden of nursing, it can also be an unexpected emotional journey for you once you realize the days of intense physical connection with your child are coming to an end.

Prepare yourself before jumping in and decide that you are ready and committed – if you begin the process and then decide to back off, it can make things more difficult the next time you try to wean.

2. Talk to Your Toddler.

By the time your child is a toddler, they can understand a lot of things. And if they’re creeping toward preschool age, they can be reasoned with.

Talk with your child often about how breastfeeding is for babies and they are growing up and becoming a big kid. Let them know that soon there will be a time that they will no longer be allowed to nurse.

3. Stop On-Demand Nursing.

Every mother-child relationship is different. By this age, many toddlers will have fallen into a routine and will expect nursing sessions at set times (after waking, before nap, at bedtime).

However, if this is not the case in your home and you nurse at irregular intervals based on your child’s request, it’s time to stop.

If your child asks to breastfeed outside of what you deem “regular” breastfeeding sessions, gently tell them no – but offer the substitute that you have identified and reassure them that you will be happy to nurse them later, before their nap.

4. Shorten Nursing Sessions.

While your body isn’t likely to be producing a large volume of milk, gradually tapering off your nursing is a good idea both for your child’s emotional adjustment as well as your physical comfort.

Remember:

Depending on how much you produce, your body may need to gradually reduce its milk output to avoid engorgement, discomfort, and blocked milk ducts.

Reduce your nursing sessions by one minute per day until your child nurses for three minutes or less. If your child is upset when the nursing session ends before they’d like it to, offer them the substitute you have identified.

5. Drop Nursing Sessions One By One.

Starting with your daytime nursing sessions, drop them one by one. Drop one nursing session per week to allow both your body and your child time to adjust. This step will vary from mother to mother – some may still be nursing five times per day, while others may only be nursing twice.

Generally, the bedtime nursing session is the most difficult one to drop as children use it primarily for self-soothing and comfort before going to sleep. Drop this one last.

If your child fusses and asks to breastfeed at a time when you’ve already dropped that nursing session, offer them the substitute.

Don’t give in and allow them a “quick nurse” as this will reinforce to your child that their pleading is effective and can make it more difficult the next time you try to say no.

6. Tag Team With a Partner.

When you’re ready to drop your final nursing session, it’s time to rally the troops. Have a partner (husband/wife/mom/friend) take over bedtime duty – many children will forget that breastfeeding is even an option if mom isn’t there to ask.

Make sure your sidekick is on the same page about not giving in to the child’s pleas, and that they know about the acceptable substitutes to offer if the child asks about breastfeeding.

Weaning Your Toddler Successfully

To summarize, here are the 6 steps to successfully wean your toddler:

  1. Make a commitment to the process.
  2. Talk to your toddler about the changes.
  3. Stop on-demand and irregular nursing.
  4. Shorten your nursing sessions.
  5. Reduce your nursing sessions one by one.
  6. Have your partner take over bedtime duty.

Weaning a toddler can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have a rock-solid strategy before you begin, wean slowly, and offer a comforting substitute to your child, you can stop breastfeeding with the drama at a minimum.

Do you have any tips for weaning an older child? Share this with a mama who needs it!

Congratulations, you successfully breastfed your child through the infant phase and well into the toddler years. That’s something you should be incredibly proud of - extended breastfeeding takes a lot of commitment and dedication. But now that your child is older, how do you stop? Click here to learn everything you need to know about weaning a toddler off breastfeeding. #breastfeeding #toddler #baby #motherhood #momlife #parentingtips

Related Posts

Jenny Silverstone
 

Jenny is just another Mom trying to do her Best. She loves organizing things into lists and helping others find what they are looking for. When she's not using her powers to find her kids missing socks, you can find her giving actionable parenting advice & buyers guides at MomLovesBest.com

  • Zakiyyah says:

    I’m soon ready to stop breastfeeding feeding my two to son.. it’s difficult when I’m breastfeeding my 6 month old daughter… And when my husband insists that I continue to feed our son… Any advice

  • I says:

    Thank you for writing this. ❤ 2.5 years in. We’ve had a good run.

  • bee says:

    I love how you just say “have your partner do bedtime duty” or whatever totally ASSUMING every woman has a partner, or wants one. it’s 2018…come on…how isolating is that for single mothers.

    • Hi Bee,

      I apologize if that made you feel excluded, that certainly wasn’t my intention.

      I’ve updated the post based on your suggestion, so thanks for the great feedback!

      Good luck with the weaning!

      Best regards,
      Jenny

    • SWARD says:

      Geeze you could’ve pointed that out in a nicer way, it was nice enough for her to give us this information and to take time out of her day to provide information like this to mothers that are trying to stop breastfeeding. Yes its 2018 and people are in different situations, but you could have pointed that out very differently. Thank you Jenny for this information, I plan on trying to utilize some of your recommendations.

  • L says:

    Thank you for taking the time and energy to write this free advice for other mothers out there looking for tips. Very classy response by the way to heckler, it is your advice based on your experiences, which should be self explanatory. Anyway, good article, I will use these tips, thank you.

  • Janet says:

    Yes thank you for your advice! It is very well received, as this is a very anxious time for me. The title of your article definitely hooked me, that is the most anxious part of it for me. I just don’t want her to have to suffer through it.

  • Brittany W says:

    2 years and 9 months in! My plan was to breastfeed for a year, then 1.5 years, and well here we are. 🙂 Thank you so much for the helpful tips!

  • Michelle says:

    Wish i had read this before I started weaning my toddler. It’s been 2 nights and one day . During the day she ate alot of everything but right before bed she wanted to be breastfed and that’s were the nightmare begins. My husband is not on the same page he believes I should breastfed until our baby wants to. So he goes to bed before early so that he won’t have to help me with our crying toddler. Makes me want to give in. 😢

  • M says:

    Very helpful article — thank you very much for writing it. 19 months and it’s time. It is time!

  • Andraia says:

    I’m stressed my toddler barely eats food and only wants boobie all day! I’m so desperate to get her to eat more food so I can start to wean. She literally screams if I refuse her the boob sbd barely will drink from her cup. This is stressing me out. I want to get oral surgery and I need to wean her beforehand because the anesthesia is harmful to her in the milk. But overall I’m ready to be done with it. Please help! P.s she’s a very demanding 20 month old who’ll scream like she’s dying if I don’t give her boobie or she won’t hardly eat 😭

    • Rosie says:

      I share the same problems, Andreina. My daughter refused to take a bottle as a baby (even after trying over 20 different bottles) and now she screams and throws a fit intensively (especially at night) when I don’t give in to feed her. My child also doesn’t eat very much. She only likes a snack a bit, but barely any. Has your process gotten any better?

    • Christy says:

      Omg this is what I am going thru now too!! Have you had any progress with stopping?? 🤤😓

  • Erica says:

    Thank you for this piece! I work all day and only fed my son and bed time with no pumping throughout the day. I’ve been trying to wean him for awhile, but since our only time we share between the two of us I had been so iffy. But I will use some of your steps! He’s 2 years and 4 months. From struggling in the start to having the hardest time getting him off lol.

  • Shadora says:

    Thank you for sharing! The journey begins now and my biggest concern is not caving in.

  • Erin says:

    Thank you for the article. My son is almost 26 mo and I’m almost 15 weeks pregnant. The nursing is really waring on me & becoming painful.

    I just started trying to give a bottle at night when he wakes which I was hesitant to do bc I don’t want him to get “addicted” to this now … but I need a break… probably a special sippy cup is better.
    Also getting out of his crib now ….

    Basically we nurse before bed and in the morning
    And he wakes once sometimes twice a night 🙄

    When I get home from
    Work he asks to nurse but I’ve been trying to cut this one…

    Thanks and just curious others thoughts

  • Ari says:

    We’re 3.5 years in, and my little one has reduced her feedings to two feedings a day. And at times still wakes up at night for another feeding😞. We’ve been through a long journey.

  • jane says:

    This is a wonderful article. Just weaned my two years old recently. Thankfully the process was peaceful and quick too. Good to see a non-biased judgemental free weaning post.

    • Jenny Silverstone says:

      Thank you Jane! Appreciate your kind comment, and I’m glad to hear you had such an easy time weaning.

  • Michael says:

    Hi Jenny… My kid is still latching although my wife is not producing any breast milk. She goes into a tantrum whenever my wife doesn’t allow her to latch as she is eating solids. She is already 2 and a half years old and is going to attend school soon. Do you have any advise on how we can get her to stop latching? We do know that she is latching for the sake of latching. Probably just for the comfort or for the attention.

  • Star says:

    Hello I enjoyed reading this article, many things were true and very useful thanks for sharing. I wanted to get a few of your ideas on what to do in the case of night time nursing sessions. As you mentioned, its wise to drop the nursing-to-sleep session last and by having a partner there to put toddler to sleep. My husband and I have that part done but the hardest part is that my 1 1/2 year old son still wakes up 2-4 times a night to nurse like a newborn. If I try to rock him to sleep or pat his back or even pick him up and comfort him he cries so loudly and throws a sleepy tantrum because he just wants me to nurse him back to sleep. Because we all sleep in one room when he cries he wakes up my daughter who is 3 years old and so I get so frustrated at this point I just want him to be quiet and im tired as well so I just give him the milk and let him fall back to sleep. I really want these night sessions to end and I wonder if theres a way to get him to sleep all night without waking up. All suggestions are welcome!!!

    • Vanessa says:

      I’m in the same boat. My 20-month-old daughter also still wakes up 4 times a night to nurse. Tonight was very hard on both of us. I refused to nurse her. We read books, but as she fell very tired, the screaming started. She is my 3rd… I can’t remember it being so difficult with the boys.

  • A says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and tips! 2 years and 1 month in and we finally completely weaned. I didn’t read this article before weaning but it was great to read for reassurance that I mostly followed the same steps and had minimal drama weaning my toddler. I had weaned very gradually starting at 19 months, starting to drop the morning waking feed. Then a few months later dropped the before nap feed. It definitely helped to have my husband and mom to put him down during naps, and he never asked for feeding that way. I finally dropped the bedtime feed a week ago and was able to explain to him that he is older now and don’t need it. I still kept the same bedtime routine and instead snuggle with him for a few minutes to replace the breastfeeding time bonding. He’s been very receptive of it overall. Because I still get the snuggle bonding time, it’s also helped me cope with this ending of a chapter/milestone for us.

  • Mommyof4 says:

    I am nursing #4. He’s almost 2 1/2. My oldest weaned himself at 2 when I got pregnant. I guess my milk dried up, he said “all gone” and never asked to nurse again. #2 was ALWAYS nursing & I just got tired of it. Weaning was so hard on him & later I felt bad.
    With #3 I had a genius plan. I told him how my milk was getting old & put lemon juice on my nipples. He said “oh no, it’s yucky” & never asked again.
    Tried that with #4 & he was not phased by the lemon juice.

  • >
    821 Shares
    Pin
    Share
    Email
    WhatsApp
    Tweet
    Top