You’ve been breastfeeding your toddler for what feels like foreeeever, and you’re ready to wean. But how? In this post, I’ll break down some tips for how to wean a toddler from breastfeeding.
I’ve put in a combined roughly 94 months of breastfeeding so far between my three kids. I’ve dealt with everyone from biting to latching issues. My first weaned at around 2.5 years, and I’m currently gently weaning my 2.5-year-old twins. If you’re wondering how to wean a toddler from breastfeeding then you’re in the right place. Starting your breastfeeding journey is a bit bumpy for many moms, and the weaning process can be bumpy as well. This isn’t an exhaustive list of tips, but are tips that helped me personally navigate this sensitive time
Deciding When to Wean Your Toddler
The choice for when to wean your toddler is up to exactly one person. You. Moms feel a lot of pressure from friends, family, society, or social media. That is especially true when it comes to breastfeeding. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what you should do with your own breasts.
If you wean too early people will say you couldn’t stick it out, but nurse longer than some people are comfortable with they’ll call you weird. Just know that no matter what you choose, there will be naysayers. But let the parent who is 100% perfect throw the first stone, and spoiler alert, there are no perfect parents.
So when deciding whether it is time for you to wean is a personal choice that is no one’s to make except for the person doing the breastfeeding, and of course the child who is breastfeeding gets *some* say in this too. I say some because you can’t really force a child to breastfeed. If they don’t want to nurse, they simply won’t. Though you might be ready before your child is to stop, and thats ok! Even a little bit of breastmilk is helpful for babies, so if you’ve made it this far you are a rockstar.
What is the Best Age to Stop Breastfeeding?
The best age to stop breastfeeding will vary wildly based on the mom and baby’s needs. There are a myriad of reasons why a mom would choose to either continue to breastfeed or to wean. There are however some expert organizations and studies we can point to when thinking about what we want to set as our goals for breastfeeding.
WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.
Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used.
From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond.-From the WHO website
What are the Side Effects of Stopping Breastfeeding?
The most common side effect you will probably have to contend with is engorgement or potentially mastitis. If you decrease the amount of nursing you are doing, then you will have a surplus of milk supply. Cutting off nursing and/or pumping too quickly then you might end up with some clogged ducts or mastitis. Instead, try to wean off slowly to prevent this.
Another common side effect of stopping breastfeeding is depression. Choosing to end your breastfeeding journey can bring up a lot of emotions, but there is also a physiological reason for feeling down after weaning. One of the perks of breastfeeding is the release of oxytocin, which can make you feel awesome. It’s called the “love” hormone for a reason. So when you quit nursing that production goes down. There’s not a ton of evidence or studies around this, but it is hypothesized that this may cause depression in some moms.
And don’t forget about the tantrums. Breastfed toddlers are used to getting their warm mama milk their entire life now. You can wean gently and over time, but once you start saying no, it could lead to a tantrum as many things tend to do with toddlers.
How Long Does it Take for Milk to Dry Up After Weaning a Toddler?
The majority of your milk will probably dry up within a week or two. But some moms report being able to express some milk for months or even years after weaning! Sounds far fetched, right? But it’s not. It’s common enough, and it makes sense that while your supply does adjust fairly quickly to increases or decreases in demand, the milk factory doesn’t necessarily just shut down right away after it’s used to chugging along every day for months or years.
How Do I Stop Breastfeeding? Weaning Slowly vs. Cold Turkey.
Unless you need to quit cold turkey for a non-negotiable reason, I would suggest weaning slowly if possible. Not only will this help ensure you don’t get clogged ducts and mastitis, but it will make the entire process easier with way fewer tears from both mom and baby.
While I have don’t countless hours of research into breastfeeding over the years, this next bit of advice is just my personal opinion from experience. The weaning process truly starts when the baby begins to eat solids. While babies under 1 year should continue to receive breastmilk or formula, adding in solid food to their diet naturally means they are going to have less and less breastmilk or formula over time. Without necessarily planning to, you’ve probably already started the process of weaning your toddler.
Thinking about it as a process, or a part of development similar to learning to walk and talk might help take a little pressure off of the situation and allow you to go with the flow. For me, I just started to know intuitively when it was time to bump up the process of weaning a little bit. There came a time with all of my kids when the nursing sessions started to dwindle or decrease in length, and when I tried redirecting them, they were easily moved onto something else instead of breastfeeding. It’s at that point that I focused more on the following:
Feed your weaning toddler more solids. By the time most babies become toddlers they are probably eating solids fairly well. But when I choose to start nudging the weaning process along I push as much solids as I can, especially ones that I think will fill their bellies and kind of mimic the comfort of having breastmilk.
So for example, lots of yogurt or glasses of whole milk, and I always keep plenty of their favorite snacks on hand, even things like chocolate. I give my kids a wide range of foods, including sweets and candy. For me, it’s about balance and moderation and teaching that from a young age. Also, having those tempting treats are good to have around when you need to give a little distraction from the almighty boob.
Redirect, redirect, redirect. As often as I can, instead of just saying “no” to my toddler having milk, I try to redirect their attention to something else. That might include a yummy snack, a hug, some tickles, a game, a toy, something interesting near us like a butterfly or airplane in the sky. You get the point. Find something to distract them with instead fo continuously saying no.
Know when to give it and when to hold your ground. This is a tough one that you just have to follow your gut on. The point of this is to try to reduce the amount of time you are breastfeeding and eventually wean them. But if you’re doing it gently and slowly it means you are still going to be breastfeeding for a while. So how do you find that balance between continuing to meet their emotional and physical needs while beginning to get a little space from your nursling?
The answer is truly up to you, and takes intuition and knowing your child. I know when my little ones really need a little boob time when they are truly upset and need comfort vs. when they have the more typical 2-year-old meltdown that is akin to saying no to getting a toy at Target. It’s still totally valid for them to be upset when hearing the answer is “no,” but as a mother, you can usually tell the different types of upset, why they are mad, and how best to support them. Sometimes supporting them means letting them go ahead and nurse, and sometimes it is holding that boundary while empathizing with their emotions, maybe offering a hug or a kiss instead.
How Can I Get My Toddler to Sleep Without Nursing?
All of my kids share a bed with me and my husband. We have a queen mattress and king mattress pushed together on the floor of our master bedroom. We chose to start bedsharing when our first was a baby. After falling asleep with her in the rocking chair while nursing her as a newborn I did some research and found that was much less safe than choosing to bedshare while following safety guidelines like the safe sleep 7. At that point, I decided to take the precautions necessary and bring her to bed with me, and all of our kids have slept with us in various arrangements since.
Sleep training and crying it out just aren’t for me and my family. I like to go with the natural development of my children and support them as they learn to sleep on their own naturally. This means a lot of nighttime cuddles and breastfeeding over night. With my first, she started night weaning around 18 months with very little effort from me. All I needed to do was start giving her a little pat on that back with some shushing and she’d usually fall back asleep without needing any milk at that point.
My twins though? They were still nursing at night like babies when they were over 2 years old. I spent all night with both boobs out like a smorgasbord, and eventually I couldn’t do it anymore. So I decided to try night weaning them. After hearing from other moms who practice gentle parenting that the Jay Gordon method worked for them, I gave it a try. Within a couple weeks, my boys were night weaned. You can read the details here, but to put it simply, I decreased the amount of time they could nurse each night slowly over the course of days/weeks, until they were no longer night nursing. We had a couple tough nights, but I was with them and cuddling them through it.
Also try these book to help prepare there:
Coping Emotionally When Weaning Your Toddler
Even if you are so over nursing you just want to be done, you might still get some feels. When thinking about never breastfeeding your toddler again, it’s normal to get sad.
Breastfeeding is an incredible bond. When you’ve breastfed for many months or years it’s normal to get emo. That’s a lot of skin-to-skin and cuddles. We know that our little ones will grow up and they will become more and more independent. Knowing that and seeing it happen are two different things.
Just feel those feels mama. Don’t deny them or push them away. Find another mom who nursed who you can share your emotions with. Someone who understands. Check out groups where you can get support at the links below. Lean on them for support.