For some mothers, weaning a toddler off breast milk is a long and difficult process. My own toddler was still breast feeding at 2 1/2, right up to the arrival of my second baby. This made weaning him even more of a priority.
I found it was a difficult process and decided to share 7 great tips for other mothers in the same position.
When To Start Weaning
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How long to breastfeed is a very personal choice. Though it is recommended that children be breastfed throughout their first year, many mothers continue supplementing with breast milk until their toddler is between the ages of two and four.
There are some advantages to waiting until toddlerhood to wean a child from breastfeeding. Many parents find it easier at that age because toddlers outgrow the need for breastfeeding on their own. It also gives them the chance to allow them to wean at their own pace.
Tips for Weaning A Toddler
1. Don’t Set a Time Limit
Many parents begin the weaning process with a goal of needing to have their child fully weaned by a certain time – such as before a new baby arrives or before a long vacation.
This puts an unfair amount of pressure on the child. This can make the weaning process much more stressful then it needs to be. Try to avoid beginning weaning with set expectations. Instead, approach the process understanding that it may take some time for your child to adjust.
2. Reduce Feedings Gradually
One of the easiest ways to gently wean a toddler is by reducing his feedings gradually. Instead of trying to force your toddler to wean cold turkey, reduce daily feedings one by one until your toddler stops feeding altogether.
For example, if your toddler is feeding once in the morning and once at night then you might begin weaning by cutting out the morning feeding but still allowing him to feed at night.
Then over time you can reduce the frequency of feedings. For example, from daily to every other day to every three days, etc. until he stops the night feeding altogether. Doing this gives him a chance to get used to going without feedings. It’s also less dramatic than just taking away all feedings in one fell swoop.
3. Don’t Offer But Don’t Refuse
Some parents find that the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach works well for weaning their toddler.
With this approach, a mother simply stops offering feedings on a set schedule and instead only gives feedings when their child asks for one. This way feedings are reduced but the child avoids becoming anxious by knowing that a feeding is available when asked for.
4. Change Things Up
To help your child cope with the change in her feeding routine, try changing the parts of your daily routine that are affected by the change.
For example, if your child is used to getting in bed with you in the mornings for a feeding, then begin getting out of bed before your child wakes in the mornings. Getting in bed with you for a feeding will no longer be an option.
Creating a new routine to replace the old one can go a long way to helping a weaning toddler adjust. As the saying goes “Don’t break habits – replace them with no ones!”.
5. Enlist Your Partner’s Help
One strategy that can help when weaning a toddler is to enlist your partner’a help. One way to do this is handing over routines – such as bedtime duties – that might have included a feeding.
If your child is used to feeding at bedtime, then having your partner put him to bed can help reduce the instances of meltdowns or temper tantrums. Toddlers are smart and your child will soon know that your partner cannot give him what he wants.
This can also provide a time for the non-feeding parent to create their own bonding routine with the weaning toddler and the chance for a bed-time story!
6. Talk to Your Child About Weaning
Toddlers understand more than we sometimes realize they do. Many times a simple conversation can go a long way to helping them understand why we are asking them to do something.
Try having an open and honest talk with your child and explaining to him that he is old enough to stop feeding. Tell him he doesn’t need breast milk anymore because he eats big food now. You may find yourself surprised at how far this conversation can go in gaining your little one’s cooperation and easing any fears he may be experiencing about weaning.
7. Don’t be Afraid to Start Saying “No”
It’s important to a toddler’s development to be told no sometimes. Hearing no and having boundaries set is a crucial part of your toddler’s development. Whether it feels like it at the time or not just keep in mind that telling him “No” from time to time is good for him.
If he is asking for a feeding and you are too exhausted or sore to give it to her then tell him “No” and explain why he cannot feed right now. If he starts to whine or cry try distracting him with a toy or coloring book, but hold firm in your refusal.