Breastfeeding my girls was a special time for me. But the day they stopped was bittersweet. It was time for them to leave the “boobies” behind and while I was relieved to finally get some freedom, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry. I did, I just didn’t let anyone see it.
With my eldest, it was a bit easier. I followed the tips my breastfeeding coach had told me and what I learned from the La Leche League. It wasn’t without some tears though, but it went much more smoothly than with my youngest who is a total stage-5 clinger. I really had my work cut out for me with her.
Wondering how long you should nurse your toddler for?
According to Dr. Sears, there is no set rule for the number of years you should nurse your child. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises to breastfeed for the first 12 months, there’s nothing carved in stone regarding breastfeeding your older children.
Of course, everyone will have an opinion on this. My own mother would try to shame me for breastfeeding my daughters when they were toddlers, but my father who happens to be a doctor, told me to ignore her. He said it was the best thing for them.
But there does come a time when breastfeeding should end and I think that really differs for many of us. Sometimes it’s all circumstance. For my eldest, I was newly pregnant with her sister and knew I needed to get her to wean before the new baby came. I was free of breastfeeding for a good 7 months until my second one was born. And then, it was a few more years before I finally convinced her to let go.
With older children, breastfeeding is more about the comfort and security of it rather than nutrition, but it does provide added immunity to them. If you’re ready to wean and you think they might be ready too, keep reading for my tips on how to wean a toddler from breastfeeding.
How to Wean Your Toddler from Breastfeeding?
Before I fully dig in, I need to let you know something – weaning doesn’t mean you get up tomorrow and cut your child off from breastfeeding forever. Weaning is a process. In fact, your child likely has given up lots of feedings at this point.
All of us are different and our kids are going through things developmentally. Some are easier to convince (like my first) while others (my second) are a huge challenge. A heap of patience and lots of love and cuddles go a long way.
For example, with my first, I was able to get her to stop nursing during the day. I had gradually cut down her feedings and eventually, it was the night-time feeding that was left, the one right before bed.
My amazing friend Crystal had given me a great tip that worked like a charm, but when I tried it on my second child, no dice. I’ll give you that golden tip below and hopefully, it will work for you too.
Plan Ahead for the Weaning Process
If you’re ready to wean, like any change you make with your kids, the key is planning it. As I said, you can’t just wake up tomorrow and be like, “No boobies for you!” That will go over about as well as a lead balloon.
Instead, you’ll want to talk about it with your child about the weaning process and explaining to them what will happen. You’ve got to ease them into it. But there’s one huge thing here – you never want to do this at the same time other big changes are happening.
For my first, because I’d just become pregnant, I knew it was time to do it as soon as possible so I wouldn’t be stuck breastfeeding both of them at once. Moms of multiples are miracle workers in my mind. I don’t know if I could ever handle that.
Other changes that could come up that would make weaning hard are moving to a new house, starting daycare, or toilet training. I actually opted to get my second one potty trained first before I made weaning her a priority just so I could send her to preschool. Once she got settled, then I started attempting to wean her.
Weaning Your 2-Year-Old from Breastfeeding
Every child is different, and every mom too. So some of you will find this super easy while others will struggle. I get you, believe me. And there’s that internal struggle too. It’s such a sweet time in your life, but you can’t breastfeed them forever. Bittersweet really is how it feels.
Some of these tips will work like a charm for you while others won’t, and you may have to use all of them or pair them together. It’s really a bit of experimentation. Whatever works for you, I have to say that you need to stay confident and don’t let your child see you impatient, frustrated, or angry over weaning. Go in your room and scream into pillows when they’re asleep but as that one old deodorant commercial used to say, “Never let them see you sweat!”
Weaning Tips for Toddlers:
Don’t offer, don’t refuse
One of the biggest differences between weaning babies and weaning toddlers is that you can have a conversation with your toddler. Your toddler may very naturally stop asking to nurse more and more. Or they may stay the same. Regardless, you should never offer to breastfeed, but if they ask, don’t refuse.
The hardest part of this for me was with my youngest. When she’d cry there was just no soothing her, until I offered her my breast. I had to work really hard to break that habit because it was ingrained for her. I did it slow and steady so that when I stopped offering her the breast for whatever she was crying about (her sister not playing with her, most typically), she could be soothed simply by my hugs and gentle tone of voice.
Slowly discontinue breastfeeding times
Now, to avoid having full, sore breasts, make sure you drop only one breastfeeding at a time. Wait several days before you drop another breastfeeding time slot. Your toddler will start getting used to this. Daytime is easiest for most moms because you can provide distractions and change routines (more on that below).
Set some limits
As I said, planning ahead and talking to your toddler before the weaning process begins is the best way to ease into this transition. As you do this, you should set some limits for your child. For me, both my daughters knew that there were no “boobies” while we were out somewhere when they were toddlers. It was fine for them because they were generally so distracted wherever we were that it didn’t matter.
Replace a feeding with something for big kids
This trick worked wonders on my youngest. She’s such a clingy little thing, but oh how I love her! When she’d pester me despite my limits I’d set with her, I’d suggest something way better than breastmilk…chocolate milk! Her big sister is a huge chocolate milk lover and she loves to copy her sister, so at the suggestion of a nice glass of chocolate milk, my little one jumped on it. This helped us drop quite a few feedings.
Distract, distract, distract
One of the best ways to get those daytime feedings gone for good is to keep your child too busy to even ask. Plan play dates, get out of the house, change your routine up in any way you can and you’ll find after a couple weeks of this, your child won’t be asking for breastmilk during the day.
This even worked on my little one, but it was shaking her off at night that was the hardest part. I’ll tell you more about that shortly.
Stay away from your nursing spot
Because my kids loved the side-lying breastfeeding position, if I even lay on my bed to read a book, I’d get a breastfeeding request. This was even more pronounced with my youngest. So I took to reading in a chair or in another room until to keep her from asking. That worked well for Miss Clingy.
Out of sight, out of mind
While I was really good at getting my youngest to stop all but one daytime feeding, I couldn’t get rid of her at night. I tried everything I’d done with my first and none of it worked. She was so stubborn! And we all needed sleep. The only way I could stop her from shrieking all night was to relent and nurse her.
Thankfully though, I enlisted the help of my parents when we’d gone for holiday visits within a few weeks of each other (Thanksgiving and Christmas, respectively). Both kids love sleeping in their grandparents’ room. They think it’s extra cool (it totally is) and the dog sleeps in there too and that fluffy thing couldn’t be happier to be spoiled rotten with extra love from her 2 biggest fans.
Because she slept in there, she didn’t ask for her night-time feeding. And because we shook up our routine, it helped finally shake her off breastfeeding for good. She asked once when we returned, several days later and I told her the boobies were gone. She cried and I held her and said, “But I’m not gone! I’m always here and you can come to hug me any time.” It made sense for her and eventually those tears stopped.
Count it down
Now I’m going to tell you what my friend Crystal had told me with my first.
She used this trick on both her sons with excellent results. When my eldest was only down to that last feeding right before bed, I initiated a countdown. I would count from 10 to 1 on one breast and then switch and do the same on the other breast. When I was done the counting, she had to get off the breast.
At first, she wasn’t happy about this, but after a few days, she even stopped nursing before I’d get to “1.” Then one day, she just didn’t ask me for boobies. We did our night-time routine and I tucked her in and she went right to sleep. I went in my room and sobbed into my pillows while my husband patted my back.
It was time for our breastfeeding time together to end and I was happy about it but so sad too. As I’m writing this now, I have tears streaming out my eyes remembering this.
How to Know if Your Toddler Isn’t Ready
As I said, toddlers don’t breastfeed for nutrition.
They’re eating solids too. True that breastmilk helps keep them healthy, the main reason they’re doing it is for comfort. And that is perfectly fine. It’s healthy, and there is no set time when you must end breastfeeding or else.
But that being said, if you try everything I’ve mentioned above and your child isn’t ready, they’ll show it in certain ways.
More tantrums, regressing to babyish behavior, waking in the night, separation anxiety, and clinginess can all sprout up if the weaning is going too quickly for them. Try to slow things down and see how that helps things.
Sometimes it’s important to take two steps forward and two steps back before you get 10 steps ahead.
Additionally, if your child gets sick or has new teeth coming in, you might want to cut them some slack. With illnesses, breastfeeding can help them get well faster. I’ve definitely relied on that for both my girls.
Some moms try offering rewards for breaking off the breast which seems to work. We told our youngest she could pick out something special and she chose a new stuffed animal, one that she loves to snuggle with. That is until she wakes in the night and decides she wants to sleep with us, but hey, at least she’s not breastfeeding anymore!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.