The journey of motherhood is a collection of beautiful milestones, and one of the most cherished ones is the breastfeeding bond between a mother and her child. As your toddler grows and evolves, so do their nutritional needs and independence. Weaning your toddler from breastfeeding is a significant step in this journey, marking a transition towards new forms of nourishment and connection. Let’s explore the art of weaning and offer guidance on making the process as smooth and positive as possible.
Understanding the Right Time
Knowing when to start the weaning process is a personal decision, as every child and mother duo is unique. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their recommendation for breastfeeding to include the phrase “as long as you and your baby desire.” I just love that change as it shows there is no perfect time to end breastfeeding as it differs from person to person. It is perfectly normal and healthy to breastfeed your baby beyond one, and it is perfectly normal and healthy to be ready to end that journey for whatever the reason. Just being ready to stop is perfectly fine!
Weaning is most comfortable when approached gradually, allowing both you and your child to adjust to the change. Abrupt cessation can be emotionally challenging for both parties. Start by replacing one feeding session a day with a cup of expressed breast milk or an age-appropriate alternative. If your child does not like milk, sometimes a little treat can provide some comfort during this weaning period. If your child mainly still nurses for comfort and not nutrition, extra snuggles or some quality time can help during this transition.
If your toddler likes to constantly nurse throughout the day, I’d cut nursing on demand first and stick to just a couple of designated comfort nursing times throughout the day. Then work on cutting those one by one.
Consider wearing high-necklined clothing so they are not reminded of what they’re missing. If they try to nurse at a time when you are trying not to, you can say, “all gone” or, “not right now,” and offer a treat, snack, cuddle, or favorite show to get their mind off of it.
With my oldest, we normally nursed in the morning, and to cut it out, I gave her fruit snacks right when she woke up because she didn’t like milk. We only did this for a month or two so that she could get used to not nursing in the morning, and then I transitioned her on to something healthier. The other times she nursed were before nap and before bed. I cut those out one by one by just giving extra cuddles and attention. There was a transition period for those, but she eventually got used to the new routine.
Introduce New Nourishment
As you reduce breastfeeding sessions, it’s essential to introduce a variety of nutritious foods that cater to your toddler’s growing needs. Solid foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins should now play a more prominent role in their diet. Encourage self-feeding and exploration, allowing your child to develop a sense of independence around mealtime.
Comfort and Connection
Breastfeeding isn’t just about nourishment; it’s also a source of comfort and emotional connection. As you wean, ensure that you maintain these emotional connections through other means. Spend quality time together, engage in cuddles, read stories, and offer reassurance through physical touch. This helps your child understand that the bond you share remains strong even as feeding dynamics change.
Nighttime feedings can be some of the most challenging to eliminate. Begin by offering extra comfort before bedtime – perhaps through a warm bath, a cozy story, or gentle rocking. If your toddler wakes up at night for a feeding, try soothing techniques other than breastfeeding. It may be helpful to have your husband or partner go in to soothe your toddler during this weaning period. They can offer a cup of water or just some snuggles. The first few days may be the hardest, but children are resilient, and they will get used to the change. Remember, consistency is key during this process and it will be an easier transition for everyone if you stay consistent.
Listening to Your Child
Throughout the weaning process, closely observe your toddler’s reactions and emotions. Some children may transition relatively smoothly, while others might exhibit signs of resistance or distress. Be patient and compassionate, allowing your child’s pace to guide you. Remember that every child is different, and their feelings are valid.
Weaning is a significant milestone for both you and your child. Celebrate this achievement as a team by creating special rituals or engaging in fun activities together. Commemorating the journey helps your toddler understand that growing up is an exciting adventure.
Self-Care for Moms
Weaning can trigger a mix of emotions for mothers. You might experience feelings of nostalgia, relief, or even a touch of sadness. It’s crucial to take care of yourself during this period. Engage in activities that bring you joy, lean on your support network, and remember that you’ve provided your child with an invaluable foundation of love and nourishment. If you feel engorged, it’s okay to hand express or pump as needed.
Weaning your toddler from breastfeeding is a natural and transformative process. It’s a testament to the beautiful bond you’ve shared while also paving the way for your child’s increasing independence. By approaching weaning with patience, understanding, and open communication, you can navigate this transition in a way that fosters emotional connections and positive memories for both you and your child.
If your child is less than 12 months, click here to read my gradual weaning a baby guide!