Breastfeeding a child is one of life’s greatest honors for a mother. It’s even more so for those that are able to nurse their baby up to toddlerdom! As with many honors, though, this one comes with uncertainties and questions that can leave you feeling defeated and unsure of yourself.
Many women wonder ask themselves “when is the ideal time in the child’s development to wean? How do I sever the emotional and nutritional ties? How will I know my child is ready? How will I know I’m ready?!”.
Find those answers and more right here!
When Is The Best Time To Wean A Toddler From Breastfeeding?
As with almost everything regarding motherhood, there is no hard and fast rule for the best approach. You have to make a decision based on your child’s needs as well as your own. Our advice? Trust your gut, momma!
For context, though, both Unicef and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree that ideally, children should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, then in combination with solid-foods up to 2 years or beyond (Unicef).
What Happens At 6 Months?
You may have heard some of your mom friends toss around the term “baby led weaning” (BLW) when their kids were about 6 months.
BLW means moving your child from a liquid-based diet (baby purees, etc …) to solid, finger-foods.
Due to a child’s development, this would typically be introduced around the age of 6-9 months.
While you could—and the AAP and Unicef encourage you to—continue nursing, many women choose this milestone as a stopping point. Outside factors such as careers, other children’s needs, or pure exhaustion surely make this an appealing option.
Regardless, healthcare professionals refer to the 18-month period between 6 months and 2 years as the complementary feeding period.
In other words, solid foods complement a baby’s diet of breast milk.
What Happens At 2 Years?
When your baby’s aged 2, your breast milk continues to benefit your child, but in ways that are less necessary for his/her development. These continued benefits include (but are not limited to):
- Boosting immune support
- Emotional comfort
- Additional nutrients
Many mothers will hang on to breastfeeding as a secret weapon for those boo-boos that render their child inconsolable (you know the ones)… until mommy brings out the big guns!
From a nutritional standpoint, your child’s diet of solid foods should ideally be wholesome enough to no longer require breast milk.
In most cases, a child’s teeth are developed enough to chew meats and other high-protein foods; whole cow’s milk provides a good source of fat and the whole rainbow of veggies and fruits are at your disposal for other vitamins and nutrients.
Signs Your Toddler is Ready To Wean From Breastfeeding
You need to consider your current nursing habits when determining if your toddler is ready to wean.
What we mean is, how long are your nursing sessions these days? How frequently do you nurse? Is your child eagerly engaged while nursing?
You want to make sure you don’t change these things too abruptly. That would surely distress your little one, which is (putting it in the mildest terms) not good for you.
You must take the weaning process slowly in order to give your child time to adjust, emotionally and physically.
Here is a small checklist of things to consider when determining if your toddler is ready to be weaned:
- Nursing sessions are relatively short in duration (no more than 30 minutes)
- You do not nurse around the clock (i.e. every hour of every day)
- He/she is willing to drink cow’s milk, juice, and water
- We can skip a feeding here and there without a nuclear meltdown of emotions
- He/she will eat a variety of food rich in iron, protein, calcium and other nutrients (Kellymom.com). Some examples:
- Broccoli & spinach
- Turkey, chicken, beef
- Bananas, blueberries, tomatoes
- Wheat bread, pasta, rice
- Yogurt & cheese
A note on nutrition: Toddlers are typically picky eaters. Don’t stress if yours isn’t crazy about some of these menu items right away. Just keep offering and working them into your meals and snack time!
Baby Steps To Weaning Off Breastfeeding
Assuming you agreed with every statement on the list above, you’re ready to start weaning!
Because breastfeeding is no longer a nutritional necessity for a toddler, your main concern will be minimizing the emotional turmoil for your little one.
Step 1 – Drop Feeding
You’re going to need to eliminate feedings one at a time to the point where nursing is no longer an expected part of the daily routine. This is going to take a little while, especially depending on how many times a day you currently nurse.
Make it your goal to drop one feeding per week. You can shorten the duration of a nursing session by just a few minutes every day. Offer a cup of milk or juice right after to help fill their little tummy.
Eventually, your toddler will not mind when you skip that feeding entirely.
It will take some monitoring and patience, but remember, you’re doing it for the sake of your child’s comfort (and your sanity)!
Slowly dropping feedings is also an important step for your own health—we’ll explain that in more detail a little further down.
The goal is to get down to no more than 2 breastfeeding sessions per day.
Important tip: Distraction is absolutely key! If you know your child is going to be unhappy about those shorter-than-desired feedings, have a treat ready to go right afterward. Remember this tip for when you eliminate a feeding altogether.
Step 2 – Distract, Distract, Distract!
Once you’re down to those last two feedings a day, you can go ahead and decide how you’re going to quit altogether. There are a couple of different approaches you could choose from.
Regardless of which method you go with, you should have the following items on hand to help take your toddler’s mind off of nursing:
- Sippy cups
- Favorite snacks
- A new or favorite toy
Continue to follow the system you’ve been using to drop the remaining feedings until… boom, there’s none left!
Interrupt your routine.
2(a): You could give your toddler to a trusted friend or family member for a few days (note: it’s extremely important that it is someone the child is relaxed and comfortable around, and it’s someone you wholeheartedly trust being around with your toddler on their own).
You can then take this time to kick back, relax and give yourself a big fat pat on the back! Read a book, go to the movies – just relax!
You successfully breastfed your child for years. You and your body are superstars!
Sure, it wasn’t always a stroll in the park; breastfeeding is a challenge, particularly in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to give yourself props for a job well done!
2(b): If you don’t have anyone that could take the kiddo for a few days, you could take a small family vacation. Something like this will get you both out of the routine and change things up a bit.
Hopefully, you could schedule some activities that will be enjoyable enough to distract your child from the fact that (s)he isn’t getting to nurse.
Either way, plan out a few days (up to a week) where there will be something out of the ordinary happening. At this time, do not offer the breast or give in to demand. It’s important to not cave in to the pressure!
Consistency is key. After just a few days, your little one will more than likely forget all about breastfeeding and you can both move on with your lives.
Option 3: Depending on the age of your toddler, you might be able to reason with him or her. As long as it doesn’t break any of your parenting rules, you could try negotiating a trade.
Is there a toy or activity your child would really love? Explain that (s)he is a big kid now, and (s)he can have that thing but needs to understand that it’s time to stop nursing.
These three are not the only options out there, of course. There are gentler methods such as “don’t offer, don’t refuse”. This approach simply requires you to only provide the breast when/if the child asks for it.
Use your judgment for what would be appropriate and most effective for your child.
Step 3 – Keep an eye on yourself
So, remember we said slowly eliminating feedings was as much for you as for your child? That’s because it’s every bit as important to not startle your own body by quitting too soon.
For as long as you’ve been nursing, your body has been producing elevated levels of hormones necessary to breastfeed.
Oxytocin is required for milk ejection and is also known as the “love hormone” because it kicks in shortly after your baby is born and promotes loving feelings for the baby.
Prolactin, another hormone necessary for breastfeeding, produces feelings of comfort and happiness (Kellymom.com).
Your body is now used to the effects of those hormones. Now imagine you decided to quit nursing cold turkey; what do you think that would do to your body? (Picture a rioting city on fire with sirens going off and people looting the stores—you’re close.)
Plain and simple, you would experience a sudden jerk and massive drop in emotions, energy level, and mental clarity.
That is why it’s important for you to slowly stair-step your feedings down until you can comfortably quit. This also gives your body time to physically adjust to not producing as much milk.
Even with this precaution, though, you still need to be aware of this shift in your body’s chemicals.
Give yourself time and space to let your body even out. Remember, every woman’s body is different and will react in its own way!
Any Other Tips You Have For Me?
Talk Things Out
This might seem like a silly idea to some, but talking to your toddler about weaning them off breastfeeding can have a tremendous impact.
We tend to give our toddlers less credit than they deserve as far as their reasoning capabilities and abilities to understand what’s going on around them, so give it a try.
We’re not saying you’re going to convince them about it right away and get them to stop making a fuss about it that easily, we’re just saying that a little bit of conversation, explanation and involving your kid in this can go a very long way.
Take Your Time With It
If you try to rush weaning your baby off breastfeeding, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Take your time with it all – your baby needs it, and so does your body.
Don’t worry too much about meeting a deadline you set, where you aim to have completely weaned your baby off breastfeeding by then. Instead, focus on the bigger picture and the overall progress.
As long as there’s continuous progress being made, no matter how slow that progress may be, then everything will eventually work itself out – regardless of how slow the pace may feel at the time.
Help Them Forget About Your Breasts
Think about it for a second – when you’re on a diet and trying to keep yourself away from all the temptations you know you might fail resisting, you won’t really be happy if you have a fridge filled with every last fattening snack known to mankind, will you?
The same holds true for baby. When trying to wean them off breastfeeding and away from your breasts, don’t tempt them in the first place.
Try to keep things covered up there when you’re around your baby to limit visibility, try to wear something that makes it hard for them to get access to your breasts even if they tried to, start getting into the habit of not undressing in-front of them anymore, etc ..
The less they see your twins, the less likely your baby is to think about them – and the easier your weaning process will be.
Wrapping It Up
It boils down to this: it takes two to tango and to breastfeed.
Of course, you need to focus on making it a smooth transition for your little one, but don’t neglect your own body that has done so much for the both of you! Remember to be consistent with whatever approach you adopt, and be patient with the process.
Good luck, momma!