How to wean a Toddler from Breastfeeding

Motherhood is a bliss and breastfeeding her baby multiplies a mother’s happiness beyond words. Breastfeeding is one of the most discussed topics of motherhood. In this post, I would be talking about the method I used to wean my toddler when he was around 18 months old. I have not followed the traditional approach to weaning and I tweaked the process for making it suitable for my child. So please treat the steps mentioned below as a broad guideline and alter the same as per your child’s needs.

Breastfeeding experience of every mother is different. In many cases, it comes with a lot of challenges, however, the result is very satisfying. I remember the first few months of breastfeeding for me and my son was a big challenge. My myth regarding feeding was completely broken. As shown in movies, I expected, there would be a crying baby and as soon as the mom starts feeding the crying would stop, but this was not true for me in the initial few months.

I  and my son took a long time to learn the process of breastfeeding. We had to face the normal challenges of breastfeeding. Then things changed gradually and we could overcome all the challenges. We started enjoying the breastfeeding journey and spent hours nursing and enjoy the bonding time. Of course, I need not emphasize more on the health benefits it will provide to him. Fast forward 16 months of nursing and I decided that it was time for me to wean my son from breastfeeding. It was a very hard decision to make and my heart aches when I write this and I miss those days a lot.

 When Should you wean your toddler from breastfeeding?

It is a very personal choice as to when you would like to wean your toddler from breastfeeding. As per WHO, babies should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age and then gradually introduce solids till the age of 1 and breastfeed on demand. You may choose to continue feeding your toddler up to 2 or 3 years of age, whatever suits both of you. A mom should neither continue breastfeeding nor wean under external pressure.

There could be multiple reasons for weaning, some of which I have listed below.

  1. Going back to work.
  2. Another baby on the way.
  3. Toddler joining day care or play school
  4. You are done with breastfeeding journey.

Why you want to wean is completely a personal choice so be bold to decide on the same.

How to wean a Toddler from Breastfeeding?

I would break the entire weaning process into 3 parts. Please note the entire process might take anywhere from 4-10 weeks of time and preparation is very crucial.

  1. Pre-preparation
  2. Main process
  3. Conclusion stage

Step 1 for Weaning from Breastfeeding:  Pre-Preparation

I am a strong believer of gentle approach to weaning from breastfeeding hence Pre-preparation is a very important step in the entire process.

Mother Being mentally prepared

Breastfeeding is a mom’s personal journey with her child. It needs a lot of emotional strength to bring this journey to an end. Hence the primary step for weaning would be mental preparedness. A detailed weaning approach is not required for kids who self-wean but for others, it’s the mother who needs to decide when to wean.

Alternate source of Milk

Start introducing cow’s milk or any other form of milk which suits your family a couple of months before your start the weaning process. Babies who have been exclusively breastfed normally tend to reject other milk sources initially, hence gradually introduce your child to another form of milk in a sippy cup. My son did not drink cow’s milk at all till 15 months but since I had to wean him I tried to change the taste of milk by adding some jaggery/nuts powder /chocolate drink additives etc. This is totally a personal choice I made as my son did not prefer plain milk. The best is, however, to just offer plain milk and let them get used to it.

Patience

Patience is the key while weaning (well for anything to do with toddlers !!). Weaning is a gradual process and cannot happen overnight (unless there is a medical emergency). If we plan well, be prepared and patient we can handle it in a pleasing way and without much crying or emotional stress.

STEP 2 for Weaning from Breastfeeding: The Main Process

Talk to your child

This is the most important step in the main process. Toddlers can understand and reciprocate when we communicate with them. The only two people to whom breastfeeding matters the most are you and your toddler. Once you are mentally and emotionally prepared you need to prepare your child for the same. 

Here is what worked for me and Sanjay. Whenever we saw other babies I used to tell Sanjay “this is a baby and you are now a big one-year-old boy” that always made him smile. Not sure what he comprehended from being big but he liked the same. So, I just used it for talking about weaning too. So here was my story for him “Babies drink mama’s milk. Big boys drink milk only in sippy cups. Sanjay has now become a big boy and would no longer need mama’s milk “this was the line I repeated like 10 times a day looking at his eyes.  So, this was like 1 week ahead of starting to drop feeds. I call this as the “BIG BOY THEORY“.

Make drinking milk from sippy cup a fun

I bought a variety of sippy cups for Sanjay and if he drank milk from the same I always encouraged him and praised his good work. Again the “big boy” theory- “ wow you have become a big boy and can drink milk on your own from a sippy cup.”

Start by dropping day feeding one at a time

Daytime weaning is easier compared to night. You need to engage your toddler in a variety of activities during the day time. (especially outdoor). When it’s time for the day feed try to distract your toddler with some activity. You can  also find a lot of activity ideas on this blog-Activities

We used to go to the park and play during day time feed and once back he had milk in a sippy and we went for a nap. Already he was tired from play and for hunger he had milk so the only reason he was looking for breast for was the comfort. I used to hug him tight and just rock a bit for nap time for him to sleep (of course chanting the big boy mantra).Once your child forgets the first-day feed drop stop the next one. Ideally, it would take one weeks’ time for them to get used to each feed drop.

Ensure proper eating throughout the day

In ideal cases, a toddler needs to be fed 5 times a day, 3 proper meals and 2 snacks. One of the reasons for children waking up at night could be hunger. Having them full with properly timed meals during the day is an important step to eliminate night waking due to hunger. Do not force feed and have meals together so that kids can enjoy family time.

Reduce the duration of night feeds

While you are working on day feed drops, in parallel reduce the duration of night feeds. Again, one point to remember is toddlers nurse for comfort and not for hunger, especially during teething hence reduce the duration of feeds. E.g.: if you would normally nurse for 10 mins make it 8 and then 6 gradually. I know it’s easier said than done especially with a lot of cluster feedings happening now and then but it’s a gradual process and you need to diligently work towards it.

Night Weaning

As much as I love breastfeeding night feedings have been my least favorite part and night weaning dreaded me a lot. As soon as your toddler wakes up at night it’s a normal tendency for a nursing mom to quickly offer the breast and get back to sleep. Many times, children wake up due to various other reasons like burping, farting, just a need for comfort or a soaked diaper.

Once you decide to night wean, tackle one feed at a time, as soon as your little one wakes up, try to eliminate other reasons apart from feeding for getting up. Then offer milk in a sippy, if your child is getting up due to hunger, he or she would drink it, but in most toddler cases they look for comfort. Then talk to them the same mantra of weaning, in our case” the big boy theory” and try other comfort methods like rocking or patting. Toddlers are strong and would not give up but mom needs to be pre-prepared and not give in.

As per many traditional weaning suggestions, I did not believe in handling my child to someone else during night weaning. I felt it was the time when he needed me the most so I just cuddled him the entire night. First few nights were tough but we sailed through it and completely night weaned in a couple of days. There might be crying in first few days and that’s the language of a toddler to communicate his needs. Just love them more than ever. Love Love, love and repeat is the mantra to follow.

STEP 3 for Weaning from Breastfeeding: The Conclusion Stage

Be consistent

It is very hard for a toddler who has been breastfed his entire life to accept the fact that he is no longer being given his favorite source of comfort. Hence consistency is the key on the mom’s part. You cannot reject once and if your toddler starts crying just give up and offer. Try to communicate to them and they can really understand well. It’s a mom’s journey with her child, hence it is better only if the two are involved in the ending part of this beautiful and memorable journey.

Take it slow

Ending this beautiful breastfeeding journey is tougher on the mother’s part hence take it slowly and gradually so that you can enjoy it as much as possible. It is a big emotional process. Let your body get adapted to the change in demand/supply pattern and try home remedies for engorgement if needed. As the milk supply recedes your hormones will change a lot and bring a lot of mood swings, but accept the feelings and give it time. You and your toddler will soon overcome this phase and start accepting the new normal which would be as lovable too!

Cuddle time

The toddler should not feel that he is going to lose your love along with mama’s milk. Include a lot of cuddles and play time to make him feel loved and chosen throughout the day. He would soon realize that even though he is not getting mother milk, he is still getting all her love?

I wish every mom a great success in this beautiful journey of Motherhood.Do write to me if you have any specific questions on breastfeeding and I would be more than happy to help you:).

Happy Parenting!!

Looking for some ideas on keeping your toddler busy? Do check out some activity ideas here.

Also head over to my youtube channel to see some live action.

Cheers

Sri

3 Comments

  • professional hair stylish October 2, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout
    and design. Great choice of colors!

    Reply
  • Vakula September 5, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    This weaning method inspired me so much that I’d like to start it immediately. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  • Divya July 21, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Nice post SriVi. Made me nostalgic

    Reply

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