In this post about how to wean a toddler, I share the tips I’ve learned from weaning my three children at 22 months, 21 months and 18 months. I weaned my youngest literally two weeks ago, so I thought I would write while the experience was fresh in my mind.
How to Wean a Toddler Gently
Weaning is a very bittersweet time for me. Honestly, it makes me sad. I don’t like to dwell on it too much, because I’ll become a blubbery mess. I’ll miss the snuggles, and the way nursing was the magical cure for everything. I’ll especially miss the nutritional aspect of it – I always knew she was getting exactly what she needed.
Despite my sadness, weaning was absolutely the right decision for us each time I weaned. I was ready to have my body back, ready for more independence – for both of us. And honestly? Her latch was subpar towards the end and it hurt. SO. OVER. IT.
Before making a plan on how to wean your toddler, make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Make sure that the decision is being made because it will be best for you and/or your child and not because of some random external pressure from breastphobic family members, for example.
If made for the right reasons, you won’t regret it once you wean your toddler.
Why to Wean a Toddler Gently
So you may be wondering, why is it important to know how to wean a toddler gently? In my experience weaning gently
- is considerate of both parties habits, feelings, nutritional needs, etc.
- is less likely to be traumatic for mom or baby
- does not strain the parent child relationship
- does not leave mom with painful, engorged breasts (that could lead to mastitis… or holiday mastitis… ever heard of that?)
- is less likely to cause a huge and dramatic shift in mother’s hormones
Weaning is a huge deal! When making big life changes, if possible, to do it gently and slowly.
The first thing to do, when gently weaning a toddler, is to observe the nursing habits as they are, without changing a thing.
- What is your favorite thing about nursing your toddler?
- What makes your toes curl?
- What’s going on during the day time?
- How about the night time?
- How long or short are the nursing sessions?
- What is working and not working?
Create a Time Frame
After observing what’s happening, the next step is to create a time frame.
When do you want to complete the weaning process? Start looking ahead on your calendar and ponder questions like…
- Is there an out of town wedding you’d like to attend?
- Would you like to wean before becoming pregnant again?
- Is there a medication you need to start taking that can’t be taken while breastfeeding?
- Would you like to take a mini-vacation away from the kiddo(s) for the weekend?
When creating a weaning timeline, be generous. Take your time! I usually gave myself six months to complete a slow, gentle weaning process (although sometimes it went much quicker).
I always assumed that if I weaned very slowly, my child wouldn’t notice what was happening and would be less upset. (Didn’t give my kids enough credit… they did great whether it took two months or six!)
I’ll admit it, toddlers are intimidating. When they want “milkies” and weaning is underway, it’s best to have a strategy in mind so you won’t become a casualty.
The first thing to do is pick which nursing sessions to eliminate first. When I begin to wean they’re typically not sleeping through the night, because that’s how we roll. At that point, however, I usually am desperate to get a good night’s sleep and decide to night wean first.
Some women, on the other hand, have angel children that sleep at night and choose to eliminate a day time nursing session first.
Eliminate the toughest nursing sessions last. For us, those were right before bedtime and nap. Nursing was how Mercy wound down and fell asleep. Taking those nursing sessions away seemed like the would be the most intense. (Again, I was wrong. Mercy rocked it!)
Many mamas found the strategy “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to be helpful. If your toddler doesn’t ask, don’t offer to nurse. However, if they ask, nurse them.
TIP: It helps if you never sit down. Sitting down means “let’s nurse” to a toddler. A positive of this is that you could potentially get a lot crossed off your to do list. 😉
I found more success with the “don’t offer, try to distract, sometimes refuse, and sometimes don’t” strategy.
- I never offered to nurse.
- If Mercy asked to nurse, I would give her a water or a snack instead. Or sometimes reading a book, snuggling or going for a walk distracted her. And sometimes she needed a nap!
- Sometimes I said no.
- And sometimes I said yes.
I found this strategy helpful because it was flexible to both my and Mercy’s needs.
Shortening each nursing session to shorter and shorter times is another strategy when considering how to wean a toddler gently. At 12 months, maybe each nursing session is 20 minutes. Using this strategy, maybe this looks like decreasing each nursing session to only five minutes by 18 months. And then, decrease it by even more time as you get closer to your weaning date.
A sweet friend of mine, that’s also a lactation consultant, suggested this darling strategy. Each time you nurse, sing a song, and when the song is over the nursing session is over. As nursing sessions need to get shorter, sing the song faster. Isn’t she brilliant?!
Getting assistance from a friend or family member can be incredibly helpful when weaning a toddler. Every time I’ve weaned a child, my husband has been involved and made the process much easier on me.
For us, night weaning has always required the assistance of my husband. (If left to their own devices, I think all my kids would still be nursing all night long till college and beyond. I mean, can you blame them? Who wouldn’t want to drink a sweet beverage throughout the night?! I kid.)
Basically, I removed myself from night parenting for a period of time and instead, my husband would hold, rock, sush, sing, snuggle, etc. Eventually, all three of my children decided that waking at night wasn’t worth it and started sleeping through the night. (This is where being a doula came in handy. Bye, bye family! Off to a birth! I don’t know when I’ll be back! lol!)
Another time, when I was [ this ] close to weaning Gabriel, I took a trip for a week and left him with my mom. It was a work trip that needed to happen and it was about a month before he turned two. Months prior, knowing this trip was going to happen, I started the weaning process so that when this trip happened it wouldn’t be traumatic for him.
(I remember nursing him for the last time, not knowing for sure that it would be my last time. It was early in the morning, before I left for the airport. I’m glad I have that memory. Make sure you all take pictures! You never really know when your last nursing session will be. So, so bittersweet.)
When I got home, he did ask to nurse just once. We both smiled at each other and giggled and were just fine not nursing.
Have I mentioned how bittersweet this process is?
The point here is that if possible, recruit family or friends to make the process easier on you.
Seize the Opportunity
Throughout this gentle process you will have observed, created a plan, strategized and recruited help. You will have done all the things, and will begin to see progress towards your goal. This is huge! Good job!
At some point, you will see an opportunity to “just do it” and my advice to you is to take it, assuming the timing is right, etc. For example, the work trip was my opportunity to finish weaning my son. With my second child, getting a positive pregnancy test, was my opportunity. With my third, the opportunity presented itself when she was away from me for 24 hours and I didn’t feel the need to pump.
I took the leap, and went for it. And it worked!
If you see an opportunity, be brave, take the leap, and go for it! Your toddler will do better than you think!
The next, and maybe the most critical step on how to wean a toddler gently is to celebrate this new season of life. Celebrating with your toddler, will create a paradigm shift that is incredibly healing and helpful for moving forward.
My favorite way of celebrating our accomplishment is this: Every time my sweet toddler asked to nurse (by making the “milk sign” and looking up at me with her sweet, innocent eyes… of course) was to high five my newly weaned child and say, “You drank all the milkies up! Good job!”.
Both of us couldn’t help but smile at each other.
Knowing how to wean a toddler can be only half the battle. The shift in hormones that happens after weaning can be intense. And according to my friend Carolyn, a lactation counselor, “weaning depression” is a real thing.
“This is the time to tap into those self-care techniques. Take a nap. Enjoy a bubble bath. Spend time with friends. Enjoy time alone. Watch TV that makes you laugh. Eat food that makes you smile. Spend time on a hobby. Drink water. Take time to love yourself. The hormones will eventually level out and you will find a new normal.”
“Also, less nursing also sometimes means less cuddle time, which is less oxytocin (the love hormone) from less skin to skin contact. Other kinds of skin to skin contact can help boost oxytocin levels. Back rubs or foot rubs, cuddling on the couch, petting a cat or dog and doing someone’s hair or having your hair done.”
Just Remember… Here’s How to Wean a Toddler Gently
- Create a Time Frame
- Recruit Help
- Seize the Opportunity
- Self Care
Share your Tips
Please leave a comment and share your tips on how to wean a toddler gently. Thank you so much!
PS – Where are my boobs?
Just an aside… my boobs have gone on a permanent vacation. I think they’re smaller than when I began my motherhood journey. RIP full, voluptuous milk boobs.