How Do You Wean Your Toddler From Breastfeeding?

by Julie Snyder

Weaning ToddlerExtended breastfeeding benefits both mom and baby. We see a positive trend with moms, even celebrity moms, nursing into toddlerhood.

Even TIME magazine's controversial cover put the topic in the spotlight.

Eventually, there will come a time when you or your baby will be ready to cut back and end the nursing relationship. It's part of the natural breastfeeding experience and doesn't have to be packed with unhappiness for you or your baby.

The word "wean" means moving from one relationship to another. It doesn't mean you've lost anything.

Weaning begins the first time your baby tries a food besides your breast milk. Through the months, you replace breast milk with other food and other ways of nurturing.

Baby-Lead Weaning

Kids are ready to wean at different ages. Your friend's baby might be ready or at least willing to give up the breast at 18 months. Your sister's baby moved on at a year. Another toddler might not be ready until closer to 2, 3 or 4 years old.

If you chose to nurse your baby into toddlerhood, breast milk's benefits keep adding up. Your child continues to receive antibodies and the same nutrients.

Mom-Lead Weaning

Do you need to wean your toddler? You might be heading back to work or trying to conceive. Maybe your doctor prescribed a medicine that's not approved for breastfeeding moms. You could be ready and hoping to encourage your baby to follow along.

Tear-Free Weaning Tips

You can make the transition from breast to cuddles without guilt or tears. If you've run into typical toddler stubbornness or weaning seems to have bogged down, try one or more of these tips.

Make sure your toddler can drink from a cup. If your baby prefers watching the liquid drip out to actually drinking it, one of these tricks could help:

  • Mix pumped breast milk with cow, coconut, rice or almond milk for a more familiar taste.
  • Try different cups. Let your baby pick it out.
  • Pretend it's your cup. If you drink from it, baby's sure to want a share.
  • Color the milk. If it's orange, it has to be good, right?
  • Have something dry to eat, like toast, then offer milk.
  • Change the temperature. Some babies like cold milk; some love warm milk.

Look at your toddler's nursing pattern. When does your child ask to nurse? Has a specific chair become a nursing trigger? Sit somewhere else and change your routine.

Don't offer nursing. When your toddler asks, try distraction first. Say something like, "Let's get a snack first," or "I wonder if we have mail?" If your toddler really wants to nurse, you'll know!

Switch out fashions. Put away your familiar nursing tops. Get out some pre-pregnancy clothes. If your daughter is adept at helping herself when you're in your convenient V-neck shirt, seeing you in a different style might suggest gardening or playing with dough, instead of nursing. It's worth a try.

Keep busy. Head for the playground or a play date or even into the kitchen for some fun with food. Toddlers forget about nursing when they're busy.

Set limits. With an older toddler, you can begin setting limits. You might say, "You can nurse when we get home, not at the store."

Shorten and cut out nursing sessions. When you're nursing less, your body responds by producing less. Your toddler may be less interested with less milk available. Substitute a snack, an activity or a cuddle for one or more sessions. Keep the special ones, like first thing in the morning and nursing before bed for last.

Add plenty of cuddles and attention. Replace nursing sessions with plenty of love. Soon your toddler who was nursing 12 times a day will start moving forward to new behaviors and development.

Moms Talk About Weaning

What are moms feeling and thinking? See what our members are saying!

"I do have to say that weaning was very bittersweet. It's a bit harder to parent when I can't just offer a boob to fix things," Melissa shares.

"Ending nap time nursing was hardest for me. My toddler loves pretending, so I suggested that we 'pretend nurse.' He thought that would be great fun. The first day he tossed and turned, but the second day he fell asleep!" Manda says.

Brenda says, "I'm weaning my 15-month-old because I have to go back to work. I love nursing as much as she does and I'm sure it'll be harder on me to quit than it will be on her."

"My almost three-year-old son was down to nursing three times a day and not willing to give up any of those. I put lemon juice on my nipples at night. When he tasted it, he made a face, turned over and went to sleep," Janine says.

Have you weaned a toddler or are you trying right now? Share what's working for you and what's not.

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.