When you first began your breastfeeding journey, you likely tried to set realistic expectations. In those early days, you may have just told yourself to focus on making it through one feed, day, or week of breastfeeding.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), around
Nevertheless, given the challenges and dedication that have gone into making it work, at some point, not everyone is still happy about breastfeeding — namely, you.
Sometimes breastfeeding can start to wear on your patience. You may begin to wonder whether you’ll ever feel ownership over your own body or get a night of uninterrupted sleep, or if your toddler will ever stop demanding milkies (or numnums, or nursies, or whatever name you’ve established).
Other times, once you’ve hit the 1-year, 18-month, or 24-month milestones, you start wondering how you can get your toddler to stop breastfeeding.
So is there a trick? What do you do when your stubborn toddler has ideas of their own? Keep reading for our best tips on how to wean a toddler.
Depending on your little one’s age, they may not be able to express their thoughts in complex sentences just yet, but they understand a lot.
Let them know that the end is near. Tell them how proud you are of how they’ve grown, what they’ve learned, and what they can do. Explain that as children grow, they no longer need to breastfeed. Emphasize all the great things that they can do and how exciting it is that they’re growing up.
Of course, not all toddlers are ready for this kind of talk. If these conversations about the future seem to elicit a negative reaction or anxiety, it’s OK to hold off on these discussions. Instead, keep the focus on the positive and wait until they’re a little older and you’re a little closer to things winding down before you talk about stopping breastfeeding.
Don’t feel like you need to rush this. Allow for time to adjust to the idea. Weaning works better — both for their emotional response and your health — when done gradually. While you may not be feeding as often as you once were, a slow decrease helps avoid engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis.
You may have a solid schedule of feeding times, or you may still be breastfeeding on demand and when your baby seeks comfort or soothing. Instead of automatically heading for the couch at your designated morning session, wait to see whether your toddler asks to breastfeed.
If they ask, go ahead, but if they’re more interested in playing with the cat or trying the new cereal you recently bought, go with it. You may find that your schedule decreases considerably simply by allowing new things to take the place of nursing sessions.
Often toddlers are busy throughout the day but like to get in a long breastfeeding session before naps and bedtime to relax. Again, talk to your toddler about what’s happening, and put a limit on how long these sessions will last.
To avoid any back and forth about when you’re done, set a timer. Perhaps that means breastfeeding for 15 minutes, reading a favorite book, then putting them to bed. After a week or two, decrease the time to 10 minutes, followed by a book and a song, then bed.
You can continue to slowly decrease the breastfeeding time, replacing it with other activities your toddler enjoys. Once they know they’ll still get that undivided attention from you, they’re more likely to let go of the feeds more easily.
If you’re as busy as most parents are, you’ve likely nursed in all sorts of interesting places. As you’re weaning, instead of taking the show on the road, start to limit where breastfeeding is available.
Maybe this means only at home for a while, followed by only in the bedroom. Toddlers with FOMO don’t like to know the world is happening out there without them, so they’re likely to respond with shorter feeds if they’re forced to stop what they’re doing and leave the action.
You can also limit the timing. This could mean telling your toddler that bedtime is for them, you, and breastfeeding. They’re welcome to feed before the lights go out, but once that happens, it’s not an option.
You’re likely to get some push back if overnight feedings have been part of their routine. If so, consider sending in your partner or a helper for night wakings so that breastfeeding isn’t an option.
As mentioned before, it’s important to replace the time spent together nursing with something that provides that special time for you and your little one. What this can look like depends on lots of things, such as the time of day, your toddler’s likes and dislikes, and more.
Consider swapping breastfeeding sessions for:
If you’re ready to transition from a crib to a bed or preparing for another pregnancy, it might seem like a good time to just knock it all out at once. However, toddlers thrive on routine, and too many changes at once can equal tears and tantrums.
If you’re going through other life changes or your toddler is sick, take some time to work through those changes before you begin weaning.
This one might be necessary for resistant or stubborn toddlers who aren’t particularly interested in explanations of why you’re cutting back on breastfeeding. How you handle this depends on your circumstances.
If your little one likes to nurse off and on all night, try putting on a sleep bra or extra layers of clothing before bed. When they wake, you can reassure them and rub their back, but let them know that your breasts aren’t available.
Some moms cover their nipples with large bandages and tell their children that they’re unable to nurse as a result — but count on your babe demanding some bandages of their own! Other moms rub vinegar onto their nipples so that the taste is unpleasant when an insistent toddler attempts to feed.
And sometimes you have to remove yourself from the equation. Encourage your partner to take over the bedtime routine, whether for a night or the foreseeable future. Go out of town or stay with a friend for a night.
Know that no specific time is the “right” time to wean your toddler.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests breastfeeding for “1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant” and the
Each breastfeeding pair has to find the path that works for their partnership. After all, that’s what breastfeeding is in many ways — a partnership. You and your baby have grown together, through latching difficulties, sleepless nights, and many quiet (and not-so-quiet) feeding sessions.
In some cases, breastfeeding comes to an end very naturally. As time goes by, your little one may begin showing less interest in breastfeeding as they’re busy exploring the world, and your feeding sessions may slowly begin to shorten and fade over time.
Taking a few steps as suggested above might ease the transition, allowing you both a peaceful end to this time.
However, in other cases, the end isn’t so simple.
Sometimes you’re both happy to keep breastfeeding, but other people in your life, such as your partner, parent, or friends, begin to make you feel like you should stop.
Feel free to remind them that extended breastfeeding is normal and natural. Remember that while they’re entitled to their opinion, you’re capable of making this decision for yourself.
Other times, extended breastfeeding starts to shift from a welcome connection to your little one to a daily struggle. Sometimes it reaches a point of feeling like you’re always on call and expected to show up with your breasts available, and it can start to feel like an imposition.
You may want to spend a night out with friends, have an undisturbed night of sleep, or simply feel fully in control of your own body again — and that’s OK. Feeling ready to wean your toddler doesn’t make you a bad parent.
When children are being particularly difficult, you’ll often hear others say that it’s just a phase. Indeed, many of the biggest joys and challenges of parenting are moments that feel long while you’re in the middle of them but are fleeting in the course of a lifetime.
This is also true for breastfeeding. It’s a phase that’s not meant to last forever, and it’s normal and healthy to decide — at a time that feels right to you — that you’re ready for it to end.
It might be a struggle, and you might face some tears (both your and your little one’s). But take heart that you’ve done something amazing together, and these challenges reflect that. It’s difficult when beautiful things come to an end, but there’s other beauty ahead for you and your toddler, too.