How to Wean a Toddler (What Worked for Us)
I nursed my baby until she was almost 2 years old. [Pauses. Awaits judgment.] And it turns out weaning a toddler is way different from weaning a baby.
The good thing about extended breastfeeding is that, when you get into a routine, it can be easier than bottle feeding. See: No warming of bottles in the middle of the night; no having to buy formula; easy to comfort the baby back to sleep.
But the downsides, at least for me? It was difficult for anyone else to comfort her in the middle of the night, because she was so used to me. And then there’s the weaning.
For comparison, I nursed my son, for 16 months, and our first daughter for 13 months. When I decided to wean them, it was fairly painless because they were still babies. I substituted a bottle for the boob, and that was that.
But an older child means a more aware child, which in turn means she knows exactly what you’re doing when you try to start the weaning process.
You know the disgust that the now-infamous Nursing Mom Time cover got? I felt a sliver of that disgust from others when people would see me nursing my toddler. It was… uncomfortable. But that’s another story… I wanted to nurse, and so I did.
Since I’ve been pretty public about being an extended nurser, I’ve gotten some questions on my social about how I weaned. So here are some helpful tips.
Something to keep in mind, and this always bears repeating for topics dealing with kids and babies. Each child is different, so what works for one might not work for another.
That being said, there are some tips that any extended breastfeeding mom can take away from this to help her wean her toddler that can at least get you started. Let’s go!
How to Wean a Toddler
Make Sure You’re Really Ready
This sounds obvious, but it bears mentioning because I tried halfheartedly to wean several times before I actually did, and failed each of those times because I wasn’t truly ready.
Don’t let society dictate how long you “should” nurse your baby. If you and your baby/toddler are in a good rhythm and you want to continue, F ’em all and do it. You do you, mama.
They say about this time in life that “the days are long but the years are short,” and man, that’s true. Time flies. So if nursing is working for you and your babe and you’re both not ready to quit, then don’t.
I finally had to wean because I would be spending four days away from my daughter, and the pump no longer worked on me, so that means I would have had exploding boobs. I really had to do it, and I had to do it relatively quickly (about four weeks).
Cut Down Feeds One at a Time
I’m mentioning this first, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you do chronologically.
Cut out one feed per day. By that, I mean, eliminate one nursing session. This can be the one you do at wake-up, naptime, or bedtime.
After you cut it out, give about two weeks for the baby to get used to her new schedule. After that, you can cut out another feed, and so on.
Here’s What I Did:
I eliminated the bedtime feed first. Usually moms will get rid of the naptime feed first, but naptime was a harder routine for us to break because I had to get her down for nap with the other kids around, which meant I needed her to go down quickly. That’s why I saved that one as the last one to eliminate.
So I chose to start by eliminating the bedtime feed. My husband was downstairs with the big kids while we were upstairs, so I had all the time I needed to soothe her when she was inevitably upset about not getting to nurse.
Here’s the thing: No matter what nursing session you cut out first, chances are your baby won’t like it. Just prepare for some crying.
That being said, if your toddler will take a sippy cup, do that! You can also try to introduce a pacifier, a lovey, or something else that might soothe him.
For us, nothing worked to soothe her except the boob. So I ended up just having to hold her and calm her as she cried, pounding on my chest, asking for milk. It was mildly (actually majorly) heartbreaking. But I just held her, rocked her, and loved up on her; and after about a week, she finally adjusted.
Sip Some Tea
It turns out, there are special blends of herbal teas that are made to help cut down your milk production.
You can start this right away, right along with the cutting down of feeds, or do this first.
Just make sure to drink at least 2-3 cups per day. It works much better if you drink a decent amount of it.
Try Some Cabbage
An old wive’s tale says that placing cabbage on your breasts will also help you cut down your supply. I did this, and while I can’t say it helped a ton (it’s hard to measure), it can’t hurt to do in combination with the tea.
Activate Your Partner’s Help
This step made the biggest difference.
Nursing toddlers are used to being only with mom during nighttime wakeups. So when you’re weaning, ask your partner to go in if she wakes up in the middle of the night.
Eventually, she’ll realize that it’s your partner that’s showing up and not you, and partner = no boobs, which means weaning can happen that much quicker.
Again, not gonna lie, it’s hard to hear your little one cry for you and not be the one to respond (especially for me, because I never practiced the “cry it out” methods), but your partner will be able to love up your little one, and trust me, your little one will be just fine.
After about four weeks of implementing these tactics one at a time, we finally weaned.
I’m sad to see those sweet, cuddly nursing days be gone, but I’m also so excited to witness this little one turn into the firecracker she was born to be.
Onto the next chapter. For all the amazing things that we got to experience together, there are just as many more ahead.