Weaning a nursing toddler

Nursing can be a beautiful bonding experience, and if you’ve made it all the way to toddlerhood, breastfeeding has now been a part of your routine for quite some time – a lifetime for Baby! If nursing is starting to feel like it doesn’t fit into your family’s lives as well as it once did, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to wean your toddler before she might stop organically. The reason for weaning depends on the family, whether you’re pregnant, returning to work, or are simply physically and emotionally ready to end your breastfeeding journey. Whatever the reason, making the decision to wean can be emotional for both parent and child. Some parents feel that having a distinct, last day of nursing, and then stopping entirely, will work best for their family, but many others find that weaning more gradually works better for them.

Weaning with less fuss

  • Cut back slowly: If Baby is still nursing multiple times a day, going cold turkey will be especially difficult for her. Gradually eliminating sessions over a period of time can give her a chance to get used to the idea of getting more of her nutrition from other sources. Typically, toddlers get accustomed to a nursing schedule, so offering a distraction during that time of day instead may be helpful, or just a tasty snack or meal of a different kind.
  • Don’t offer the breast: Asking her if she would like to nurse may result in a resounding yes, but without prompting, you may be surprised by how true “out of sight, out of mind” can be. Instead of offering, wait until Baby comes to you for a while.
  • Shorten sessions: Limit the time of each nursing session by taking your little one off the breast after a predetermined time, and then moving on to another activity, or offering something else for her to eat.
  • Consider sleeping arrangements: If Baby sleeps in your room, or even in your bed, you may still be offering nighttime feedings. Toddlers do not have the same need as newborns and infants to nurse during the night, so if you’re ready to start winding down on nursing, it may be time to consider a new sleeping arrangement if your toddler is still rolling over and looking to comfort nurse back to sleep.
  • Enlist some help: At this stage, your toddler is likely used to nursing before bed, upon waking in the morning, and so forth. Work toward ending the cycle by asking your partner, or another family member, to help out with some of these routines whenever possible. Having someone else take on the task will help break the connection she has made between certain times of day and nursing.

As with any transition, weaning can be challenging, especially since it’s often a source of comfort for babies and toddlers. Still, the breastfeeding relationship is only successful if both people involved feel comfortable doing it, so it’s important to take your own feelings into account as well. Again, many families find that the best and easiest way to wean is to do so gradually; if your toddler seems to be having trouble with weaning, it may be moving too quickly for her. Set aside special time to snuggle, read, and be close to her so she doesn’t feel like weaning means losing her connection to you. Weaning can be emotional for both sides, but following these steps will be gentle and effective. Kudos for making it this far!

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