So, you’ve decided to wean your toddler from breastfeeding for whatever reason. Your little one doesn’t see breastfeeding as an issue – for them, it’s their wonderful (and probably favourite) source of comfort – so when we remove it, it should be with kindness and respect. You will also want to take it slow, mumma, to avoid the risk of blocked ducts, mastitis, and painful breasts.
Before you continue here to read our tips on gently weaning a toddler from breastfeeding, please read ‘Weaning your toddler from breastfeeding: Timing and Preparation’. It’s important to clarify your ‘why’ for weaning, and to optimise your child’s sleep before you start the process.
Only start weaning when your child is well, and nothing big is going on in their life, such as a house move, the start of childcare, or a holiday.
How to gently wean a toddler from breastfeeding
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy as every breastfeeding journey, temperament and developmental stage of the child, and mother-child relationship, is unique. These are all just ideas, so see what resonates with your family’s values and lifestyle.
Ideally you would wean a toddler from breastfeeding with the support of a lactation consultant but if you’re ready to create a plan on your own, here are some suggestions:
Prepare your child for the process
- Tell them what’s about to happen, and chat about it often to prepare them. Toddlers understand a lot more than we realise. Other caregivers also need to communicate clearly with the child about the changes, such as ‘daddy is going to put you to bed tonight, so no mumma milk’, or ‘we’re going to cuddle and sing some songs at naptime today instead of boobie’.
- It might be a good time to try a floor bed for your toddler in either your room or theirs, as part of the process. Starting off bedtime by connecting and cuddling them in their own ‘big kid’s bed’ instead of feeding them to sleep may be a welcome replacement for breastfeeding, and/or for transitioning away from bed sharing in your room. Read more about floor beds here.
- Read picture books together about weaning, such as:
- Bye-bye Nah-Nahs: A Weaning Book by Rosamond Rice
- Mama’s Milk is All Gone by Ann P Vernon
- Loving Comfort: A Toddler Weaning Story by Julie Dillemuth
Set loving limits
- Get up before your child if they usually like a morning feed, so that you’re up and dressed and making breakfast before they wake.
- Start with dropping the feed your toddler is least interested in or is most convenient for you. This is when you could offer a drink (in a cup, not a bottle) of milk, water, a snack, or their comforter. Give them lots of cuddles and playtime during this dropped feed.
- Cut out another breastfeed after a few days or a week, depending on how comfortable your child is with this change. Go at their pace.
- Always offer solids before a breast, or only offer one breast at each feed before offering another drink.
- Have set times for feeds for now and let them know what they are and remind them. For example, you might only offer a feed before a nap and before bed for now.
- Discourage long feeds. You could offer a short feed if they’re struggling with the process, but then suggest something fun, like going to a park or for a walk, saying ‘it’s time to finish now, and go to the park’.
- You might like to use the approach, especially initially, ‘Never offer, never refuse’
For naptime and bedtime
These feeds are often the hardest to drop, particularly if your child relies on them to fall asleep or settle back to sleep in the night.
- If you have a partner, ensure that they’re involved in more and more elements of the bedtime routine each week if possible.
- Keep up all of your sleep cues, such as a sound, scent etc that you’ve made part of the bedtime routine above.
- Break the association between sleep and breastfeeding by increasing the time between a feed and bedtime. You might like to breastfeed in the living room rather than the bedroom for this.
- Gradually stop breastfeeding to sleep by doing whatever it takes to help them sleep with lots of support, nurture, and love.
- Introduce a new bedtime routine that places more emphasis on connection, bedtime stories, cuddles, a song etc and just a short feed to relax them if necessary.
- For night waking, offer a drink of water first, or comfort them in any way you can before offering a breastfeed.
- Alternatively, see if your partner can resettle them with a cuddle, rock, song, or a cup of water. Some toddlers will accept their other parent doing this, while others won’t, so don’t force it if it doesn’t happen yet.
- Gradually reduce the number and duration of feeds at a pace that suits you both.
How long will the weaning process take?
Depending on your child, it could take weeks or months before stopping breastfeeding completely.
If it seems to be taking too long, you’re getting frustrated, or your child is becoming distressed, it may not be the right time. You could give it a break of a few weeks, focussing on the preparation stage of optimising their sleep, and come back to it again slowly.
This transition can have a big impact on both you and your toddler and will take a little time to get used to the idea once they’ve weaned. You might have mixed emotions about it yourself, which is only natural. You may also find that your breasts take time to adjust, and they continue to make milk for some time.
There is plenty of support out there if you’re struggling or concerned at all. Talk to other mums about your feelings, speak to a lactation consultant, or phone the Australian Breastfeeding Association Helpline to discuss it with a counsellor.