Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding: Timing and preparation

The benefits of continuing to breastfeed a child beyond their first birthday, or what’s known in Western cultures as ‘extended’ breastfeeding, are widely recognised. The list of benefits include nourishment, comfort, protection from illness, emotional co-regulation, and a convenient and reliable means of getting a toddler to sleep.

For these reasons (and more!) The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.

Unfortunately, public perceptions of breastfeeding toddlers haven’t necessarily caught up with the advice from reputable medical organisations in Australia. In a society that views breasts as sexual objects, women will face obstacles, particularly when it comes to feeding in public.

Why consider weaning a toddler from breastfeeding?

It’s important to have a good think about the reason for weaning a toddler from breastfeeding. For instance:

  • Is it pressure from family or friends?
  • Has a health professional suggested it?
  • Has a sleep consultant told you that your baby will sleep better once you stop breastfeeding?
  • Is it because you’re exhausted from life in general?
  • Is it because you’re going back to work?
  • Is it because you’re trying to get pregnant?
  • Have you just had another baby?

If any of the above reasons are influencing the decision, here are a few things to know that will hopefully address each point:

If you’re feeling outside pressure from anyone at all, ignore it. The only person who can make this decision is you, so carry on if it’s working for both you and your toddler.

With regards to their sleep, there are no guarantees that weaning will help to improve it. For some families, it does help to reduce night waking. For others they’ve lost the one consistently reliable tool to soothe their little one back to sleep.

This brings us to the point about you being exhausted. Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding gently and respectfully takes a lot of work and patience, whereas feeding your child back to sleep is usually quick and easy. It’s best to address your own wellbeing first. Can you get more help? Can you take a night off here and there? Can you drop something or outsource some tasks?

If any big changes are coming up, such as the start of childcare and your return to work, it might make the experience a lot more distressing for the whole family if you don’t have breastfeeding as a comforting tool.

If you’re trying to get pregnant or just welcomed a new baby into the family, it’s possible to do both whilst still breastfeeding your toddler. It’s also a lovely source of comfort for them during this stage when their life is undergoing a huge shift. Read our articles Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding? and Tandem Breastfeeding – Pregnant or Newborn.

If you’re ready to proceed with weaning your toddler

If you have no doubts in your mind about your decision, then you’re ready to proceed. You’ve breastfed for this long, so well done, mumma! What you’ve done is a beautiful thing for your child.

You can obviously choose to let your child wean on their own. However, the minimum predicted age for natural weaning is 2.5 to 7 years, according to anthropological research. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can use the following gentle steps as a guide.

Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding shouldn’t involve any form of sleep training or leaving a toddler to cry. It’s also a slow, gradual process that will take several weeks. Before you even get started with the weaning process, you will need to optimise the foundations of your child’s sleep, and that includes:

  1. The amount and timing of naps for your individual child. Are they meeting their daytime sleep needs? Read When to transition from two naps to one if your toddler still has two naps.
  2. Optimal sleep environment conditions that are conducive to sleep. Having a good, consistent bedtime routine with time to connect and wind-down. Read our steps to a calmer toddler bedtime.
  3. Incorporating additional sleepy cues into your child’s bedtime that will replace breastfeeding at night.
  4. Ensure that their diet is nutrient rich with foods that are beneficial for sleep
  5. Introduce a comforter, if you haven’t already. This one is important. It will take at least 4 weeks for an object (soft toy, blanket, muslin square etc) to become something that your child attaches to and will replace breastfeeding for soothing with. The idea is for them to associate it with you, and this includes:
  • Use it in your daily activities with them
  • Snuggle it between you during most feeds, particularly for naps and bedtime feeds
  • Show the object lots of love yourself
  • Use it during play and cuddles
  • Resist washing it for now as the idea is to get your scent on it, and always have a backup or two!

When to start weaning

Only once all of the above is optimised and consistent can you actually start to wean. To do so any earlier probably means that it won’t be successful, or it will be distressing for everyone involved.

If you’re ready to start, go ahead and read ‘How to gently wean a toddler from breastfeeding’.


If you’d like some support to optimise your toddler’s sleep, please contact our resident holistic sleep expert, Kara Wilson, for a free initial consultation. 

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