I’ve been meaning to write down some information and ideas on this topic for a while, and a recent post in our online community group brought it to the front of my mind, so here goes!
There might be lots of reasons why we are thinking of weaning or are ready to wean our toddler* from breastfeeding. We might want to wean them just from their night feeds or we might be ready to wean completely. It can be helpful to think through all your options logically so that you can figure out what you would like to do.
[*Toddler = aged 1-3 years]
(If you’re not thinking about weaning yet, then another of my blog posts might be of interest.)
Reasons A Toddler Might Ask For A Breastfeed
Hunger – from a toddler's point-of-view, breastfeeding means waaaay more than just food. However, it is still worth checking that they are getting plenty of nutritious meals and snacks and enough hydration from drinks, so that hunger (or thirst) isn’t a reason they are seeking extra breastfeeds.
Connection/Attachment – attachment is the deep emotional bond between a child and the person who provides most of their care. Feeding our baby is a part of the attachment relationship and can form a significant amount of the connection time we have together. (Think about how many breastfeeds babies/toddlers have each day!) Many mums find that a toddler will ask for a breastfeed if they are seeking more connection time with us or needing more attention from us.
Tiredness – is a feed linked to their level of tiredness? Is a feed linked to their wind-down routine for a nap/sleep? If feeding before a sleep or feeding to sleep is working for you then there’s no need to change a thing. However, if your child is used to having a breastfeed at these times, and you would like to wean them, then they will need a different way to be supported as they fall asleep.
Need some gentle sleep strategies during weaning? Book a consultation with me.
Overwhelmed/Need A Reset (Regulation) – being a toddler is hard, especially when there are lots of activities to take part in and new places to visit. Being on mum’s lap and having a breastfeed can provide a child with a safe, secure place to take a break and reset themselves. (You will likely find as your child grows that simply being on your lap - without a feed - is enough to provide them with the safe haven they are seeking.)
Just Because – yes, sometimes toddlers ask for a breastfeed just because they can. And that’s okay (but can get slightly annoying after the four-millionth time…)
Weaning Ideas For Toddlers Never offer, never refuse – this is a tried and tested way for a child over the age of one year to find their natural pattern of breastfeeding. It means never offering a breastfeed, but instead letting them come to you for a breastfeed and always giving it to them when they do so. This means the child has all of their feeding needs met, and this in turn will often lead to a quicker weaning process in their own time or once a few more strategies are implemented.
Connection/Attention - when we are weaning we need to build in the time to give our child extra connection/attention and cuddles to offset the breastfeeds that they will no longer have. By giving our toddler MORE connection/attention (and in varied ways) we might find that they will be less likely to ask for a breastfeed.
Is your toddler waking at night again since you returned to work? They might be seeking connection with you because they missed you during the day. Giving them more undivided attention at the end of the day, and especially in the last hour before their bedtime, may help them to sleep more soundly. You could try longer cuddles and reading a book with them before they go to sleep. Need more help with this? Book a consultation with me.
Talk to them about weaning – with a toddler over 18 months old it is helpful to talk to them about weaning and get them used to the idea that everyone stops breastfeeding one day. There are books for toddlers that can help with this. You can explain the boundaries you are putting in place (like not breastfeeding when you are out or not breastfeeding at night) and when this will happen. This helps toddlers understand the changes. (A younger toddler (12-18 months) may not be able to understand this concept yet.)
Change your routine – if breastfeeds often happen when you get home from day care or an activity, then try staying out longer or taking a longer drive home. If breastfeeding happens more in a particular area of your house, then distract your child with activities elsewhere. If your toddler breastfeeds first thing in the morning, then getting up before them and going straight to breakfast can help change this routine. Some mums find that breastfeeds happen more if they sit down to rest – in which case, in the short term, standing up and moving around can delay or postpone a breastfeed until later! Many mums find that wearing clothes that don’t allow a toddler to access the breast (like a dress with a higher neckline) can help with the weaning process.
Distract/Substitute – try to anticipate when breastfeeds might happen and see if you can distract your child with a fun activity or a snack. The activity or substitute will often work best if it includes connection/attention (see above). You could say something like “You can have a feed later. Just now let’s go outside and have a drink and snack together. What snack would you like to share with me?”
Delay – delay a feed, at first by a small amount. You could say something like “I’m just finishing hanging this washing, then we can have a feed.” Follow this up with “Wait right there and then we’ll do it.” At first only delay by a minute or so, and then slowly push out the time that they wait.
Time Limit – if you child is resisting the Distract/Substitute/Delay ideas then you can choose to give your child a feed, but limit it by telling them it is “only to the count of 10” or until the end of a song you are singing. Then count to 10 or sing the song (as quickly or as slowly as you like) and finish the feed by moving on to another activity with your child. It is a good idea to start this process at the day feeds, before trying it at night-time.
Night Weaning – yes, it is possible to wean from breastfeeds overnight and keep your daytime breastfeeds. There are lots of gentle ways to do this, including using all of the techniques mentioned above. Need more help with this? Book a consultation with me.
Weaning can be an emotional time for both mum and child, and knowing how weaning might make us feel can help us be prepared. La Leche League GB has a great article about this or come along to Mum & Bub Morning to have a chat with me.
There are lots of other ideas for weaning your toddler, and what you choose will depend on what you feel will work best for you and your toddler. I would love to help support you through the weaning process so please get in touch. Shona x