How Do I Wean My Toddler?

I was six months pregnant when I decided to wean my fifteen-month old. I knew the time was coming. Nursing was going wonderfully, and I loved it, but even so nursing two at a time sounded like too much for me!  Suddenly at six months pregnant, nursing started to cause me intense contractions. In a moment my intentions for a slow, gradual weaning went out the window, and I found myself weaning a toddler as fast as possible. So, for all of you moms asking the question “How do I wean my toddler?”, here is what worked for me.  Take heart, especially those of you who are first-time moms — weaning a toddler won’t be as bad as you think! If I had know this I would have been much less emotional about weaning!

    1. Eliminate One Nursing Session at a Time Beginning with the Least Favorite
      Rank your baby’s nursing sessions in order starting with the one they are most emotionally attached to, often right before bed, and ending with the one that can be given up most easily. Next, eliminate the least favorite or important session.

      • The First Key to making weaning go smoothly is to avoid having to say no to requests for nursing as much as possible, so use distraction to your advantage! With my son, I would come to get him up from nap, and immediately sing him a funny song, and take him outside to help him forget about wanting to nurse.
      • The Second Key is to be calm and confident about the weaning process with your toddler. Come up with a simple phrase to answer with when the the request for nursing does come. I used, “All-Done Nursey.” When my son did remember he used to nurse after nap, I would use the code phrase, and then jump right back to distraction.  
      • The Third Key is to offer your baby a sippy cup or bottle instead of your breast right away during that window when he would have gotten some nursing in. One of our moms, Aimee, learned to do this when she had to cut her 16 month-old off nearly overnight due to powerful contractions at 7 months pregnant. In addition to offering a substitute, she was careful to keep baby away from her breast during that window when she normally would have been breastfeeding. Babies can smell that milk!

       

    2. Introduce a New Comfort Routine Before The Remaining One or Two Favorite Nursing Sessions
      My son’s favorite two sessions were right before nap and right before bedtime. He needed those times of closeness and emotional comfort replaced with something, so before reducing the time of these nursing sessions, I added a new routine before nursing that consisted of walking him around the room while I cuddled him. We sang songs and I showed him how to lay his head down on my shoulder. This was a sweet time of togetherness for us.

 

    1. Start Gradually Reducing the Length of the Sessions
      At first I cut these last two sessions down from twenty minutes to ten minutes. In three days I reduced to eight minutes; then, three days later to six minutes. Within two weeks those last two nursing sessions before nap and bedtime were down to two minutes each. To end each nursing session, I would use the same code phrase, “All-done nursey.” It is quite important to continue to use the code phrase with your baby. This is you training him that this is all very normal and it is something that is good and right. He will feel comforted by this, and you are leading him gently along. Remember, babies are people — whenever you are changing something up in your routine it is really important to talk things over with them and communicate what is happening. It will make a big difference! One of our contributors, Aimee, is a big proponent of this.  Her oldest was a “slow to warm” personality and from the beginning this baby needed a running commentary on life in order to really thrive when transition occurred. Some children will need it more than others, but regularly using a code phrase to cue in your baby will certainly aid in a smooth transition. As a side note, IF you talk your babies through all the things you are doing with them, they might be verbal far sooner than other babies. We have seen this demonstrated over and again. But that is a post for another day!

 

    1. Set a Date for the Last Nursing Session and Get Yourself Mentally Ready
      Have your nostalgic nursing moment or in my case a good cry a day or two before the final nursing session. I took a nursing session to really emotionally celebrate the season of nursing we had enjoyed together and intentionally look forward to the next season. You may want to take a video or a few pictures to keep the memory.  Once you’re emotionally ready, you can be calm and confident for your toddler as he makes the transition.

 

    1. Eliminate the Last Nursing Session
      I eliminated the nursing session before nap by choosing several days when we’d be in the car right before nap. Sure enough, he fell asleep in the car those days. I transferred him from car seat to crib when we got home, and by the time our schedule went back to normal, he had mostly forgotten he used to nurse before nap. On his first time to bed at night without nursing, I woke him up early from nap and waited at night until I knew he was really tired. Then, we went slowly through our new bedtime routine until he was almost asleep on my shoulder. I laid him down in his crib, and left calmly. He cried a tiny bit, but he took it way more naturally than I hoped! Toddlers really do understand so much more than we give them credit for! Neeley has found with her toddlers that if she waits to eliminate the last one or two nursing sessions till either company will be visiting for a few days or she and the kids are out of town for a few days, the distraction factor is so high they forget to ask to nurse for a few days. Eventually when they remember to ask, you just reply with your code phrase and use a favorite snack as distraction.

 

  1. Avoid Nursing Cues for Several Weeks
    Especially for the first week after weaning, expect to see some changes in behavior. My son was a little whiny and cranky. Keep your toddler busy with fun distractions and avoid favorite nursing places/positions (rocking chairs, Mommy’s bed, cradling close to the breast). When nursing is requested use the code phrase you’ve been working on together, and then go right back to distraction! It can be really helpful if there is someone else around a lot for that first week or so who can help distract as well. One of our Mommy Medicine moms, Megan, discovered that having Dad or another family member take over bedtime for a while can be very helpful in establishing the new bedtime routine. Mom can even spend a night or two away, if possible, to jump start the new normal. Finally, depending on how fast the weaning process was, it might be necessary for mom to express some breast milk for a few days to avoid engorgement. Express just enough to be comfortable and soon your body will recognize it no longer needs to continue producing milk.

We hope these tips help you with weaning your little one! Reach out to us at http://www.mommymedicine.com/contact-us/ if you have any Mommy Questions that you’d like us to answer in our next blog!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/20/2018) Juhan Sonin (Flickr)

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