Our breastfeeding journey was an incredibly important thing to me and my family, but every journey must come to an end eventually. For our family, we decided to initiate that ending, and here are some things we learned along the way.
When we started thinking about weaning I sat down at my computer and tried to learn everything I could. I searched mom forums, asked friends and more. No one seemed to have advice for weaning a breastfed toddler: One that’s old enough to climb up in your lap and scream for more, but isn’t old enough to understand when you explain that it’s all done.
So we took what we could and blazed our own trail!
- Start plenty early! This is not something you want to rush. We gave ourselves about 6 months to reach our goal, and made small changes along the way so that it was never a big adjustment.
- On our journey we took breaks when something would happen: teething, sickness, etc. Sometimes that meant we had to take a whole month off but we kept up with the slow but steady pace. Eventually we got there and you will too!
- Introduce the sippy plenty early. This seemed to be the biggest learning curve with our son and I regret not starting him on one earlier. If your little one isn’t 1 yet then start with water, but if they can hold a cup it’s not too early for them to get used to it.
- We do cry it out, and that played a part in our weaning. We try to find a balance between gentle parenting and keeping our sanity, and through our weaning journey we did everything we could to try to keep that balance.
There are two parts to weaning a breastfed toddler. Day time and Night time.
We decided to tackle both at the same time, but a lot of people do prefer to start with night time for obvious reasons: More sleep!
On his own our son was waking up every 4 hours at night or so.
We started slowly stretching that out more and more each month. The first month I just stuck to those 4 hours, if he woke up earlier then he would cry himself back to sleep (which usually only took a minute or two).
The next month we bumped it up to 5 hours, then 6 and so on. This gave him a month to get used to the new routine and adjust to sleeping longer periods. About halfway through he started getting used to the changes faster, so we started adding an hour every 2 weeks, and towards the end he slept longer periods on his own.
Now he still wakes up once or twice a night but he goes back to sleep very quickly afterwards.
We kept our bedtime nursing session for most of the 6 months, until we realized that he was ready to go to bed without it. You can cut it off earlier if you’d like, but I felt comfortable with keeping that one as long as we needed to.
This one was harder than night-time weaning. During the night time he’d cry for a few minutes and go back to sleep, but during the day? Climbing up into my lap, yanking on my shirt and screaming in my face happened fairly frequently.
Distraction was the key to getting through those days.
Toys. Food. Sippy.
Once all of those were tried, if it wasn’t nap time yet and he was still throwing a fit I would give in. I wanted to wean him, but I didn’t want our family to fall into chaos while we were doing so.
I noticed that a lot of the time he was asking to nurse because he was hungry! Hunger had always meant nursing before this, and he was having trouble adjusting. Even now that he never nurses he’ll still act like he wants to nurse until I offer food and he realizes that’s what he really wants.
We kept a lot of snacks around the house during those times and offered them anytime he asked to nurse. He didn’t seem to understand that he could ask for something else now but it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it.
Otherwise I just tried to cut down the number of feedings per day. We went from him nursing whenever he’d like, to nursing 4-5 times a day, to 3, then 2 and so on. He always had access to a sippy of water or milk, and we made sure he knew it was there by offering it to him frequently.
Warning: There is such a thing as too much milk! We limited milk to meal times only after our little guy started having the nastiest dirty diapers and terrible diaper rash. So be careful! Water is perfectly fine for them.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to wean, they are valid! I ran into a bit of that struggle when we started weaning, a lot of people either acted like “It’s about time!” Or “You know it’s recommended that you breastfeed until they’re at least 2”.
Those people aren’t you. They aren’t in your family, and don’t know what’s going on. You know why it’s important to you and you’re doing the best you can for your family. If you struggle with mom guilt, take a look at the best parenting advice we’ve ever received. It’ll help you ignore that guilt.
Either way, weaning a breastfed toddler is a long but worthwhile adventure, and it’s a journey all on its own.
How is your weaning journey going? Any tips you’ve found handy?
Please feel free to share with any moms you know who might be struggling with this! Or, if your little one isn’t quite ready for this, bookmark or pin it for later!
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