How can I gently wean my breastfeeding toddler?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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My son will be three years old in March and is still breastfeeding.

He is VERY persistent, and I'm having trouble weaning him.

The advice from family and friends (who think I should have cut him off a long time ago) and from the pediatrician is to make him quit cold turkey.

I fear that he might perceive it as abandonment if I forced him to suddenly stop something he loves so much, but I have no other ideas about what to do.

Does anyone have any experience weaning a [very demanding] toddler in a nurturing way?

Jess

Extended nursing mamas: how did you wean your toddler?

  1. My daughter was a few months past two when I began weaning her and was also pretty attached to the idea. Are you nursing him at naptimes or bedtime? We co-sleep and she had always just nursed herself to sleep, so that's where we started. I began with simply laying down with her and comforting her in other ways at bedtime but allowing her to nurse during the day if she wanted to. It took almost a week for her to be fully comfortable falling asleep without breastfeeding, but once she was okay with that she had less interest in nursing during the day. It worked for us. I wish you and your little one luck!

  2. I have been gradually weaning my daughter. We started out by cutting out day nursing, so only a nurse before bed… not to sleep, and a nurse when she woke up. Then we cut out the nurse before bed and we just have the nurse when she wakes up. Next step I'm moving to a timed nurse, 5 minutes (she tends to nurse for 15-20 which is probably far longer than necessary). after a few months of that it'll be no more. In each stage, my daughter would ask and I'd tell her, oh, we don't do it at this time anymore, only this other time. She'd only ask a couple of times after and was done with it.

    I think you'll find that as much as they love it, much like stopping them from using a binky/pacifier, after a few days they stop asking for it and function fine.

  3. Totally in agreement with Sam.

    Miles weaned three months shy of his third birthday (last month) and for us the big thing was cutting out his nursing to sleep. First we stopped the before-bed nursing, then before-naps, and finally (hardest for us) the overnight nursing. Once that happened, he nursed less during the day on his own; he already had foods he liked, and he was more likely to want PB&J than to nurse. By the time he stopped, I hardly noticed it was happening.

    That said, for us it meant that my husband had to take over bedtimes. If my husband handled bedtime, he hardly seemed to notice the lack of nursing, but if I were anywhere in the room he would freak out about milk.

    • Thanks for your post! I know the overnight nursing will be hardest for us – we cosleep so half the time I don't even wake up enough to realize my 2.5 year old's pulled up to the milk bar. I've been priming my husband for the idea that he'll have to start taking over bedtimes…we'll see how this goes! But glad to read someone's success story πŸ™‚

  4. The standard advice is, first, don't offer but don't refuse. Then, start cutting one nursing session at a time. Some people suggest going from easiest to hardest, others say start with the hardest and work backward. If your child is old enough to understand the concept, try offering something in exchange – milk from a cup, a fun snack, a bath, etc. You could also suggest a Bye Bye Boobie Party, see if he wants to pick the date and check the days off on the calendar. You can start pointing out his friends who don't nurse and explaining that Daddy (or other family members) don't nurse. Good luck, mama! We're headed into year two of nursing and I'm starting to collect weaning strategies myself.

  5. I didn't start to wean my almost 3 (on February 3rd) daughter until just a few months ago. It wasn't something I had planned to do, or decided it was time to wean, but we just rolled with it. We went by a feeding by feeding idea. She would ask for milk and I would encourage her to eat with Mommy, by sharing a banana or some blueberries with her. She liked the idea of being a big girl and sharing with me instead. I had never said no when she asked to nurse, and didn't think I could, but I offered her an alternative and it just happened. Granted, it was a process, and sometimes she would want the comfort of nursing, and we would, but that is what worked for us. Just remember, do what is best for you and your little one. If you're stressed about the weaning process and feeling a little pressured into it by outside sources, just wait until it is right for both of you!

    • I REALLY like this idea. If you come at it from the mindset that nursing is for eating, it translates very easily into the idea that if your child is asking to nurse, they must be hungry. I think if you communicate that too, by saying "Oh, are you hungry? Would you like a sandwich?"

      I'd be afraid to teach my child that they can soothe their anxiety with food. When nursing happens also as a way to soothe hurt feelings, and get cuddle time, then supplying food every time they want to nurse might create some mixed signals.

      I have a long time before I even start nursing let alone weaning, but I hope that I can help my child communicate what they're looking for out of nursing once they can communicate verbally. If I can help them learn to put words to what they need, then the next step can be to help them find ways to get it–sometimes that will be nursing, but I hope to extend that to emotions in general. I am sad, I need comfort, let me list the ways I can find comfort. I am happy, I want to celebrate, what are ways I can celebrate? Hopefully teaching them this kind of critical thinking and being able to identify and communicate emotions will help to avoid some of the issues with which many of us struggle these days.

  6. I started weaning my son when he was about 3. I started with day-weaning because I noticed that he really only wanted to nurse when he was bored or thirsty. So I started offering water and alternative connecting opportunities instead. It worked pretty well.

    Then we tackled the nursing to sleep. We started reading or cuddling him to sleep, and Daddy took over a lot of the bedtimes. I *believe* I told my son that Mummy's boobies weren't working just then, but that he could have boobie later when I came to bed. And that's how it was for a while.

    After several months, I was getting really uncomfortable night nursing. My supply was so low (because of the lack of day and bedtime nursing) that eventually when he tried to nurse at night I just told him that my boobies had stopped making milk and that I couldn't give him any. I had a sippy cup of water on hand, and I would offer him that and tell him that I could cuddle him as much as he wanted. We had a couple of rough-ish nights, and then a few attempts to nurse in the nights following that, but after a couple of weeks (which went FAST) I realized that he was done.

    I'm glad that I held out as long as I did. He was old enough that I could explain what was happening to my body and why I couldn't give him milk, and he sort of understood, and I was so ready to be DONE by the time we stopped that weaning didn't make me sad πŸ˜›

  7. Thanks for posting this question! I think I will need it in a year or so. I'm so glad to read these stories of successful weaning, and to know there are lots of moms who breastfeed into the 3rd year. I try to point out to my parents and family that it is normal/natural, but they aren't very supportive. I have a fear that I will be "scolded" by my mother if I ask her for advice about weaning. I even get told by coworkers that I should have stopped the minute he got teeth!

    • That is NUTS! You should have countered that the APA recommends at least 1 year of nursing. Hard to argue with science. People tell me the same thing. My baby got teeth at 4 months and learned very quickly that biting isn't an option.

  8. What about weaning an older child? Mine's 4.5 and I'd love him to wean. We night-weaned long ago, but he's still very emotionally attached to his morning session and his bedtime one (before he brushes his teeth). He also nurses down for a nap– the only way he can still take one (except in his carseat).

  9. In the lead up to my daughters 3rd birthday I said to her fairly consistently for around a month before the big day "do you know when you turn 3 mummy's milk stops" …. She just accepted it I think because I said it like it was a fact … And we gave her some groovy anodized cups on the day of her birthday as a present. I was stunned that it worked because she (well lets face it WE) loved breast feeding. I followed it up with ALOT of cuddling … I think that was a really important factor in it working. I think it's the closeness we both felt whist feeding that would have been what she missed, but I made sure I more than over compensated in regular cuddle sessions. She's 4 n 3/4 now and every now and then says "mum I love your boobs" and buries her head in them πŸ™‚

    • OMG that is so sweet! She obviously still has such a positive association with your "bosom." I bet that little gesture (and you allowing her to do it) brings her the same good feelings that nursing did!

    • I love this idea. My son is really excited for his birthday this year (it's the first time he *gets* it), and I think this might work for us. Thanks!

  10. I cut a seasion at a time until we were down to two when my son was 2-2.5. It took awhile to get down to the amount I wanted to keep. I got rid of the middle night ones first, then the random (I want to nurse) not part of our routine, then droped the after nap, then the am, and now I have 2 left. We are okay at 2 a day even though DS is 2. My plan is to drop pre-nap when he drops his nap, and then drop before bed shortly there after.

    For my son it was so hard becuase he would throw himself down on the ground and cry to nurse. But I would comfort him in other ways and promise when it was nursing time again that we would. I think it took about a week to have him stop asking the first one we droped, and after that is was just a few days.

    Also if your son is old enough to understand maybe exsplain why you want to stop and that you are going to do it slowly but that one day he will be too big to nurse. Good luck. I know I was an emotional mess when we droped seasions, but it does get better.

  11. This is an interesting discussion for me – my son is 13 months and still a very enthusiastic breastfeeder (and like the earlier commenter, I like it too). I am a little worried because he has never really taken to eating food, and can go two or three days without eating much, just nursing. I was thinking of trying to tail off the breastfeeding soon, to try to get him to eat. But I like the ways mothers have explained to their toddlers why the breastfeeding is going to stop – and am thinking that rather than stop now, maybe I will wait until he is old enough for me to explain what we are doing, rather than just deny him what he loves so much before he can understand. (And just hope I can work out other ways to get him to like eating food!)

    • You're probably tried it, but try offering food before breastfeeds and tell him "Food first, then milk." He's old enough to understand that if you say it in a firm voice.

    • I'm not any kind of expert, but I've read that it is totally fine for babies to start solids around one year. I think they just become interested in food in their own time.

      I'm with you about wanting to wait to be able to explain better what is happening.

    • My daughter didn't eat any substantial amount of food until at least 14 or 15 months. She tried stuff; she played with it; she ate it if someone mindlessly shoved it into her mouth (which I don't like encouraging). She's nursed a lot–now a year later, she eats just about everything we offer but just not a lot of it. She still nurses once a day for about 5 minutes. I honestly think she just doesn't enjoy food that much and as long as she's growing physically and developmentally, we're all ok with that.

  12. These ideas are a lot nicer than my husband's joking suggestion that I put wormwood on my nipples. πŸ˜‰ My just turned two year old still nurses a few times a day, but mostly after he wakes up in the morning or after his nap. And he almost never nurses to sleep anymore. Sometimes I feel like I've had enough (like when he insistently tries to pinch the other nipple while he nurses, ouch!) But mostly I'm content to let him wind down this chapter in our lives at his own speed. Despite my Mother-in-law admonishing my toddler the other day to stop asking to nurse because he is "too old"

    • Lmao! My 12 month old pinches my nipples too! I thought I was the only one! Groping and pinching have become something he mindlessly does to put himself to sleep.I'm a little worried about that! He also likes to smush his face between my boobs, and when he is nursing he sometimes will swing his face across my nipple and make silly noises. He is getting a little graphic!

  13. I'm hoping to wean around my son's first birthday (ish), simply because my husband would really like to start feeling more involved, and I'd like to be able to let him handle bedtime occasionally. Will these techniques work for a younger kid, too? He seems to have a pretty good understanding of language, but a lot of this seems to involve reasoning with your child, which I'm not sure about. Sleep is pretty strongly connected to nursing for him. Other than that, it seems to be a comfort/boredom thing. He eats quite a bit of solid food, and already takes a bottle once or twice a day.

    • If you think nightweaning would help, I suggest Dr. Jay Gordon as a resource. You can Google his nightweaning technique.

      • He's actually already night-weaned. Cosleeping sucked for all of us (baby most of all — he wasn't getting ANY sleep!) and so he started sleeping on his own (& through the night) at about 9 months.

    • I weaned my daughter after her first birthday. I dropped one feeding a week(she had been feeding 4-5 times a day). I first dropped her bottles of breast milk at daycare. Then her feeding when we got home. Then her morning feeding. Then her night one. I would offer her a glass of milk instead of me when a feeding was dropped. Except the night one. Once completely weaned those turned to water between meals because I worry about cavities. She did really well. I made sure to offer her the milk and distract her with other activities. It was a busy month for us on purpose :). The night one was the last one to drop and I actually left her with my aunt that night. She went to bed with out batting an eye and we were done. Having a bedtime routine that didn't involve nursing may have helped this. Hope that helps.

  14. Like others, I gradually cut out nursings until we just did it before bed. Shortly after my son turned 2, I created a "nursie chain" – just loops of paper linked into a chain. Each time we had a "nursie", he got to tear off one of the loops and we talked about how when the chain was gone we would be done with nursies but he would get a big boy present (yes, I straight up bribed him – I was desperate to be done). It was hard but he liked the nursie chain thing.

    Now if only I could convince him to stop grabbing my nipples constantly a year later…

  15. To all you mums/moms here that are still breastfeeding into the 2's and 3's:

    YOU F**KING ROCK.

    I admire and support you guys SO much! β™₯

    Don't ever let anyone tell you what you're doing is 'wrong'. It's natural and beautiful!

  16. Out of curiosity, are you all stay at home-mothers? If not, what do you do about nursing when your child is at kindergarten/ sleepovers at grandparents etc?

    In my country most children are in kindergarten from 1 year old (a few hours in the beginning) and at 3 year old it is very uncommon to not be at kindergarten.

    While 3 year olds learn to make their own sandwitches etc. in kindergarten at home, I don't see how it would be practical to full nurse. And to be honest, most mothers here stop breastfeeding at 6 months.

    This is not critique,only curiosity, since the concept of breastfeeding older children is just really unusual and impractical to me.

    • I went back to work when my daughter was 4 months old. I work at a very demanding job that has me going non-stop the whole day. I knew when returning to work and pumping, I wouldn't be able to keep her exclusively breastfed. I just couldn't produce enough and could only work 2 pumping sessions into my day. It was hard to accept because I knew what I wanted to do, but there's always compromise in parenting it seems. I did regular night feedings and always breastfed on the weekends and pumped during the week days for about 7 months. But it got to be too much for me, I was just exhausted with my workload and felt stretched too thin. So I cut out pumping and continued to night feed and feed on the weekends for the next 6-8 months or so. Then we sort of lost the day feedings, not consciously, it just seemed that she didn't need it and I didn't mind not doing it. Then we cut out the before bed feeding and we just do a morning feeding. It's not a lot, but it's a routine we enjoy except when she goes through phases of waking up early cause she wants "boot" (her name for it). I think for me, we did what felt right while doing it, which is probably how most feel. I would say I probably had more hangups over it stopping than she did/does but that's because I have the annoying behavior of hyper-analyzing somethings and this, at times, was one of those things.

    • @Lizzie My older child doesn't ask to nurse when I'm not around. He goes to preschool, grandparents, etc. I pump for the baby when we're separated, but the big kid is a big kid. He doesn't need it and he doesn't ask when I'm not there.

    • Lizzy- I work full time and pump at work, then my son gets the milk the next day. He doesn't need as much during the day now that he is over a year, and he also drinks soy milk. (he has allergies) I know lots of moms in my office who send their babies to day care and pump for about a year. They just give the milk to the care provider. It's pumping while separated that is key.

    • So interesting to hear about a different culture! In the US kindergarten doesn't even start until children are 5 years old!

    • When I worked at daycare, some extended breastfeeding moms pumped. Mostly, though, they just nursed when they were with their kids. (One mom came in and nursed her kid during her lunch break.) The 1-and-older crowd were getting most of their nutrition from solids anyway – the nursing was more for comfort.

  17. My daughter will be 3 in July and I have been back and forth on what to do as far as weaning is concerned. For us, (ideally) weaning would be mutual and not pushy, however breastfeeding is getting a bit exhausting so I'm thinking that maybe a gentle push in the weaning direction just may work for us. Thank you everyone for your advice!! Also I'm glad to know there are so many people out there breastfeeding so "late"…I'm happy with nursing her, even with all the "input" from friends and family on the subject.

  18. i was 3 1/2 when my mom started to receive pressure from family and friends to stop nursing me. i was old enough where i actually remember the before bed nursing sessions.
    my mom finally found something i really wanted (it was a teddy bear) and the agreement was either boobs or bear. i picked the bear.
    of course every child is different. maybe the don't offer, don't refuse will work just fine. good luck with whatever you choose!

  19. Thanks so much for your comments, everyone! It's great to hear from other extended nursing moms, since breastfeeding beyond the first year is so foreign to so many people. I'll keep your ideas in mind. πŸ™‚

  20. La Leche League has some great resources for gentle weaning. They advocate child-led weaning, but let's face it, at some point one just feels like they want their body back.

    Does your toddler nurse at night? Night weaning can bring huge relief to a tired mama. I night-weaned my son at 18 months because I was tired of waking up every few hours. I did it "cold turkey", but my husband went in to comfort our son and put him back to sleep. It only took 2 or 3 nights! πŸ™‚

    Another method is the "don't offer, don't refuse" technique. Never automatically start to nurse (like for bedtime or naptime) but don't turn your toddler down either if they specifically ask. Whether or not this works will depend on the child.

    Another technique to try is limiting each nursing session to one minute (or whatever time interval you choose).

    Weaning is a brave new world, and it's a little exciting but a little scary. They're growing up, but they're growing up! πŸ˜‰

  21. When my son was one he started preschool, so we kept only the bedtime and morning nursing. When he was 2 and a half he was nursing only at bedtime. When it was time to wean him off he was already talking so
    I just said gently that the milk was over. He asked why,
    I told him that he drank it all and there was no more milk. He asked me again, I repeated and then he proceeded to sleep with one hand caressing my breast. The next night he asked again if it was over and I told him again he drank all the milk, then he slept again with his tiny hand holding the breast. He did it for a long time and everytime he needed to feel conforted he would hold my breast. I think he stopped doing it around 4 or 5 years old. Today he's a teenager and I have a 10 month old very attached to her nursing πŸ™‚

  22. I weaned my daughter when she was almost three. I told her mama's tatas didn't work anymore, and then I had to sleep with my hand over my breast for about a month to avoid sneak attacks. She had already started falling asleep for naps on her own by this time, so bedtime was the only time she was still nursing.

  23. I always wanted to let my child self wean. He is now 2 1/2 and very attached to nursing. I've recently become pregnant again and am dealing with all day morning sickness. I am already underweight and am continuing to lose. In addition to calories being of the essence for me right now, nursing seems to increase the nausea, so we have had to begin nightweaning. My husband now sleeps with my son in a seperate room from me (we've always been a co-sleeping family). It's been awful and it is breaking my heart. My son still doesn't sleep without sobbing for at least half an hour… It's been 11 days now. I still let him nurse during the day when I'm not in the middle of a wave of nausea and I don't want to wean him totally. I just need to be able to rest at night and I need there to be less nursing overalll than there has been. We've cut him down from 10+ nursing sessions a day down to about 5.. He's never left to cry or sleep alone and we empathize with him often but he is still so angry with me. Has anyone else here had a situation such as this one with any helpful advice of what worked for you. Other complicating factors are that he is mildly autistic and has sensory processing disorder. He has never been able to sleep without nursing although we've tried many other soothing techniques. Even with melatonin and nursing he is generally up at least 3x a night, so having to night wean him all of a sudden is just exacerbating an already difficult sleep situation.

  24. @Karen wow I feel for you, that is SO hard! I have no useful advice other than perhaps have something that smells like you or even an old nursing pad that he can have with him, maybe that would soothe him?

    We also have to start weaning earlier than I would like so I am so grateful for this forum, our DD is 20 months and we want desperately to give her a sibling for which we need to do IVF. Which means I have to stop nursing completely in the next 3 months (Ia m an "older" mom…), it breaks my heart to have to wean her so early since she is so attached to the night nursing, the day I can distract her but how I will get rid of the pre-sleep or middle-of-the-night ones I have no idea. So thanks everyone for helping, more stories are welcome…

  25. Wow. So many different styles. Glad I found this site. My DS just turned 18 months. I started to wean his daytime feeding four days ago. I set him in his crib for his nap and he crys 40 min and sleeps 30 mins from there. ( before he would sleep 2 hours) It breaks my heart as he is very attached to nursing still and it puts me on the fence about quitting. I'm a SAHM . Any advice?

  26. Ok I've got a question. My two & a half year old is still nursing as well, only at bedtime. I am also pregnant & due in July. I'm worried to death about what's going to happen when I am in the hospital & he's got to stay at my moms. How is she going to get him down, what if he throws a fit on her? I'm worried to death. Any advice?

    • He will be ok! Most likely he will be busy and distracted and not as focused on you while you are gone. He is old enough that you can talk to him about it a little too. My ds was two when dd was born and still very very attached to nursing. He did fine at grandma's while we were in the hospital. Not a tear or drop of sadness. The first thing he wanted to do when we got home was nurse, though! So I let him and his old schedule of 4 times a day (before and after sleep) quickly escalated to me feeling like I had two newborns :/. But we survived, I know he needed it. He finally stopped at 3.5 when we did a short countdown and went to pick out a celebration toy and had a little party. My first attempt at a countdown with him did not get carried out, I could tell he still was going to have a really hard time so we backed off and tried again later (counting down for things in general is his preferred method for any kind of preparation). Now that I'm pregnant again and dd was still nursing at 2.5, I could tell it was more just a thing of routine for her and she just weaned. With not as much milk, a week of busy, out of the house activity, her getting sick so not wanting to nurse if the milk was upsetting her stomach (don't think my pregnancy cravings have been going over well with her digestion), and we just picked out her special weaning gift today. She has been great about it and I'm comfortable that she was ready. Had I just been on our regular schedule and trying to talk her out of nursing though, she would have flipped. And now she has finally learned to tell me if she is thirsty or hungry…I knew she knew! She just preferred to nurse if she felt either of them. Also, both of mine nursed to sleep. So ds stopped napping at 3.5 because of weaning….but could still fall asleep in a preschool setting. I think dd will keep her naps but we've been so on the go, only one has happened where I just rubbed her back to sleep. She seems to still need them and falls asleep much more quickly than ds…who has some mild sensory issues, food sensitivities, and wouldn't eat food until he was 16 months old.

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