Weaning a toddler

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 13, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I'd like to stop breastfeeding for my 1-year old daughter, Rina, because she is going to become 2 years old in 2 months! But she loves to continue it. How can I stop it? Every time I ask her if I can stop it or not, she refuses it strongly.

From: Masako, Japan

Dear Masako,

In her wise book, "The Nursing Mother's Companion, 6th edition," Kathleen Huggins writes, "Weaning a toddler involves a good deal of time and attention." Why? Because toddlers can be very attached to the breast -- they've been at it for a while, after all, and toddlers, as we know, can be very stubborn little creatures. So when you've made your mind up to wean, it's important to find ways to distract her during the time you would normally nurse, typically with substitute activities or by altering the routine entirely. Huggins famously reminds moms that weaning is a process, not a one-time event.

Eliminate one feeding at a time, and take a week or more before you try to eliminate the next one. Start by keeping track of which feeding interests Rina most, and keep in mind that she may choose to nurse not just because she's hungry but also because she's bored, frustrated, tired, or wants your attention. Hold onto the feeding she seems to enjoy the most as the last one to eliminate.

Some feedings can be replaced with a snack or drink, others with an activity. If Rina is used to nursing spontaneously, whenever she wants, try to distract her past the point when she wants to nurse. If you've had a routine where she expects to nurse -- in bed in the morning, for instance -- change your routine. Get up quickly and serve her breakfast. "Think creatively of ways your child can learn new routines," Huggins writes.

Instead of asking her if she would rather not nurse, or if she'd like milk in a cup, tell her, "Let's save the milk for bedtime." Hang on to that last bedtime feeding for as long as you can. If you want to eliminate that one, too, change that routine by having someone else put her to bed each night (for a week or more) so they create a bedtime routine that doesn't include nursing.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I am glad that I chose self-led weaning, the only problem was, my daughter wasn't interested in stopping! Finally at 4 yrs old, I needed to take some medication, which she couldn't have exposure to, and I explained this to her, and that was it. And before you say, OMG, she was 4!!, well it got us through the chicken pox very easily, and she was hardly ever sick for all those years...
    By then it was down to an evening feed at home.

    Posted by The Good Mother February 13, 12 07:51 AM
  1. Masako, no rush! The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding at least two years, and many moms do it for longer. I think you'll find weaning won't be very difficult but I'd recommend not discussing it too much with her. I would make sure you don't give yourself a deadline and instead do it gradually -- it really becomes a non-issue. I weaned 2 of my 3 children a few months after their 2nd birthday (for myself, because I was ready to be done!) First step, VERY IMPORTANT, restrict where and when you nurse (if you haven't already) ie. do it only in one particular chair or spot in the house at predictable times. Second step, cut out one feeding at a time, gradually, by not being in that spot at that time. I found that with both I could cut it down to the 1 feeding before bed no problem, and kept that up for months before the final times they nursed. Reverse the order of the bedtime routine ie. nurse, then bath, brush teeth, then story to move it a little farther away from bedtime. Start trying to skip the nursing part of the routine and see if she'll notice (stay away from the spot!). I found that sometimes they would ask, sometimes not. If they did ask, then I would nurse. But before you know it you realize that it's been days since she asked and you're done. BEFORE you get to this part, make sure someone takes a picture of you nursing your beautiful big girl, since even though you are ready, you'll be nostalgic sometimes! Congratulations on keeping the nursing relationship this long :)

    Posted by CathieQ February 13, 12 11:48 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I am glad that I chose self-led weaning, the only problem was, my daughter wasn't interested in stopping! Finally at 4 yrs old, I needed to take some medication, which she couldn't have exposure to, and I explained this to her, and that was it. And before you say, OMG, she was 4!!, well it got us through the chicken pox very easily, and she was hardly ever sick for all those years...
    By then it was down to an evening feed at home.

    Posted by The Good Mother February 13, 12 07:51 AM
  1. Masako, no rush! The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding at least two years, and many moms do it for longer. I think you'll find weaning won't be very difficult but I'd recommend not discussing it too much with her. I would make sure you don't give yourself a deadline and instead do it gradually -- it really becomes a non-issue. I weaned 2 of my 3 children a few months after their 2nd birthday (for myself, because I was ready to be done!) First step, VERY IMPORTANT, restrict where and when you nurse (if you haven't already) ie. do it only in one particular chair or spot in the house at predictable times. Second step, cut out one feeding at a time, gradually, by not being in that spot at that time. I found that with both I could cut it down to the 1 feeding before bed no problem, and kept that up for months before the final times they nursed. Reverse the order of the bedtime routine ie. nurse, then bath, brush teeth, then story to move it a little farther away from bedtime. Start trying to skip the nursing part of the routine and see if she'll notice (stay away from the spot!). I found that sometimes they would ask, sometimes not. If they did ask, then I would nurse. But before you know it you realize that it's been days since she asked and you're done. BEFORE you get to this part, make sure someone takes a picture of you nursing your beautiful big girl, since even though you are ready, you'll be nostalgic sometimes! Congratulations on keeping the nursing relationship this long :)

    Posted by CathieQ February 13, 12 11:48 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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