First the good news! You actually don’t need to wean a toddler unless you really want to or your toddler is ready to be weaned. Did you know that World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend breastfeeding up to and beyond 2 years of age?
In underdeveloped countries in particular this may be a child’s only food & certainly the safest. Meanwhile in Australia I’m sure you can think of any number of people who would be horrified to hear that you are still breastfeeding a toddler. Well guess what! It’s their problem not yours.
Using the definition that a toddler is over one year of age, I will assume your toddler is eating family friendly foods. From the age of one, a toddler does not need formula, cow milk or juice to drink. Your toddler will do very well with just water as you wean from breastfeeding. Dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt and green vegetables as part of the family friendly foods you offer will provide calcium for your toddlers needs.
I do not believe in controlled crying or comfort withdrawal that distresses a toddler in any way. If you don’t subscribe to these techniques either and are ready to wean, but your toddler is not, it may take time and it will certainly take patience and perseverance.
Decide which feeds you going to wean first, will it be their day or night feeds. Stick to the plan for consistency especially for your toddler.
Start talking to your toddler in very simple language about the need to stop breastfeeding. While your toddler may not understand all the words, he will understand your intentions. A girlfriend told her little man when night weaning him that he could have ‘booboo’ when the sun woke up.
If you choose the night feeds – consider starting over a weekend. Alternatively, when your partner or support person has time off to help through what inevitably may be difficult and sleepless times overnight.
If you have time, reduce the number of night feeds first in preference to weaning all the night feeds at once. Weaning ‘cold turkey’ overnight can be stressful for both of you and very uncomfortable for you. There is also the risk of mastitis if you have a lot of milk.
Have your toddler used to drinking water from a cup before you start so you have something to offer instead of the breast overnight.
Alternatively, if you are happy to use your expressed breast milk from the freezer, offer the milk in a cup (or a bottle) as a replacement for any of the night feeds. This could make the transition a little easier.
Wear a top your toddler cannot get into to touch or find your breast but do hold and cuddle for reassurance.
Make sure your toddler is eating well throughout the day. Extra food at dinner or late in the evening, will not necessarily promise your toddler will sleep through the night.
If you plan to wean through the day, there are certainly more options you can use to distract your toddler from breastfeeding. After 12 months of age, you can offer food before a breastfeed to take the edge of your toddler’s appetite and distract him from breastfeeding. Again, if your toddler is used to drinking water from a cup (or bottle if you prefer), it can be helpful.
Distracting your toddler with games or activities is the most obvious way when he wants a feed through the day.
Day sleeps associated with breastfeeding may be challenging. Perhaps put the toddler into the car or the pram to help with sleep. This sounds like a ‘cop out’ but there are days when this may be the easiest option, which is OK.
Offering food and a drink before a sleep may help. Your usual settling and sleep ‘routine’ may need some ‘tweaking’ as your little one gets used to not breastfeeding before a nap.
Again, start the weaning process on a day when you have someone else to help with the nap or day sleep. In fact before you start weaning, it would be useful to have someone else who can settle your toddler to sleep or distract your toddler when you stop the breastfeeds.
I hope these ideas help and that weaning your little one is not too stressful or distressing. I wish you the very best of luck. Would love to hear any ideas you have as well.
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