Weaning a toddler the gentle way
Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing. It creates a strong bond between the mother and the baby. It is the ultimate nourishment for your baby and offers comfort long after the newborn phase.
I breastfed my daughter until her second birthday. I always imagined that I would nurse her until she weans herself, but that didn’t happen. Somehow I had this huge toddler that had a full set of teeth and whose favorite sport was breastfeeding acrobatics. I hadn’t slept through the night for a really long time. As her second birthday was approaching I decided that our breastfeeding adventure is coming to an end.
For me it happened somehow spontaneously, I didn’t follow any guides or anything, I was just following my instincts on how to do it smoothly and stress free, for both me and her.
The steps that worked for us
I know that weaning a toddler is a different story with each and every kid, so I hope that my experience can be of some help to you.
1. Plan ahead. Tell your kid that you will not be nursing at some prearranged date. I told my daughter when her birthday comes she will not be nursing anymore. Toddler don’t really have concept of time so they will probably not understand, but I am sure they will grasp at least some part of the concept.
2. Cut down feeding sessions. Your kid is probably still nursing on demand. That means in the middle of play time, in the middle of lunch, when they are stressed, sleepy or plain bored. Cut down any sessions or the length of it. Use distraction whenever possible or just announce that you are not free at the moment. Hey, maybe it will work ;). Or maybe you will end up giving in, but that’s fine. Always remember that breastfeeding is a two way street and at some point you will have to respect your own feelings and needs in the same way you take care of your kid’s.
3. Gradually introduce a different bed/nap time ritual. Bed time feedings are probably the hardest to cut off. You have a whiny or even screaming child in front of you and your basic instinct as a breastfeeding momma would be to nurse them. So, when you decide to wean you will have to have the patience of a saint and be really really creative in finding ways to get your kid to sleep. Some things that might work:
- Offer a bottle. Some kids might take it. Even though I am not a huge fan of bottles and dummies, I offered tea in a bottle and my daughter took it. Of course she wanted to nurse after finishing the bottle, but it was of great step forward as it ispart of the new bedtime routine.
- Sing/play lullabies. Play some lullabies on youtube so you can distract your kid and make a sleeping atmosphere.
- Cuddle. Find the way that works for your kid.
- Tell stories or read a book. I became a pro at inventing stories on the go. I was ending up so tired of talking, so you can imagine how much bedtime stories I read or told.
- Have somebody else take over bedtime. This was not an option for me, as my husband was away for work. But this can work, or so I have heard :)). Daddy will have a totally different way of putting the child to sleep. It might go really smooth.
4. Refuse feedings. When the aforementioned date comes you simply don’t feed your baby. You might have changed you mind and decided to go a bit more and that is perfectly fine. But if you decided to stick to your decision go through with it. There will be tears, screaming, guilt, sleepless nights.. but remember, this too shall pass. Bare in mind that any amount of time you breastfed your baby is better than none. You most probably did the best you could for your kid. Whatever your reasons for weaning might be, you probably have the best for your child in mind. So just go through the whole process with patience, compassion and love and you will get through it. You kid will learn to settle in a different way, and you will help them in the process.
5. Take care of yourself. More particularly your milkies. Some tips that can help you stop lactating and avoid engorgement are:
- wear a tight bra
- drink sage tea
- cold compress
- extract just a small amount of milk so you feel some relief. Do not overdo it or use a pump as you don’t want to stimulate lactation
- put cabbage leaves
Disclaimer: If you are unsure about anything you should always consult your doctor. This text is in no way a medical consult of any sort, just various tips and tricks from mommy friends and myself.
Few words on mom guilt
Weaning a toddler that breastfeeds is no easy task. You might be feeling guilty if you stop nursing by your decision and not your kid’s. That is totally normal. Mothers are well known for second guessing everything they do and if it’s going to “scar” their kid for life. If you are doubting your decision you are most probably an awesome mom. And even if you decide after a day that weaning your toddler was not such a good idea, you can always go back and try at different time.
Other useful tips on weaning a toddler
- Don’t wean a teething child.
- Don’t try to wean your kid that is sick with a cold.
- You should probably postpone weaning a toddler if some big change is going on in your lives i.e. moving, traveling, starting daycare or something similar. There will be many new things going on in their lives that they will have to process and you don’t wanna take away the comfort of nursing at that moment.
- Try to do it gradually. It’s less stressful for you and your kid.
- Have tons of patience for your kid and be gentle.
- Trust your instincts.
And the last thing I wanted to tell all breastfeeding mommas: I know how hard it might have been, and I know you did a GREAT job!
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My Quiet Spot
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