If you’re looking for advice on weaning a toddler, some congratulations are in order. By nursing your child as long as you have, you’ve given your little one the best start possible for a healthy, well-adjusted life. He’s got lots of important antibodies he would never have acquired without the nursing, and his little body is immensely stronger because of the choice you made.
And that’s all very well and good, you may be thinking, but what now? I’m ready to stop nursing, but my toddler still thinks that I am the milk bar. How to change this?
Weaning a toddler always work better if you take it slowly, gradually, and in a low-key manner. Consider it an issue of gently encouraging your child away from the breast, rather than forbidding it suddenly outright.
Here are some tips to help you in this gradual weaning process, as you focus your child’s felt need away from ‘mommy milk’ and to something else.
• Don’t offer, don’t refuse: the first key to successfully weaning a tot is just to stop offering the breast. At this point you don’t want to refuse when your child asks; just stop offering, and stop sitting or lying in inviting, ready-to-nurse positions.
• Change the sleeping arrangement: If your toddler co-sleeps and nurses at night, this may be a good time to encourage him to sleep in his own bed. If that’s too much of a change for either you or him, you can have him move to the other side of the bed, next to daddy rather than next to you.
• Shorten Nursing Sessions: If you used to nurse five to ten minutes at a session, make it two to three. Then, as your toddler gets less dependent on the breast, one or two; or even a thirty-second count if your toddler is old enough to understand that concept. If he seems not too pleased with the shorter nursing, offer a drink of warm milk to get his tummy full.
• Become Queen of Distractions: Not refusing doesn’t necessarily mean giving what’s asked for: try a distraction first. Suggest a snack or a drink of milk, or going out to see the dog or jumping together on the trampoline. When you’re weaning a child other family members can help with distractions too, and hug and cuddle when the little fellow wants closeness.
• Change Your Chair and Change Your Schedule: If there’s a certain chair you usually sit on to nurse, avoid it like the plague till your child is completely weaned. Switch up your schedule so you are doing fun, distracting activities during the time slots you used to nurse in.
While weaning a toddler work on these areas in a non-aggressive, gradual way, and you should see your toddler become less and less keen on nursing. If you need it to go a bit faster and your child is old enough to understand, you can sit down with him and have a talk; explaining that now he is getting big and nursing is just for little people. Don’t ever shame your child for wanting to nurse though.
Nursing does meet your toddler’s need for closeness and regular cuddle times with mommy, so when you stop nursing you need to make sure you fill that gap with something else. Find new bonding activities you can do with your child—playing play dough together, reading board books, or building towers on the floor are just some ideas. If your child becomes unstable, aggressive, or has a sudden increase in temper tantrums you may just be going too fast; he may not be mentally ready to be weaned yet. If at all possible, backtrack a little and let him become secure before you try weaning again.
There are times when a toddler needs to be weaned abruptly, usually because of sickness or a change in family circumstances. If there’s no absolutely urgent need though, play it gentle. Let your weaning be a continuation of the gentle attachment parenting you did when you nursed your child, and you’ll be left with no regrets.