Breastfeeding your baby until he or she turns age 1 is a milestone celebrated by many nursing moms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least 12 months and many mothers choose to breastfeed beyond infancy and into the toddler years.
However, as your baby develops into an independent toddler, you may be thinking about weaning.
How and when to begin weaning varies for each mother and child but there are plenty of ways to integrate weaning while minimizing meltdowns.
“Toddlers are growing and developing so fast and it’s a little scary for them,” says Susan Oldrieve, group leader for La Leche League of Cleveland Southwest, a mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group. “They’re learning to talk and run and be independent, so nursing is a way for them to calm down and gather themselves together.”
If you’ve decided it’s time to begin weaning, first think about which nursing sessions your baby is most and least emotionally attached. Drop the feeding that you think they’ll be least likely to notice and gradually decrease daytime feedings from there.
“Don’t offer but don’t refuse,” says Betsy Studer, lactation consultant and owner of The Breastfeeding Center in Massillon. “It’s when you refuse them that they’re going to want it more and that’s when the baby will get clingy and cry.”
Instead of nursing, see if your child will accept a distraction such as a book, stickers, taking a walk outside or cuddling for a few minutes.
“Also check to see if they need other things — if they’re hungry, thirsty or just need some attention from you,” says Jaime Heidenreich, group leader for La Leche League of Cleveland Southwest.
Make it Fun
For older toddlers, Heidenreich says you can make the weaning process interactive by having the child set a timer or pick a nursing number to count to.
“For example, you can pick the number seven and (while your child nurses) you can count to that number as fast or slow as you want to,” she says.
The idea also works by playing music or singing a song.
Ask other Family Members to Help
To eliminate nighttime feedings, try gradually changing your child’s bedtime routine. Have them pick out a special water cup to keep at their bedside and have another caregiver, such as dad or grandma, take over for a few nights.
“That person should also get up with the child at night so he or she can learn to be comforted by someone else and to get into a routine that doesn’t involve nursing,” Oldrieve says.
During the weaning process, it’s important to be flexible and leave plenty of time for your child to adapt to the changes.
“One of the most important things is to do it slowly,” Studer says. “Some children are very independent and can move away quicker and some kids just aren’t.”
While your toddler might not understand the process at first, you should still try to explain to them, in an age appropriate manner, about the changes that are being made.
“You can teach your child that mommy’s body is mommy’s body and how you do that depends on their age,” Oldrieve says. “You can set some boundaries. Tell them, ‘We don’t nurse in the store, we only nurse at home.’”
While every mother’s weaning experience is unique, you don’t have to go through the process alone. Local groups through La Leche League of Ohio host meetings and have Facebook groups dedicated to helping one another through all stages of breastfeeding.