Weaning a two year old toddler is not for the faint of heart–I hope my story, and a few positive parenting tips I learned along the way, can help you and your toddler say goodbye to nursing in a gentle way.
Here’s the story of how I weaned my toddler. I don’t expect it to look like your story–nor do I expect you to do what I did. I can only hope that my story can make yours a little easier to bear. Let’s face it, weaning a toddler is no easy task, but I learned a few things to share with you that might help you and your baby say farewell to breastfeeding. You may also like this list of recommended parenting books.
How To Wean A Toddler from Nursing: My story and Tips
My original goal was to nurse my daughter for at least two years. So, I headed the attachment parenting advice I got at the time and allowed her to feed on demand for the first 18 months of her life. However, when she started to nurse more often instead of less often–I knew something wasn’t quite right, and I had to make some changes. It was time to free myself from her constant demands.
However, I felt my heartstrings pull each time I had to turn her down. Other people, attachment parenting sources, and positive parenting tips offered little helpful advice. Replacements, distractions, and other techniques just didn’t work for her. She wanted nursies, and nothing would deter her from that goal. Thankfully, I realized that I didn’t have to say no either. Instead, I found a few ways to make weaning a nursing toddler easier on both of us.
Create a Nursing Rhythm for your baby or toddler
First, I created a nursing rhythm to give me the freedom I needed. To start, I allowed my toddler to feed five times per day. Morning, After our morning walk, before nap, when daddy gets home, bedtime, and whenever she wanted to at night because we co-slept.
Then, whenever my daughter asked to feed at an off time, I would not tell her no. Instead, I told her the next time that she could nurse. For example, “Yes, after our walk.” Or, “Yes, when daddy gets home.”
Finally, after a few battles of will between myself and my head-strong toddler–she accepted this new rhythm. And, if she didn’t remember to ask to nurse at a nursing time, I wouldn’t remind her. Instead, we would just allow that nursing or feeding session to go for the day.
In retrospect, I would have created nursing rhythm knowing what I know today from the start. So, if you are starting your breastfeeding journey with your baby, create a nursing rhythm to support you and your child and make it easier for both of you to enjoy the dance of nursing.
Cut One Feeding at a Time
I wanted it to be a gradual loving process, so once I started a nursing rhythm–I decided to cut or drop one feeding every few months. We dropped the first nursing session when my toddler was about 20 months old.
To do this, I slowly allowed our mid-morning after-walk feed to fade away. As the days got hotter, we started to walk earlier and earlier in the morning. When we got home, my toddler was not used to feeding at that time. So, she forgot to ask for that nursing session more than she remembered. And soon–it was gone.
Next went the afternoon “when daddy gets home” feeding session when she was about 22 months old. We moved down to LA for the summer so my husband could work as an ocean lifeguard. And, because his work schedule changed, he was now home in the mornings and didn’t arrive home until after her bedtime.
Soon she forgot about that nursing session, and weaning our breastfeeding daughter was well underway. If there is no natural shift in your rhythm that happens to create this for you and your baby or toddler, place another fun activity at the time of a nursing session to drop it.
Breastfeeding and Naptime Limbo
I knew the last three nursing sessions and the all-night milk bar would be a bit more of a challenge for her to “forget.” My baby girl was very attached to the warm comfort of her mother’s breast at night, so I knew that I was going to have my work cut out for me, but I was in no hurry.
We were comfortable with our extended breastfeeding relationship, and she was no longer asking me to feed all day long, and we both became comfortable with our new feeding rhythm. Morning, nap, bedtime–and anytime she woke at night, and I never noticed anyway.
We carried on that way until just after she turned two years old when she started needing her naps less and less frequently. I wanted her to keep napping–but her nighttime sleep was getting shorter and shorter on the nights she napped.
And, she slept more hours (nap + night) on the nights she didn’t nap. So, unfortunately, I knew it was time to help her let it go.
She was in nap limbo for about two months. When she needed a nap, she nursed. When she didn’t nap, she didn’t even ask to breastfeed. Soon both that nap time and that nursing session were gone.
Night Weaning a Toddler–Goodbye All Night Milk Bar
After my daughter dropped her nap and mid-day feed I was ready to start night weaning my toddler and turn off the all-night milk bar. I knew this was going to be the toughest feeding to let go of so far. Rolling over to latch on to mommy whenever she woke was all she knew. It was her norm.
And, I didn’t want my daughter to feel rejected by weaning her from night nursing, and I didn’t want her to feel like mommy didn’t love her anymore. But I knew it would do just that–this was not going to be easy.
So, I began reading a picture book titled “Nursies When the Sun Shines” to her every night before bed. Then my husband and I started talking to her about only nursing before bed and when she wakes up in the morning.
When she was about 28 months old the night we talked about had finally arrived. After her bedtime feed, we reminded her that she would not nurse again until the sun was shining. I wore a sports bra to bed that night just in case.
I awoke to her whimpering and pulling on my sports bra at about one in the morning. I reminded her that we couldn’t nurse until the sun was shining. To say it didn’t go over well is an understatement. She threw a thrashing, screaming, crying, hitting, yelling fit. All I could do was love her, empathize, and hold on as best as I could.
I knew the power of habit and knew that it would get easier after three nights. It was hard, but I stuck to my plan and did not give in to my toddler’s cries. She cried for the next few nights while we continued to love her and empathize with her. Soon those hard nights faded away, and the all-night milk bar was finally closed–whew!
Use A Countdown Calendar To Wean Toddler from Nursing
Once we were down to two feeds a day, my new goal was to have her weaned at three years old. I decided to make a new plan for dropping the following two feeds. I knew they would be just as challenging for her to let go of as the all-night milk bar was. I didn’t want her to go through that painful experience again, so I decided to prepare her better.
When she was about 34 months old, we knew it was time to drop another feed if we would have her weaned at three. I made a 10-day countdown calendar, and my husband and I prepared for the “countdown.” We wrote sweet notes that we placed in each box of the calendar. Each morning we reminded her that when we got to the last box, we wouldn’t be able to have morning nursies anymore.
When the morning arrived, she cried painful tears, but she was ready for it. There was no thrashing, screaming, or hitting. She was mourning the loss of that special time, and so was I. My husband and I loved her and empathized with how hard it is to give up something that you love so much. The tears faded away much quicker this time.
I’m Two–Night Weaning My Very Attached Toddler
After the pain of losing her morning feed faded away, we began to prepare our daughter to drop her before bed night nursing session. And, we told her that she would no longer be able to have nursies when she was three.
However, every time we talked about it, she would hold up her two peace fingers and say, “I’m two, I’m two.” Three was something she was pushing far away–each time the subject came up. In other words, my toddler had no interest in saying goodbye to breastfeeding forever.
Finally, we began the countdown to her third birthday and weaning party. When she saw the calendar, I could tell she was a bit sad–but she was ready. It was a sobering experience for all three of us; father, mother, and baby.
However, the maturity she showed in attempting to read the notes I wrote her made me proud. She was ready this time, and we celebrated.
We made her third birthday as memorable as possible. I wanted to make sure that she was not going to reject three for two because of the disappearance of the breast. When the night fell on the evening of her third birthday, I was grateful that she did not shed one tear, and this time, only her mommy did.
Books I used to Support Our Weaning Journey
Below are a few of my favorite parenting books for nursing mothers. May they support you as well as they helped my family in your parenting journey.
- Mothering Your Nursing Toddler
- Ready to Wean: The Return of the Dangling Red Earrings
- Nursies When the Sun Shines
- How Weaning Happens
- Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning – Revised: How to Bring Breastfeeding to a Gentle Close, and How to Decide When the Time Is Right
- Weaning my Toddler: An Attachment Parenting Approach
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