Weaning is a big change in a child’s life.
It needs to be planned and thought about.
Weaning your toddler off breastfeeding – ignore the myths and schedules
A first important point is to be highly sceptical about ‘old wives’ tales’ relating to the best age for weaning.
In fact, there is no such thing. There will come a time when you feel it is right and when your baby or toddler seems receptive too. Use that as your guide rather than what someone says is “the best age” in a book.
What your child may feel
It’s likely that your child is going to suddenly feel that you’re rejecting him/her to at least some extent. That might make them feel a little insecure for a time.
So, try to:
- avoid weaning at a time when you’re also working hard on potty training or similar. Keep disruptive changes to one-at-a-time;
- make sure that before, during and after weaning, your child receives extra cuddles, attention, stories and singing. They need to know they’re still loved.
Some specific tips
Here are a few other key ideas:
- don’t simply stop overnight. Your breasts can become engorged, though expressing can help. It can also be an unnecessary shock to the child. Make this a relaxed transitionary process over time;
- an age-old piece of weaning advice is to never offer the breast apart from when you want or need to but equally don’t refuse it. There’s some sound logic in that because the ideal objective is to encourage your child to move away voluntarily and to stop thinking of your breasts as their primary source of food. However, it can be difficult to completely follow this wisdom considering the complexity of some situations you may encounter.
- ease your child off by moving one feed at a time and substituting it with whatever you have selected. Expressed breast milk can be a good transitionary substitute;
- as you replace feeds with other methods, make sure dinner time is huge fun and your child eagerly looks forward to it. It’ll help them to stop thinking about the breast;
- try not to display your breasts (naked or in a bra/revealing top) in front of your child once you’ve stopped fully or at times when you have no intention of breastfeeding. They won’t understand and it may force you to reject them;
- by the same logic, you need to try not to cuddle your child too close to your exposed or partly exposed breast. This is only a temporary measure until they stop associating your breast and its smell with feeding;
- it’s a good idea to stop daytime breastfeeding first and night-time last. Many children need the proximity and intimacy of night-time feeds to make them feel secure;
- remember, breastfeeding is often part of a routine and very young children like routine. So, you can get help to move their attention elsewhere by asking your partner, friends or relatives to bottle-feed them at ‘normal’ breastfeeding times. It will help to break the association with feeding time and the breast.
Don’t forget yourself
Weaning your toddler off breastfeeding can also have an effect on the woman concerned.
Some women report it as liberating while others resent it as a loss of sense of intimacy with their child. It’s not unknown for a little bit of ‘the blues’ by way of mood swings to accompany the transition too. Your hormones will shift and move around once you stop lactating.
Also, watch out for weight gain. Your body has been burning a lot of extra calories while feeding and will take some time to adjust. You may need to moderate your calorie intake accordingly.
In other words, don’t forget your own health and wellbeing at this time!