Tips to Gently Wean your Toddler from Nursing

Raise your hand if you have a toddler who is still nursing, either all day and/or all night.  I’d venture to guess there are quite a lot of you out there, which is great. But are you ready to bring that chapter to an end?  This can be an extremely difficult and emotional decision. I distinctly remember the last time I ever nursed and it was sad! Just like I ask all potential clients in our discovery calls, why do you want to wean?  Is the motivation internal or external, because if it’s external then perhaps now is not the time.  If it’s internal and you know you’re ready to move on, here are some tips to get you there.   

It’s good to know that nursing in the toddler years is less about nutritional value and more about wanting a physical connection.  Most toddlers are not taking in a significant amount of calories (and some moms aren’t even producing anymore), so why is your toddler continuing to request?  They crave that physical closeness with you. Think about it - it's a special time with mom that no one else gets to have - it’s sacred. In the behavioral world when we want to eliminate a behavior, we look at why the behavior is happening, and then replace it with something else that meets the same need.   What can you replace nursing with? Extra cuddling and snuggles throughout the day, lots of skin to skin contact, or even mom’s t-shirt can replace that need.  Sometimes having a lovey that smells like mom will keep them feeling safe and secure.

Coping strategies are key to helping your child grieve this loss.  Appropriate coping skills in the toddler years can include snuggling a lovey, taking deep breaths, counting to 5, or getting a hug.  These are just a few examples of how a child can learn to calm themselves down and not rely on nursing.

Are you breastfeeding all day? Wean one feed at a time, starting with night feedings and ending with day feedings.  If your nursing to sleep then your first step will be to teach your toddler to fall asleep without nursing. You can move the nursing session earlier in the bedtime routine until it’s the first part of the routine, then eliminate the session from there.  When your toddler wakes up at night, you can tell them “nursies are for morning (or whatever you call it)” but you can cuddle back to sleep. It can be helpful to wear clothing that does not offer easy access. Better yet, send another adult in (dad or non-nursing mom) so the temptation is not so high.

During the day it can be helpful to “pretend” that you don’t nurse anymore.  This will not work for all toddlers but sometimes if you don’t offer, they won’t remember to ask.  You can go on with your daily routine without offering the session yourself, but then if they ask you can still give them the session.

Avoid nursing to comfort them when they are hurt, bored, or having a tantrum.  This can sometimes teach children to consume something when they feel emotional which can lead to eating issues later on. Instead, make sure they engage in a coping strategy first before coming to you to comfort nurse, even if you have to help them in the beginning.

Avoid shaming by saying “big kids don’t nurse” and instead focus on what the child can do when they feel like they need to nurse.  Expect that there will be tears and work through the emotions with them. Nobody likes change, but sometimes change needs to happen and we can support our toddlers through the process.  

Need more help with your specific situation?  Schedule a complimentary discovery call and see how we can help.  Happy Sleeping!