Weaning a toddler from breastfeeding

When I began breastfeeding my son as an infant, I didn’t know how long I’d last. We received a lot of misinformation at the hospital; each nurse had something different to say, and it was often contradictory. It wasn’t until we saw two lactation consultants that I felt I really had a grasp on how it was supposed to work, and I didn’t feel fully confident until I’d read the La Leche League’s book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

In the book, which was recommended to me by a friend and that I recommend to all my planning-to-nurse friends, the section on weaning mentions baby led weaning. This essentially means that you follow your baby’s cues as to when they’re ready to stop nursing, and gradually wean from there.
When my son’s first birthday came and went and he was still nursing, I figured he’d want to wean in the next six months. When that didn’t happen, I planned on weaning him by the time he was two. Each time I’d start the process, we’d have a setback. There would be an illness, or an emotional event, and he would regress back to nursing more instead of less. Now that we’re expecting our second baby, my doctor recommended weaning him before June, when his little brother arrives. This seemed like a good idea, as the climbing all over me was wearying and I knew I didn’t want to tandem nurse. I also wanted to stop early enough that A, our first baby, wouldn’t be jealous of the new baby for getting to nurse when he didn’t. Since we’d had a trip planned for March, my doctor recommended weaning him by then: the trip would be a distraction, and he’d forget about mommy’s milk.
I began weaning in December, by cutting out all non-sleepy-time nursings. Unless he was going to bed at night, night nursing, or napping, he had to drink cow’s milk, water or juice from his sippy cup. We began potty training in January, and I realized weaning and potty training at the same time may be too much change at once for my little man. 
So after his birthday in mid-January, we put potty training on hold and I stopped nursing him at night. This was the easiest step, since we begin the night with him in his own bed but he joins us for co-sleeping when he awakes. When he wakes up and comes into our room, we would snuggle him without nursing and he’d go back to sleep. A week after stopping the night nursing, we cut out morning nursing. He often, though not always, wanted to nurse when he first woke up. Although he let this go easily, he is still asking for morning milk.
Shortly after the morning milk was gone, I cut out nap time nursing. This has been an especially hard transition. The first day, nap time fell on a Saturday when we were out and about, so he took his nap in the car. The next day, he’d had a late night and an early morning, so he just climbed in my bed with me, snuggled under our newly labeled ‘nap time blanket’, and I snuggled him to sleep. It took over an hour, but it worked. 
Our nap time success rate is about 70% at this point, at the beginning of February. He’s still napping in our bed, as it’s only been a week and a half since he hasn’t gotten to nurse to sleep at nap time. Now we’re easing him into napping in his bed by having him lay in his bed first, then moving him to our bed if he doesn’t fall asleep.
The hardest transition by far has been cutting out nursing to sleep at night. I know, now, that allowing him to nurse to sleep for as long as we did set a bad precedent. We now this going into baby 2, and will change the way we teach him to sleep. Hindsight and all that. Anyway, the first night we cut out nursing at bed time we were out and about, and he was in PJ’s and nighttime diaper, so he fell asleep in the car. The next night was more painful, as we were home. We tried giving him warm cow’s milk in a sippy cup, rocking him and singing to him, laying him in his bed, rubbing his back, playing his soother, singing more songs, and all to no avail. He was obviously tired, but just not falling asleep. J had the idea to ease him into bedtime by letting him fall asleep in our bed the first few nights, and then trying to get him to fall asleep in his own bed.
If, like me, you nursed your toddler to sleep for too long and now they don’t want to go to sleep without it, here’s my recommendation (based on, you know, this one kid and my own experience. This is just what I think. I have no accreditations, this is just mommy advice!)
  • Go slowly to ease them into the transition.
  • Try to not make too many life changes at once (moving, stopping nursing, potty training, arrival of a sibling, etc)
  • Cut out the least-important milk time first, let them get used to that for a week or two, and then cut out the next least-important milk time next, so on and so forth.
  • Explain to your child what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I know toddler reasoning skills aren’t super great, but I didn’t want to give him this big change with no explanation. Each time, I said, “No, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re going to do this instead. But that’s okay- you’re a big boy and you can handle it. Mommy still loves you.” If he asked for it again, I’d say something about the milk taking a nap, and asked if he could drink from his sippy cup instead.
  • If you use a boppy pillow, put it out of sight. Sometimes he’d want milk when he was bored, and he’d go straight for the pillow. Now he goes to his sippy cup, or just sits with me or pulls me to wherever he wants to go.
  • Have a sleep routine and stick to it. Ours is bath on bath night (every other night), PJ’s and night time diaper, teeth brushing, story reading, and bed. Our nap time routine is read a story, get the nap time blanket, snuggle and sleep.
That’s where we’re at now; he’s gone to bed without milk twice, so he hasn’t nursed since Friday, January 30. Easing him into it also eased myself into it, so that I’ve had very little discomfort (except when his little razor sharp elbows inevitably find their way to poke me!). I’m not a cold turkey type person, so I chose the gradual approach. It also helped me emotionally, since stopping nursing is bittersweet. I enjoy the quiet, calm bonding time that it provides. It’s also hard to end the nursing relationship, because it’s another sign that he’s moving into boyhood and further away from baby days. 
What advice do you have for weaning toddlers? How do you get your kiddos to sleep? Was stopping nursing an emotional experience for you?

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