When I started breastfeeding this time, I had a goal in mind of making it to 6 months and hopefully beyond until weaning. I had no idea when he would wean himself from the breast. I was delighted when I got not only to 6 months but much further – it got so much easier after that, when I wasn’t solely his source of sustenance. After I got to a year, another milestone I wanted to get to you, I thought I would do it until he wanted to stop, or I did, or when he was 2.
His second birthday was approaching and I was feeling ready to stop. He loves it, and would do it far more often than he does at the moment, but I’ve settled on giving it to him before bed unless I’m not there (he’ll just drink water or squash as normal and sometimes has a cow’s milk drink). He also has it in the night if he wakes up, unless it’s not long after he’s gone to bed, then I’ll just lie with him and he goes back off. He’ll have it in the morning if he wakes early, this buys me time if I don’t want to get up! If he’s home with me, he may have it before his nap, but I’m trying to cut the nap now because he doesn’t go to bed until late otherwise. I, however, am getting a bit tired of it, I still enjoy the closeness and when he falls asleep with it, but this doesn’t happen as often as it did, and feeding often involves twisting, pinching, slapping and pulling at my clothes.
At the moment I’m torn between wanting to stop but it’s also not that much of an inconvenience to still do it. I say no a lot more than I used to, and I don’t fear the consequences of saying no either. At times I want him to self wean, but that could be when he’s 7 or so, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. At least, I don’t think so! Other times I want to stop, go cold turkey or gradually reduce until we stop. I said I would stop when he was 2 – I’d like to get some strategies in place, so I’ve been researching and here are some tips. I’ll let you know how it goes when I start putting them into practice. I know all children stop eventually, it’s a bit like potty training, we all do it in the end, and no one can tell at the end of the day when you stopped. I’m scared of bedtime being long and protracted (more than it can be) and of having my last ever feed. I’m not having any more children. I know we’ll still be close though, he loves his cuddles. It would be nice to share more of his care, my husband tries but often he just wants me. That may take a while to change!
Stopping Breastfeeding Gradually: Tools
- Don’t offer, don’t refuse. Quite simply, if they ask for it, give it and don’t offer it
- Change your daily routines – get up and have breakfast at the start of the day, cut the afternoon nap or go out in the car instead
- Offer a snack or a drink just before you would usually breastfeed and do it together
- Distraction – play together, go out to the park
- Reduce the time of the feed, set a timer or countdown
- Introduce a special cup with milk or a drink in instead
- Postpone the feed
- Cut one feed a day every 2-3 days
- Get help from friends and family
Cutting the bedtime/naptime/ night time breastfeed
- Start changing the bedtime routine, use a story and music lullaby, then continue these after you stop
- Wait until they’re really sleepy and they may fall asleep having a cuddle or lying down together
- Send Dad in for cuddles and stories
- Offer a drink or even a snack if they wake at night and keep a snack and drink to hand if they wake early
- If they’re old enough, make an agreement to not breastfeed until morning
Books that may help you to night wean:
There are some lovely story books that help explain to your toddler that night time is for sleeping and you don’t want to nurse at night anymore.
Beautiful watercolor illustrations and a sweet, lulling verse help young children understand the concept of night and day. Night time, the book explains, is for sleeping. “Nursies,” on the other hand, happen when the sun shines. In Nursies, a toussle-haired toddler is snuggled up in bed with mom and dad, ready to go to sleep for the night, the family’s grey striped cat snoozing soundly at their feet. When the toddler wakes at night for “nursies,” mom shows her baby that it’s dark outside, and assures baby that she’ll have nursies when the sun shines. Later, with brilliant sun streaming through the window, the toddler knows it’s time for nursies. The book closes with a heart-warming illustration of a nursing family: the toddler, nuzzled up to mama’s breast, daddy kissing toddler’s head, and even the family cat purring a love song. Nursies is a groundbreaking children’s book, the first-ever to focus on night weaning. Its goal is to facilitate communication between parent and young child, thereby making the process of night weaning as gentle and easy as possible.
Milkies in the morning (US link here) is another picture book following a toddler’s night weaning journey.
For the older child, there is Sally weans from Night Nursing. (US link)
I think night nursing is the one most people want to cut out, as it’s the most disruptive to our sleep and well being. If it’s not a problem for you, or if you co sleep, then there’s nothing wrong with it or using ‘Natural Term Breastfeeding.’ This is when you simply carry on until your child is ready to stop. I don’t think this is for me as there are a lot of times that I resent the feed, from getting my boob out to the feeling of the sucking. Sometimes his top teeth rub on my nipple and it’s painful, I have to stop and re position, sometimes abandoning the feed. I know he doesn’t ‘need’ it nutritionally, he eats well and has a varied diet, but there are still benefits of breastmilk no matter how old the child. It’s the emotional and habitual need that he has. There are a lot of 2 year olds and older that still drink from a bottle, use a dummy or have a comfort blanket or toy, it’s just that mine has the boob.
My strategy of reducing/stopping breastfeeding
He’s started liking cuddly toys, and I’m encouraging him to like them and use them for comfort. I am reducing the times of our feeds and I don’t always nurse in the morning. I plan on cutting this one out altogether. If he wakes early, before 5 that will be a night time feed or re settle. If it’s after 5 I’ll keep a drink and snack upstairs and plonk the TV on low for him so I can stay in bed a bit longer (neither of us are morning people). If I nurse in the evening and he doesn’t fall asleep, I will try then not to do it again to get him to sleep, instead use Daddy or lie with him, something I’ve already started. I’ve introduced story time in his bedroom and he already has a music box, which he likes to have on if we’re lying down together. I’ll keep this routine in place and gradually reduce the time we nurse in the evenings, and take turns with Daddy. Support is so important, if your partner is not on board with the changes you plan on implementing, it’s not going to work, or it’s going to be so much harder. A lot of toddlers wean during a pregnancy, but that’s not happening for me, our family is complete. As for me, my part will be to enjoy our last feeds, to come to terms with this part of our relationship ending.
Have you night weaned/ stopped breastfeeding a toddler? What strategies did you use? Did you stop suddenly or gradually wean?
***Update – I’ve now night weaned, but he now nurses morning (not every morning) and evening before bed. He’s 2yrs 8 months. How long will I carry on? I’ve no idea, but he is showing no signs of stopping…***
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