Well done on feeding your baby into toddlerhood! You know how good breastmilk is for your child. You know that breastfeeding helps them feel more emotionally secure.
They continue to love breastfeeding but you may be thinking about stopping. Perhaps you have already tried to wean without success.
When your toddler is unwilling
If you are ready to wean, but your child is unwilling, there are likely to be times when you feel very tense and even resent breastfeeding. They may sense your frustration and this may actually make them ask for more feeds. This can become an unpleasant vicious cycle: your child becomes more anxious and more demanding, and you become more upset and irritable.
It can help to think about what is happening:
What is it about feeding that is really challenging for you?
Are there specific times and places where you feel that you really resent feeding?
Is your toddler asking for feeds when you’ve just started something, such as a phone call?
Are family or friends pressuring you to wean?
Or is your sleep being disturbed by constant night-feeding?
You might find it helpful to talk to someone. An ABA breastfeeding counsellor can talk through your situation with you and help you decide what to do.
Prepare your child
Toddlers can often understand more than we think they can. Prepare your toddler by telling them what’s about to happen. You could read picture books about babies growing up. Some mums like to make a story book showing the difference between their toddler as a baby and what the toddler can do now.
Set some limits
When you are breastfeeding a toddler or older child, it’s okay to set limits on feeding that are realistic for you and your child. Some of the following ideas may help you do this.
Dealing with naps and night feeds
Feeds at night or before nap times can be hard to drop, as they may be the only way of getting your toddler to sleep. It may also be the only way to get them back to sleep again (settle them) if they wake, particularly in the middle of the night.
Here are some suggestions:
Gradually increase the time between their sleep-time feed and actually putting them to bed, to try to break the link between feeding and sleeping.
Introduce a new bedtime routine which doesn't involve feeding to sleep, but give as much time, love and comfort as you can to help them fall asleep—singing, rocking, reading a story, patting—whatever helps.
Gradually reduce the time at the breast to just enough time to relax your child, placing the emphasis on the story, song etc., rather than on the breastfeed.
If your toddler wakes during the night and wants a feed to get back to sleep, see if your partner can settle them, perhaps with a cuddle and a drink of water. Sometimes toddlers will accept this, as your partner doesn't remind them of breastfeeds.
Even if you still bring your toddler into your bed, try comforting them in other ways before offering a breastfeed. You may see a gradual change from feeding for comfort to being comforted in other ways.
Consider your child's sucking need
If your child really seems to need to suck, weaning onto a bottle may be better than going straight to a cup. Offer a short breastfeed, then the bottle.
It may take time
Gradually weaning can ease both you and your child into the transition.
Try to gradually reduce the number of feeds you offer. This means that you are dropping one feed every few days. If your breasts begin to feel full, you can express just enough to make them comfortable.
It may take several months before your child stops breastfeeding completely. Your breasts may also take time to adjust and you may still make milk for quite some time after.
Read more about weaning
Evidence-led info and practical tips from our Breastfeeding Information Series