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Inside: How to wean a toddler in 6 steps. It’s a step-by-step guide that works. Not just works, leaves you feeling good about weaning from breast or bottle because of the surprising tool I show you how to make.
Want to wean? I’ve got you.
Small confession first: I have 2 kids and weaned 3 times. It didn’t stick the first time and so I learned how to wean a toddler the hard way (my learning style, apparently). I also learned the most helpful tool for weaning that can completely change your weaning experience. I’ll explain (or you can just scroll to the 6 steps below).
My first son was SO into nursing, and so was I – after the first 4 torturous months, that is. I loved nursing him once we figured it out. I got so many snuggles and he got so many rosy cheeks and drunken milk smiles. My husband and I had thought about trying for baby number 2, but we were going to have to do IVF and I’d have to quit nursing. I didn’t want to quit nursing yet. We put off baby number 2 and I kept getting up extra early before work to give my son his leisurely wake up nursing that he loved. Breastfeeding older children along with providing table food was something I was totally cool with.
Until the Sunday I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant.
My son was 14 months old and still very much attached to me and nursing. I talked to my midwives and they said it was fine for me to keep nursing.
Then the breast tenderness. The morning (all the time) sickness. The exhaustion. My son started waking up at 4:30AM every morning during this time – up and ready for the day. Did I mention he could run extremely fast and climb up the piano (and anything else in the house) by 14 months old?
I was 5 months pregnant. I couldn’t gain weight. My body didn’t want to nurse anymore.
Staying up late googling “how to wean a toddler”
So I googled “how to wean a toddler.” I read every article I could and nothing. Nothing was helpful. I blundered through weaning. There was a LOT of crying. A lot of me feeling guilty. I needed something to help me that I didn’t have (and why I created the weaning tool that I show you how to make below.)
My toddler was eating okay, although he still went through phases of not eating enough.
About 10 well-meaning moms and all those articles I read, said, “He’ll forget about nursing in 3 days.”
3 WEEKS later he was still asking for his beloved “milky” several times a day.
He never stopped asking. About a month after we weaned, I started reading him board books that talked about a new baby joining the family. Guess what? In every book, the mom was nursing the baby. He was SO excited!
Milky was coming back!!!
Him: “Baby share milky.”
Me: “Uh sure, baby share milky.”
Everyone told me he would forget how to nurse. There were still 3 months to go. The professional websites said he wouldn’t know how to nurse anymore. I swore I would never tandem nurse – how weird! (Rookie mistake, I said, “I would NEVER”…)
Still daily requests for milky.
The moment I realized I was good at “how NOT to wean a toddler”
The baby came. My milk came in. I brought the baby home from the hospital.
The transition was tough on my 2 year old. Having a new baby added to your family is hard. A few days after the baby was born, I was nursing on the couch and my toddler said, “Baby share milky?”
I thought about all those articles and those wise moms I had talked to. He had forgotten to nurse. Right?
I called his bluff.
He latched right on.
His milky was back.
[Me frantically thinking about what to google “what to do when kid remembers how to nurse after those darn articles promised me he had forgotten”]
Those darn articles.
The transition of adding a new sibling continued to be tough on him. He still loved milky. Despite the fact that I swore “I would never…”, I decided tandem nursing would be best for our situation. Sure, breastfeeding older children and an infant can be complicated, but I did a great job nurturing 2 kids. Tandem nursing turned out to be a good fit for us.
Except it was exhausting.
Life-force sucking exhausing.
I Wanted To Wean My 2-Year-Old
9 months into nursing a 2-year-old and an infant, I wanted to wean my 2-year-old.
This time, for good.
I did some more googling, “how to wean a toddler.” Still nothing. I gave up on google. I realized I’d have to create a step-by-step process for weaning my toddler. Something that took into consideration the fact HE DID NOT WANT TO WEAN! I needed a weaning tool, but there wasn’t one – and that’s why I came up with the one below (that I show you how to make).
There are a lot of messages out there that say you should wait until you AND your child are ready to wean before you wean. The messages may also flat out say you should wait until your child is ready to wean before you wean. The messages tried to guilt me into continuing to nurse because my toddler “needed” the connection or because it was “biologically natural” (whatever that means) for children to nurse until older ages.
I obviously have a strong commitment to nurturing my children, breastfeeding was a big part of that for me personally (can someone please give me a gold star for tandem nursing?) At the end of the day though, they are my boobs and when my body says it’s time to wean, then it’s time to wean. I don’t buy into any messages that try to persuade me to go against what my body is telling me. Other people’s bodies tell them different things.
My body was telling me to wean my toddler (and keep nursing my infant).
How to Wean a Toddler in 6 Steps
I weaned. In 6 steps. In a way that I felt SO good about. In a way that was permanent and as positive as weaning can be. In a way that helped him process what was happening. In a way that helped ME process what was happening (why don’t we ever think about moms processing this big change?)
I used this step-by-step process and weaning tool for my second child as well.
How to Wean a Toddler Step 1: Bring More Structure and Limits to Feeding
First, it was important for me to establish with my toddlers that milky wasn’t available all the time. I basically made it available sometimes and not others. We ended up having a standard nursing routine that went something like morning, daycare pick up, and evening nursing. Then there was some occasional night nursing or comfort nursing.
Keep in mind, at this point, I had a toddler feeding schedule for him for his solid foods. Nursing fit in around that.
He was eating table foods and displaying only mild signs of picky eating. NOTE: If you’re struggling with any aspect of feeding your child or picky eating, I highly recommend my free child feeding guide.
Because we were using a toddler feeding schedule, he was already familiar with the idea that “the kitchen is closed” and “that’s not available right now.” I had also established the idea that he should ask me before trying to get milky.
So first, it’s really important to establish some boundaries around nursing. Sometimes it’s available, sometimes it’s not available. When they protest and cry about the boundaries, it’s okay! You can be near and comfort them, but stay firm. This is a hard transition for them.
How to Wean a Toddler Step 2: Wean From Night Nursing
Night nursing can be really tricky. I like to wean from night nursing before nursing is gone all together. The middle of the night is a hard time to try to explain what’s happening or redirect to a different activity.
How did I wean from night nursing? First, during the day I explained that when it was nighttime, milky wouldn’t be available (in step 1 I had already established it was available sometimes and not for others).
Then, when my kids woke up in the middle of the night asking for milky, we explained that it wasn’t available, but it would be available in the morning. Yes, they were certainly upset, but we (my husband and I, who often alternated going in) stayed with them until they were able to go back to sleep.
Once it was clear that night nursing was over, I moved on to the next step.
How to Wean a Toddler Step 3: Drop the Easiest Day Nursing and Keep Dropping
Next I dropped the easiest day nursing. The day nursing that they really weren’t that attached to. For me, that was the daycare pick up nursing.
I explained to my toddler ahead of time, “Milky won’t be available when I pick you up. We will play together for 5 minutes.” I explained what would happen, then we did it.
Because it was the easiest nursing, we mostly breezed through this part. There were a few days of feeling unhappy, but not much.
It gets harder when you have to drop ones that they are more attached to. It’s okay to keep going though. Once they have dropped one, they understand how it works a little bit more each time.
Next, I picked the morning nursing to drop. That meant, I needed to have a hot breakfast ready and waiting for them first thing in the morning at first. I sat with them and provided lots and lots of snuggles. It was hard. I had to stay with them in their sadness, but it was good.
Once we dropped the morning nursing, I started providing a morning book reading and snuggle. They would stumble out and we would read a book together on the couch where we used to nurse. For some kids, it may be helpful to snuggle in a different place than where you used to nurse.
Once you’re down to 1 nursing, it’s time to move on.
How to Wean a Toddler Step 4: Create a Weaning Book
Here’s what makes this guide unique and something that will completely change your weaning experience. I wanted to help my toddler understand what was going to happen and how milky would be gone for him permanently – even though his brother was still going to get it.
Make a small photo book
You’re going to write a small photo book for your child, to help them understand weaning.
Here are the major sections of the photo book you will write for your child. It is all about them:
- Nursing life for your child
- Getting older
- A scenario that your family will do in real life
- A permanent change that will happen in real life
- How nursing stops
- Life after nursing stops for your child
To make a photo book, you will need lots of photos of your child – you and them doing things together, nursing images, and images of them doing things that don’t include nursing (playing, going to the park, doing activities at home, etc.)
I used Shutterfly to make my first book and the book was 20 pages. It is so quick and easy to organize images and add text. You could also make this with glue, photos, and paper.
We’ve all probably read enough board books to know the types of things we can put into a book for our toddlers. I’ve written two of these weaning books now. One for a 33 month old and one for a 23 month old. I used slightly shorter sentences and easier words for my younger one. You can choose the reading level though.
Create a story
Here is the general flow of the book:
“This is M. He is creative and fun.”
[Use a picture of him being cute and having fun at current age.]
“When M was a baby, he drank milky.”
[Create a few pages on this part of life. Include baby and toddler pictures, especially of them nursing.]
Introducing a Change
“Then M got older. He started to eat food when he was hungry, and drink food when he was thirsty. He learned to….”
[Create several pages about what they like to eat and drink and what they like to do and their skills.]
“On Monday he drank milky, on Tuesday he drank milky, on Wednesday he drank milky, on Thursday he drank milky, on Friday he drank milky.”
[This is the lead up to a scenario, include images for lead up.]
“Saturday was a different day. _____________________ happened.”
[Write a page about a scenario that happens. Could be a visit from a friend, a visit to a place, an outing, or absolutely anything at all. Take pictures of the scenario or add pictures that suggest the scenario and make a page about it. IMPORTANT: don’t live out the scenario in real life until it’s time to wean. You may need to create a “fake” scenario during nap time to photograph so your child doesn’t see it early.]
Explain what will happen after the change
“After that, __ happened.”
[Make a page about a permanent change: car seat gets turned around, new bedding, presence of a new item, new food added to your child’s diet, etc. Include images of this. Again, you may have to “stage” taking a photo of the change when your child is not around, and then undo it so that your child doesn’t see the thing ahead of time.]
“There was no more milky after that. M felt sad that there was no more milky. Mommy was with M. Mommy did _ with M.”
[On a few pages, talk about how they will feel and how the parent(s) will be with them when they feel sad. Include several pages of images of parents doing things with the child. Don’t sugar-coat the loss or pretend like your child will be happy.]
Show life after nursing to conclude the book
“Now M is a big boy. He eats food when he’s hungry and drinks drinks when he’s thirsty. He also ________________”
[Create several pages that explain what he does now. Include LOTS of pages of them doing things that are fun to look at. They love to look at themselves and especially like to see themselves doing fun things. I used the full second half of the book to go on and on about what they do.]
“M sometimes misses milky, but ________________”
[Include a final page with a punchline about what they do when they miss milky. It is especially helpful if this is a little silly. For one of mine it said, “M sometimes misses milky, but he knows he can always give milky to his doll.” It was accompanied by a picture of him “nursing” his baby doll – which he thought was funny.]
How to Wean a Toddler Step 5: Live Out the Weaning Book!
You’ve gone through all this processing yourself and you have your weaning book. Now start reading the book to your child on Sunday, and read it several times a day Sunday through Friday. Then on Saturday, live out your scenario (or whatever day sequence you choose).
Do the scenario.
Make the permanent change.
Don’t do any nursing after that.
Yes, it’s going to be hard. They may cry. You may cry. It’s okay and totally normal. I mostly just got all my tears out writing that weaning book. So many tears. So I was cool by the time I actually got to the weaning.
Be there for them. Do the things you said you would do when they got sad there was no more milky.
Have lots of family bonding time for the weekend and the next week.
Yes, weaning is hard on your body. You will have lots of hormonal shifts and that can cause a host of emotional responses, including depressive symptoms. Please know you are not alone if you feel absolutely horrible, sick, emotionally down, and emotionally in turmoil. Seek help if the symptoms become severe.
How to Wean a Toddler Step 6: Use Your Weaning Book
Every time you or your toddler misses nursing, you can read the book together. I even photographed all the pages and had them on my phone (to show my mom, of course), and then we had the book when we were out of town and I had forgotten the book.
It was the single most useful tool I had to provide emotional nurturing for my toddlers who were weaning, while also removing the nurturing that breastfeeding gives.
If you find your child trying to nurse when they are hungry, redirect them to “big kid food.” If you’re still working out what you feed your child, here are some Easy Feeding Guides to help:
If you’re having trouble with picky eating or have a lot of mealtime stress, the FREE Kids Eat in Color Picky Eater guide is here for you.
I hope you found this weaning guide extremely useful! I’d be especially grateful if you shared it with any friends of yours who need help with weaning their toddlers!