Though it is recommended that children be breastfed throughout their first year, how long to breastfeed is a very personal choice – with many families choosing to continue supplementing with breastmilk until their child is between the ages of two and four. There are some advantages to waiting until toddlerhood to wean a child from breastfeeding – many parents find it easier at that age because toddlers outgrow the need for breastfeeding on their own and it gives them the chance to allow them to wean at their own pace. Whatever age you choose to wean your child from breastfeeding, here are some tips to help the process go more smoothly.
Don’t Set a Time Limit
Many parents begin the weaning process with a goal of needing to have their child fully weaned by a certain time – such as before a new baby arrives or before a long vacation. This puts an unfair amount of pressure on the child which can make the weaning process much more stressful then it needs to be. Try to avoid beginning weaning with set expectations and instead approach the process understanding that it may take some time for your child to adjust.
Gradually Reduce Feedings
One of the easiest ways to gently wean a toddler is by reducing her feedings gradually. Instead of trying to force your toddler to wean cold turkey, reduce daily feedings one by one until your toddler stops feeding altogether. For example, if your toddler is feeding once in the morning and once at night then you might begin weaning by cutting out the morning feeding but still allowing her to feed at night. Then over time you can reduce the amount of times you allow her to feed at night from daily to every other day to every three days, etc. until she stops the night feeding altogether. Doing this gives her a chance to get used to going without feedings and is generally less dramatic than just taking away all feedings in one fell swoop.
Don’t Offer But Don’t Refuse
Some parents find that the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach works well for weaning their toddler. With this approach a mother simply stops offering feedings on a set schedule and instead only gives feedings when their child asks for one. This way feedings are reduced but the child avoids becoming anxious by knowing that a feeding is available when asked for.
Change Things Up
To help your child cope with the change in her feeding routine, try changing the parts of your daily routine that are affected by the change. For example, if your child is used to getting in bed with you in the mornings for a feeding and you are taking away the morning feeding, then begin getting out of bed before your child wakes in the mornings so that getting in bed with you is no longer an option. Creating a new routine to replace the old one can go a long way to helping a weaning toddler adjust.
Ask For Your Partner’s Help
One strategy that can help when weaning a toddler is to enlist your partner in taking over the duties that you usually perform that included a feeding – such as bedtime. If you are reducing nighttime feedings and your child is used to feeding at bedtime, then having your partner put her to bed can help reduce the instances of meltdowns or temper tantrums since your child knows that your partner cannot give her what she wants. This can also provide a time for the non-feeding parent to create their own bonding routine with the weaning toddler.
Talk to Your Child About Weaning
Young children understand more than we sometimes realize they do and many times a simple conversation can go a long way to helping them understand why we are asking them to do something. Try having an open and honest talk with your child and explaining to her that she is old enough to stop feeding and that she doesn’t need breastmilk anymore because she eats big food now. You may find yourself surprised at how far this conversation can go in gaining your little one’s cooperation and easing any fears she may be experiencing about weaning.
Don’t be Afraid to Start Saying No
It’s important to a toddler’s development to be told no sometimes. Hearing no and having boundaries set is a crucial part of your toddler’s development, so whether it feels like it at the time or not just keep in mind that telling her no from time to time is good for her. If she is asking for a feeding and you are too exhausted or sore to give it to her then tell her no and explain why she cannot feed right now. If she starts to whine or cry try distracting her with a toy or coloring book, but hold firm in your refusal.
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