There is so much information, tips and advice on breastfeeding, especially regarding milk supply, establishing a routine, facing challenges and more. Kicking-off your breastfeeding journey can be difficult but so can deciding to stop. It took me weeks to feel okay about weaning our toddler.
I had to look past the mom-guilt and “expert voices” telling me it will happen when Ava is ready. Ava, ready to stop nursing? Not this girl! She could have gone for at least another year (or two) but I couldn’t. At 22 months this all day buffet needed to close it’s doors…
Eliana self-weaned, practically overnight at 14 months.
We decided to wean Lia at around 16 months and things went pretty easy as soon as she realised milk from a bottle flowed a lot easier – yes that’s how long she took to take a bottle.
Ava however was breastfed the longest. 22 Months and although I thought I’d go for two years, I actually realised I missed having my body to myself and after a lot of back and forth I started to gently wean her at 20 months.
* Please note I’m not a lactation specialist or breastfeeding expert of any sorts. Just a mom sharing her own approach and what weaning our 3 girls have thought me. All of them were over a year when we weaned so this post might not be of any use to a mom looking to wean a baby.
Steps we took while gently weaning our toddler:
I say “we” because I really wouldn’t have been able to wean our girls alone. Like with most (if not all) aspects of parenting, Mr. Perfect and I try to figure things out together. His support is key.
Then I also say “gentle” because over the years that has been what our parenting style has evolved to. Time has taught us not to rush and put pressure and unrealistic expectations on ourselves or our girls.
“Don’t offer, don’t refuse”
This is probably the number one tip you’ll find anywhere and it really is a good approach. I know I certainly used breastfeeding as an “easy out” when Ava was upset or I couldn’t get her to sleep so I needed to break this habit by not always offering my breast as a first solution.
Also remember, weaning does take time and it’s a big step for both mommy and baby. So, when your little needs a “milk fix” don’t simply refuse. Understand it will be a gradual processes.
So what did we do?
1. Stop nursing to sleep
I know, we shouldn’t be nursing our babies to sleep from day one but, it happens and what’s better than holding your little close to our breast as they drift away? As soon as we decided to wean I re-introduced a comforter to Ava. She’s always had her Ewan the sleep sheep as part of the bedtime routine but now she needed something extra to hold onto. Something soft and warm that smelled like mom. It would be her new “security”, replacing me as her main source of comfort.
2. Drop night time feeds first
This one is tricky and sometimes the most difficult. That’s exactly why we took it on first.
Offering water instead of readily available milk takes effort and your toddler will most likely fight you on this – at least for the first couple of nights.
This is where dad plays a crucial role. I found it very difficult not to simply take out my breast when Ava was crying and tugging at my shirt. Having dad wake up to calm her instead, proved much more effective and within a week or so everyone was back to enjoying a good night’s sleep.
I actually handed over bedtime too.
The routine changed from:
bath time – massage – getting dressed – bible – story time – breastfeeding
bath time – massage – getting dressed – bible – breastfeeding – story time (with dad – I needed to remove myself from the room)
* Don’t worry mama, you’ll be invited back, just as soon as the sleep/feed association is broken.
3. Reduce one feed at a time
As soon as Ava felt comfortable not being nursed to sleep and wasn’t fighting dad at night I felt confident to start taking away feeds. Gradually, one-by-one.
I explained to her that mommy’s milk was done. I offered an alternative in case she was thirsty and distracted her with a story or favourite game / toy.
First night feeds disappeared, then the midday / afternoon feed and lastly our morning wakeup feeds.
* I missed our morning cuddles so much but I couldn’t hold Ava without her wanting to nurse so we needed to break our “wake-up / cuddle / feed routine”. As soon as Ava woke up I would get up too. We would have breakfast together and enjoy a cartoon or two. This went on for a month. Now when she wakes up she sneaks into our bed, holds me tight and sleeps peacefully – no breast needed.
4. Let dad help!
Be prepared for some tears (baby’s and your own) but I promise it won’t last forever. This is a big change and you need your husband’s support. You’ll need to let go and give over to dad and at times you’ll need to follow his lead.
So, if dad travels a lot be sure to wean when you know he’s home for a few weeks. Having a tag-team partner while weaning our toddler made a world of difference.
5. Find new ways to still have your “special time”
Nursing all of our girls was amazing. I’ll never forget those big, beautiful eyes staring up at me, their tiny hands holding my breast, their fingers lingering in my hair and the soft baby suckles that soon became toddler gulps. It’s an experience I feel blessed to have had and I feel proud of my body for doing such a good job at feeding our girls. Now it’s time to find new ways to still nurture our special bond…
It was something different for each of our girls. Eliana wanted to be cuddled close while we read stories. It always calmed her down. Lia has been our problem solver from day one and we still make special time to sit together building puzzles. Ava only weaned a month ago and we are still figuring something out… For now she just wants to be held, still holding onto my breast till she’s ready to let go.
It took us just over a month to completely wean Ava, with most tears being shed in the first week. Of course a little piece of my heart still misses breastfeeding but I am excited for our new chapter!
Always follow your own instincts and do what you know is best for yourself and your family because there never is just one “right” way. These steps worked well for weaning our toddler and I hope they will help you too – when you are ready to stop breastfeeding.
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PHOTO CREDIT | Anje-Ilana van Dalen from Madison & West Lifestyle Division.