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Breast-Feeding: Weaning a Toddler

Topic Overview

You may choose to wait until your child is a toddler (ages 1 to 2 years) or older to wean him or her from the breast. You may feel that your toddler isn't ready for weaning until later or that you both aren't ready. You may want to initiate it or just let your child stop breast-feeding on his or her own (self-wean).

You can wean your child gradually or abruptly.

Gradual weaning

One way to let a toddler control his or her own weaning is through the "don't offer, don't refuse" method. This means that you never offer to breast-feed your child but do not refuse when your child asks or shows a desire to breast-feed.

This can be a slow process. But when the mother is committed to weaning and provides encouragement to her child, a toddler can wean himself or herself successfully and happily.

The following techniques may help you gradually wean your toddler:

  • Make your breasts less available for nursing. Stop wearing nursing clothing such as nursing bras and tops with nursing slits. Wear more layers of clothing, or wear clothing that is less easily adapted to nursing. The toddler may demand to nurse less often because of the lack of easy access. This technique is usually combined with other techniques.
  • Shorten each breast-feeding session before stopping it completely. A toddler may just need a minute or two at the breast, more for comfort than for food. When the toddler has had a minute or two, urge the child to stop and interest him or her in something else.
  • Postpone breast-feeding sessions. Tell your toddler that he or she can nurse later, such as after you finish preparing dinner. This will space out sessions until you can eventually postpone a whole nursing session until the next one. It may also allow your toddler to become distracted before the breast-feeding ever begins.
  • Substitute food, drinks, or comfort for breast-feeding. If your child still uses breast-feeding as a primary way of satisfying hunger or thirst, be ready with other foods and drinks (milk or water is better than juice because of the high sugar content of juice) before your child asks to breast-feed. If he or she isn't hungry or thirsty, encourage the use of a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal, blanket, or doll, and offer it often. Also substitute close cuddling without breast-feeding. A child may fear that weaning means losing that comforting sense of being held.
  • Distract your toddler. Make life so interesting and busy that your toddler forgets to ask to breast-feed. Read a book to your toddler while holding him or her on your lap (which provides close contact), or suggest a walk, a ride on a tricycle, or a trip to a playground or sandbox. Distractions can be time-consuming but are very effective.

Abrupt weaning

Some mothers prefer to abruptly wean their toddler from the breast. This approach may be best suited for a toddler who nurses fewer than 3 times a day.

When weaning abruptly, choose a time when you don't anticipate other major changes in your or your toddler's life and when you have extra time to spend with your child.

  • Say "no," and offer distractions. Try reading a book while holding your toddler on your lap. This provides the close contact your child wants. Or suggest a walk, a ride on a tricycle, or a trip to a playground or sandbox.
  • Make your breasts less available for nursing.
  • Let someone else take care of your toddler for a few days. Your child should stay with a trusted caregiver, such as a spouse, grandparent, or other family member. Since you aren't available for breast-feeding, your child will adjust to the other caregivers and over time will come to accept that breast-feeding isn't necessary. If you are gone for less than a week, your child may ask to breast-feed again when you return but will often accept a refusal without too much complaining.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Last Revised May 30, 2012

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