Figuring out how to wean a toddler can be a challenge—they may have strong opinions about the process!—but with a few strategies in mind, you can come up with a consistent plan to make it easier on everyone involved.
How to Wean a Toddler
Weaning can be such a confusing process from a physical and emotional perspective. There are also competing cultural pressures about when this milestone should happen, so if you’re feeling like you don’t know how to handle this process, know that you are not alone. Here are a few common reasons that you might be ready to wean a toddler.
- You feel done with breastfeeding and/or you want your body back.
- Your child is losing interest and just seems done.
- Bottles or nursing seem like they may be interfering with your toddler’s appetite at meals.
- Your toddler is preoccupied by bottles or nursing, and it’s impacting your day (or night) in a detrimental way.
- Bottles or nursing are interfering with toddler’s ability to drink from a cup.
TIP: There is no one right time to wean a toddler!
How to Wean a Toddler Off a Bottle
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we start the weaning process by the time a toddler is 18 months. This, they say, can help prevent tooth decay—which could be an issue if the child was falling asleep with the bottle in their mouth. But if that timeframe seems to soon or you’re already past it, here are some other tips to help transition from a bottle to a cup.
- Start by substituting a cup for the midday bottle.
- Allow time for the child to adjust to using their cup and make a big deal out of it. Go together to pick a new cup out, talk up being a “big boy” (or girl), and be consistent.
- Expect that the child may protest, but remember that your job is to help them through the transitions…and the emotions they may have about it.
- Continue replacing bottles with cups (or other food), saving the most comforting one for last whether that’s bedtime or the one first thing in the morning.
- Offer milk or water at meals and be sure that you’re giving your child ample opportunities to get the nutrition and satiety they need from meals and snacks.
- Distract them with fun activities if they get fixated on their bottle (or lack there of).
- If they forget their bottle one day during the weaning phase, follow their lead and don’t bring it back.
- Substitute other comforts for their bottle, such as a story and a snuggle at bedtime, or a new special goodnight song.
TIP: Remember that kids have short memories at this age, so while they may have strong feelings during the transition, if you’re consistent, they will soon be on to the next thing.
How to Stop Breastfeeding a One Year Old
If you’re looking to stop breastfeeding a toddler, exactly how you do it may depend on how much and when you’re currently breastfeeding. Here are some ideas that may help you wrap your head around this transition.
Please know that I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop breastfeeding their toddler—you do you and breastfeed as long as you want to! I’m simply sharing advice if you do want to stop.
- Offer milk (or water) in a cup at mealtimes and be sure to offer meals and snacks regularly enough to cover a child’s hunger and nutritional needs.
- Talk about how they are getting older and are ready to stop breastfeeding.
- Talk about how mama no longer has milk for them from her breasts/boobs/whatever you want to call it!
- Go together to pick out a new cup.
- Have a taste test of other milks to see what they like if switching to cow’s milk hasn’t been successful. Some kids prefer the flavor of one milk over another, so try unsweetened plant milks to see if there’s one they like more.
- Remember that kids actually don’t need to drink milk at all if they’re getting 2-3 sources of dairy a day, or are eating foods that provide calcium and vitamin D.
- If your child is naturally losing interest, follow their lead and don’t force them to continue (unless there is a reason for you to do so!).
- Try to go gradually enough to give yourself the time to adjust physically and emotionally as some women can experience engorgement or weaning-related depression.
TIP: As with most things related to parenting, the key in this transition is to be as consistent as you can so your child knows what to expect.
How to Stop Breastfeeding at Night
If you’re looking to wean your toddler at night, consistency will again be key. As will offering a substitute source of comfort such as a lovely or a snuggle and a song. I also love the sleep advice in the Happy Sleeper Book. Know that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that most kids should be able to go all night without food or milk and while your child may protest, that is likely more of an emotional response than a physical one.
TIP: Be gentle and kind with yourself during this process as it’s often harder on us parents than the kids!
Toddler Weaning, Final Thoughts
Weaning can be such an emotional time as it often signals that we’ve come to the end of a sweet time with your baby or toddler, so take it as fast or slow as you want or need to. Some families can go cold turkey from breast or bottle and others need to take a few weeks to complete the transition. It’s all good as long as it’s working for you.
TIP: Discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant as needed.
I’d love to hear your feedback if weaning is something you’re attempting to do or have done, so please comment below to share.