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Toddler Weaning :: How to Gently Make It Happen

I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed my children, but I never considered how I would stop breastfeeding.  I imagined it would end on its own: either my children would quit or my milk would dry up. What I found is that children are different – and my second son was a huge challenge to wean.

Weaning my first son was almost automatic. One day, at 9 months of age, he decided he was done feeding and moved to a bottle. He was very independent and found that a bottle was more efficient than the breast. A few ice packs later, my milk dried up and life went on.

But my second son, Fulton, was not so easy. As an infant he was glued to me and never accepted a pacifier or a bottle, using the breast as his primary source of comfort. By 15 months, he stopped sleeping through the night, demanding to latch on for comfort rather than for food. I became physically and emotionally exhausted from the feeding and sleepless nights. I was determined to find a way to wean him. And a long 6 months later, here’s how I finally did it.

EdisonFJ_Sept2015-1
Create a Schedule

At 15 months, I was still nursing on demand and at the mercy of Fulton’s demands. He would lift up my shirt in stores and attempt to latch-on while he sat in the shopping cart. My first step to freedom was establishing a clear schedule. I refused to satisfy on-demand feedings and instead put him on a schedule of early morning, morning snack, nap, afternoon snack, and bedtime feedings. While there was certainly a tear-filled adjustment phase, this was an important first step in limiting his access to feedings.

Breast Replacement

My next step was to find relief through substitutes. I replaced “bubbas”, his word for nursing, with apple sauce pouches and warmed coconut milk that I sweetened with stevia in sippy cups.  I called these new options “bubbas” as well, and saw that he found comfort in them through the oral stimulation, while I held him. This wasn’t easy – many “bubbas” were thrown – but through consistency he took to the new options and I was able to drop feedings over time.

Wean Feedings Slowly

It took a full 6 months to completely wean Fulton. I first dropped the “morning snack”, followed by the “afternoon snack” a month later. The morning feeding was the next to go. But the pre-nap and bedtime feedings seemed more difficult for him to give up as he relied on them as his sleep trigger. With persistence, and after almost 6 months, I was down to the night time feed only – but that was one he was not going to part with lightly.

Weaning minutes

Fulton needed the breast before bed. It was a key part of our routine: Bath, books, songs, bubbas, snuggles and bed. So instead of cutting it out entirely, I began shortening it. I set a timer in my head based on his lullabies, and began limiting the time he spent on each breast. When the song was over he was done. Over time, his songs were shortened and in turn his feedings also shortened, but he felt ready for bed because we had preserved the routine. He learned to self soothe and sleep again. 

Out of Sight out of Mind

My last day of breastfeeding was the night I left Fulton for a weekend trip with my husband. I was terrified that Fulton would need me the entire trip, but there wasn’t a single tear. Not a single “Mama, mo bubbas preez!” To be honest, my feelings were a bit hurt and I was sad that it was officially over, but I also felt a great deal of relief. It was the best thing for me and the best thing for him. That night he got a bit of independence and I got a bit of sleep again.

our last day breastfeeding

I will always cherish the 22 months that I nursed my son and remember the special bond we shared. I even documented my last week of nursing with him in a mini photo shoot because I never wanted to forget how special it was. But while I will miss the unique bond of breastfeeding, I am happy to have properly weaned him and feel as close to him as ever.

So if you are trying to wean and feel stuck, give this gentle method a try. It worked for me! 

Good luck mamas!

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One Response to Toddler Weaning :: How to Gently Make It Happen

  1. Lauren April 14, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    I just stumbled across this post…I’m in a very similar position with my youngest – 21 months old. Who knew I’d create a milk addict? 🙂

    When I’m feeling brave, I’ll try your method.

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