How do you stop breastfeeding your toddler at night?
Once that little one can run up to you and ask for milk, many of us Mom’s quickly cut back breastfeeding times during the day – especially when other people are around. But, for many, the feedings at nap and bedtime continue.
It may be because it’s just easier to get your little one to sleep that way. Or because it is the only time in the day that they slow down and truly cuddle in – and let you love on that rambunctious toddler for a few minutes.
As a family physician and the Mom of the wildest toddler around, I have been there. Actually I’m just finishing being there. And I have been invoking guidelines to support my extended breastfeeding with my last little one.
What Do the Experts Say
For those like me, you can thank the World Health Organization for their guidelines: Breastfeeding until age 2 or beyond. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes with 1 year of age or longer if mutually desired by Mom and infant. Here’s the sources for more info: (https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/ and https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Breastfeeding/Pages/default.aspx)
So, good news if you are still nursing your 18-month-old, the guidelines are not against you. Use them when prompted – I did. Frequently.
Breastmilk is not a replacement for starting solid foods. Check out my post on one-year-old diet if you would like more information on that (https://doctormome.com/post/what-should-my-one-year-old-be-eating/) Breastmilk is acceptable as PART of a toddler’s diet just not the whole thing.
When Should You Wean Your Toddler
If you have gotten to toddler stage and are trying to figure out how the heck to get them to stop, you obviously have a little one who likes nursing. Too little production or your child declining the nipple likely are not your problem. More than likely, you are dealing with a little one that does not want to stop.
And, I’m only guessing here not pointing fingers, but you may find that you are not wild about stopping either. Not that I have any personal experience there. I did some serious thought work recently about quitting nursing my 18-month-old and realized that I was actually as much of the nursing picture as she was. It made me sad to give up my last “baby” and those sweet relaxing cuddling moments she and I shared while nursing.
When you are looking at weaning a toddler, you must pick the right time. You may have to create the right time yourself. And that may require a get away. My husband and I are planning a short vacation without the children for the first time in 3 years. She has to be off milk for that to occur. That’s the only way this was going to happen.
Planning Ahead to Stop Breastfeeding Your Toddler
If you are still feeding your toddler during the day and at their request, those should be the first feedings to go. Do not stop cold turkey. I did that with my first daughter – not a good idea.
She was leaving with her Dad for the week (custody arrangement) and so I decided to just stop altogether. I swear my breasts were swollen to my clavicles. I’m lucky I didn’t end up with mastitis. It was miserable. And, had she been around, would have been a complete failed attempt.
Cut back daytime feedings one at a time and give at least a few days in between for your body to adjust.
Save nap-time and night-time feedings for last. A good night sleep in this difficult process is key.
Special Tips for Weaning Toddlers
There are actually a few special considerations that make weaning toddlers a LITTLE easier than younger babies. Use them to your advantage:
- Cool Cups for the Win – My little lady LOVES a straw. I bought a few cool cups with straws to entice her. When she would request breastmilk, distracting with cool cups was very helpful and hydrating.
- Distract, distract, distract – Toddlers are easily distracted. Especially when Dad or siblings are around. When I could feel my little one trying to get into feeding position, distraction with anything from the dog to a book was key.
- They wiggle in, you wiggle out – Toddlers move quick but by this point you know the signs of them assuming the breastfeeding position. Be quicker than they are and don’t let them get into position. The crying will be less likely.
- Talk to your toddler about nursing – They will actually understand you at this point. When I started weaning my little one, I would say, “Milk is only for night night.” Within a week, she would say, “Milky night night” when she thought of it during the day. Use their little brains to your advantage.
- Keep up the physical touch – Your little one wants to cuddle just like you do. I went to cuddles with tickles or gentle backscratching when she wanted to nurse. The tickling was a good way to position change as well. And I still scratch her back at night when she wakes. I also tell her, “No more milk but Mommy can still cuddle.” That one may be more for me.
What About Weaning at Night?
Definitely the trickier wean for me. It is so easy to feed your little one back to sleep when they wake at night. But, with a supportive partner, this may be easier than you think.
To make this easier, please wean during the daytime first. That way your milk production will be down and bearable. Then, tackle the night-time feedings.
Alright – ready for this one. LEAVE.
I’m actually serious here. I did tell you that you needed a supportive partner. You have likely (almost definitely) been the one getting up with your toddler for over a year now. If you approach this correctly, getting your partner on board may not be that difficult.
Here’s the benefits of weaning by absentia:
- It will only take a few nights.
- Your partner will appreciate the work you have done.
- You will sleep through the night for the first time in years.
Here’s how it works:
- Pick a good weekend or few weeknights that you can leave the area in which you will hear your little one cry
- You sleep in a different room or area of the house
- You “leave” about an hour before bedtime so your toddler doesn’t notice your absence. Don’t make a big deal of it – just leave
- Your partner puts your child to bed
- When your child awakes, your partner gets up with him or her
- Be prepared with water or whole milk (don’t leave it in there with them all of the time) and have your partner offer that if they request breastmilk at night
When my sister-in-law first suggested this form of weaning at night, I thought she had lost her mind. What husband would be willing to do that? And then I asked my husband … and he agreed.
Most partner’s do realize that you have been shouldering the sleepless nights with nursing. Although it may not be the best nights for them, they may be more willing than you would think to jump in for a few nights to help.
Mine was. He actually gifted me 2 nights at a hotel for my birthday and took the little lady home. It was AWESOME. I would highly recommend weaning this way. I slept through the night for the first time in literal years.
Now, had I gone back home after 2 nights and starting nursing again, I would have been in BIG trouble. I still had to deal with that but getting over the majority of it while I was gone was a best case scenario.
What About Care for Your Body While Weaning?
The most common questions I am asked as a physician from Mom’s weaning their toddler include:
- How long does it take for the milk to dry up? Although it depends on the amount you are producing and the frequency of your feeding schedule, the average is around a week.
- What is the risk of stopping cold turkey? The biggest is discomfort. Mastitis or inflammation of the breast tissue that can lead to infection is also possible.
- Will you gain weight after stopping breast feeding? It is possible. Women burns an average of 500 calories a day from breastfeeding. That decrease in calorie deficit may result in some weight gain.
- Is it ok to nurse longer than 2 years? I did not continue nursing past a few for ethical purposes. I also don’t believe women should stop just because of peer pressure. Have your Doctor monitor your child’s weight gain and growth. If all are going well and you want to, keep nursing. Just remember that it should not replace foods for your child’s nutritional needs.
Simple Solution: Weaning a toddler comes with a different set of rules. Preparation and planning with continuity is key. And it just may take planning a vacation to get you going – it did for me.
If you are ready to wean and get your body back, check out these posts: https://doctormome.com/post/is-your-child-addicted-to-sugar/