How to gently wean a breastfeeding & co-sleeping toddler
I breastfed Zion until he was almost two and a half, we had our last feed while we were on holidays in Yamba. I didn’t know that would be our last time but am really happy it was somewhere special.
I was happily breastfeeding Zion on demand and was wanting to wait until he naturally weaned, I thought this would be the most natural, lovely thing to happen. But when I got pregnant I knew that I couldn't breastfeed Zion plus a newborn. Some women tandem breastfeed with great results, but I knew I wouldn’t have the energy for it. And I couldn’t see any sign of Zion stopping or cutting back his feeds. I was waiting for when I was 12 weeks pregnant, because apparently this is when a pregnant mum’s milk might change and some toddlers don’t like the change in flavour. But Zion actually started feeding more and this is when I started looking into different gentle ways on how to wean him.
I should add that we also bed-share with Zion. He has slept in our bed since he was about three months old. (We ended up putting a crib next to the bed and taking the wall down closest to the bed so that our bed was a bit bigger - because he started taking up too much room when he was bigger!)
You can either watch this video where I share what I've written below or read this blog post which continues under the video. :)
A lot of gentle tips I found online about weaning didn’t really work for us. So I thought I’d share things that didn’t work for us, but might totally work for you and your toddler/baby…
- Shortening the length of feeds. Saying we will only feed for ten seconds for example and then stopping after that. Once Zion was feeding, he was all in.
- Giving a cuddle or snuggle toy. Ever since he was little he hasn’t hugged or gotten connected to a soft toy or comforter, he loves his toys during the day to play with, but not to sleep with.
- Filling them up with other sources - meals and snacks. Zion has never been a huge eater, but he’s been a huge breastmilk lover!
- Stopping night feeds before the bedtime feed. I found with Zion, when he was tired and it’s the middle of the night, those were the times he needed it the most. He got the most upset, and needed the most comfort because he was so exhausted and couldn’t handle his big emotions. These feeds stopped for us naturally as we stopped the sleep and morning feeds.
- Get your partner to put them to sleep instead. Since Zion has been breastfed and settled to sleep by me for his whole life, this just seemed to upset him even more.
- Adding music to the night time routine. I started playing relaxing music while I was feeding Zion to sleep for a few weeks. Then tried to remove him from the breast before he fell asleep - but he was totally not into it, he knew exactly what I was doing, so I scrapped this approach.
My tips on how to gently wean your breastfeeding toddler
I just want to add that Zion was just over two when I started this transition and he could really understand what I was telling him. Also, I’m not telling you this is exactly how you should do it and am not judging how anyone else has weaned. I just want to share my experience and if it helps one mum out there, I will be so happy.
1. Firstly know that it might be a two steps forward one step back approach.
I was ready for it to take awhile. At first when I started to cut feeds and start a different routine, Zion took to it so well and fell to sleep without the boob each night for a week and I was so shocked! Then all of a sudden, it was like he realised what was happening and was so upset - so I went back to feeding him to sleep. (Reminding myself it was a 2 steps forward, 1 step back)
2. Take it slowly.
I didn’t want to rush, I didn’t cut all the feeds out at once (although if you need to or if that works for you, that's awesome, it just didn’t feel right for Zion and I). For us it took about two to three months to totally wean. But it could be a lot quicker for you or a lot slower, each mum, child and circumstance is different.
3. Stop on demand feeds.
I realised that Zion was actually asking for feeds when he was thirsty or hungry, so I started offering water or something to eat instead of the boob and quite a lot of the time, he was totally happy with that. I then started telling him that ‘milkies’ was only for when he was going to sleep, because he was a big boy now. But when he would get really upset about it, generally when he was overtired, I would breastfeed him. Or if he hurt himself and he came to me and wanted a breastfeed for comfort, I would do it then too. But he slowly got used to the fact that we only breastfed when he went to sleep or when he woke from his sleep.
4. Cut one set of feeds at a time.
I started off with the day time on demand feeds (see previous tip). I kept feeding him to sleep and during his midday and night sleeps when he would wake up and wanted more sleep. Then we cut the feeds when he was falling to sleep (techniques for this below). And lastly we cut the feeds when he woke up in the morning, and then the night time feeds stopped by themselves.
How I stopped feeding to sleep
- I would talk about how he was a big boy and would explain to him that big boys don’t need ‘milkies’ anymore. I’d mention the special things we can do together and the process of how he would now go to sleep. I try to tell Zion everything as it’s going to happen, even if it takes a little while for it to sink in, the words will eventually be understood.
- Cutting down to feeding from only one side. One of my nipples actually started to really hurt while Zion fed. So I told Zion he couldn’t feed from my left breast because it would hurt mummy. I think this was a really big step in our weaning journey.
- I started asking if he wanted a massage instead. I would massage his hands, his feet, his back, his head, tickle his face, whatever he felt like that particular night that made him feel comfort.
- I also didn't wear anything that would show my cleavage, luckily it was winter at the time! So I wore a lot of baggy jumpers, Josh's flannelette shirts or whatever I was wearing if it had buttons I would button it right on up to the very top!
- Made sure the bedtime routine stayed the same each night. Brush teeth, get into pyjamas (if he isn’t already), say goodnight to dad, read two books while laying next to him in bed (while reading the second book, remind him that it’s sleep time after this book), give a big kiss and cuddle, pray and either massage him or he will just roll over and go to sleep. I lay there until he has fallen asleep, and sometimes it takes 2 minutes and other times 30 minutes. He started to roll over while I started to do the night prayer and be ready for sleep or a massage or back tickle.
So that's it, I hope some of my tips help you in your weaning journey. But just remember to go easy on yourself and your toddler/baby. It is all a season and before you know it you will be missing those special bonding moments of breastfeeding!
Random fact: Zion now associates the song that I used to sing while I breastfed him to sleep with breastfeeding. While I started weaning Zion I stopped singing him to sleep because I was so exhausted and out of breath with my pregnancy. But the other night I started singing it to him because he was really unsettled, and he turned around, grabbed my shirt and asked for "milkies" which he hasn't had in weeks!