Ideally, weaning a toddler should be a slow and gentle process. Forcing a toddler to go “cold turkey” is likely to be traumatic for both of you. However, if you can spend several months weaning your baby the process will be much less painful.
One way to wean is to gradually cut out feedings one at a time. Begin with the one your child seems to need the least. Stick with the new schedule for a week or two, then cut out another feeding. Most likely the first and last feedings of the day will be the last to go. Some mothers wean their children almost completely, but continue that last feeding of the day for a few extra weeks or even months.
You can also reduce the time your child breastfeeds by letting him or her know that they can nurse “just for a minute”. This may work especially well if you are pregnant again and your nipples are sore or sensitive.
When you cut a feeding out, it is important to substitute another activity. Distraction can really help keep your child’s mind off the breast. Some ideas include taking your child to the playground, giving her a special snack, reading a story, or snuggling together in front of a video. Some moms think that they should avoid cuddling with their children during this time because it will naturally make your child want to nurse. While this is true, it is better to deny your child the breast than to deny her the opportunity to be close to you.
Dresses, overalls, and other clothing that make breasts inaccessible are your allies. Use them.
If possible, have dad or another beloved caregiver take care of your child during times when you used to nurse. Dad could tuck your child in and read her a story instead of you nursing her to sleep. Dad could prepare a special breakfast to take the place of a morning feeding.
Be ready for your child to find a substitute for your breasts. He or she may get attached to a blanket, stuffed animal, pacifier, or thumb. Try not to view this as negative. Your child needs a way to self-soothe and an attachment object may really help.
Some children will not give up easily. They may throw temper tantrums, yell at you and even try to hurt you. If you are committed to weaning, you will have to get through these the best that you can without giving in and nursing. Try not to take it personally. Your little one is coping the best she can in a difficult situation.
As a last resort, you could try putting something nasty tasting or smelling on your breasts like vinegar. This may work, but it seems a sad thing to make that your child’s last memory of what has most likely been a wonderful breastfeeding experience.
Weaning may be challenging, but it is a natural part of life. In most cases, the gradual approach works well and your child will wean with a minimum of fuss and trauma.