Do you feel like you’re completely tied down by your nursing toddler?
Maybe you’re concerned that nighttime nursing sessions are preventing your toddler from sleeping through the night.
Or, as much as you love it all, you’re just ready to have your body back.
If you’re reading this, then my guess is you’re looking for the right way to wean your toddler.
While I’m not going to tell you what YOU should or shouldn’t do (because there is no “right” way), I wanted to share with you my experience with weaning our toddler cold-turkey:
- How we decided it was time to wean our toddler;
- Why we (intentionally) quit nursing so abruptly;
- And what happened in the following days and weeks.
Please note, this is not a how-to guide! I made what I felt was the best decision for my child and my family, and you have to do the same.
Weaning is a Long Process
But isn’t weaning cold turkey rather harsh?
In some circumstances, I’m sure it very well could be.
For us, though, weaning in its truest sense has actually been a very long and gradual process.
Technically, “weaning” began as soon as she started eating solid foods at six months old. Slowly, at her own pace, she was consuming more foods, and needing less mommy-milk.
We appreciated the benefits of “extended” breastfeeding (nursing beyond 12 months), and our daughter still depended heavily on breastfeeding, so I continued nursing on-demand.
One day, though, I knew I was time. (I’ll get to more into the details of the story later.)
We were trying very hard to night-wean, and it just was not working. So we decided to consider weaning 100% all at once.
My biggest concern was that it would be traumatic for all of us: for our daughter, being suddenly cut off from her favorite pass-time, greatest security, and sure-fire sleep prop; and for us, having to deny our daughter something she was desperate to have and feeling like we were failing her.
The great news is, none of that happened. No one was traumatized and it actually ended up being exactly what our family needed.
That being said, I do want to express that I absolutely do not think it would be the best approach for everyone!
I’m in no way trying to say that I think every parent should wean cold-turkey; however, I know I was really anxious about trying such a drastic approach, and I want to tell you as much as I can about how it worked for us so that you can decide what’s best for you and your child.
Weaning Cold-Turkey is Not the Best Approach for Everyone
If you’re already on a gradual weaning routine and it’s working for you, then you should think very carefully before changing your approach.
I completely intended to take a more gradual approach and just nurse until my toddler was done, but there were a lot of indicators that my toddler (and I) needed to wean sooner than I had planned.
Gradual weaning was only getting us so far.
No, she was not still nursing 45 minutes at a time every hour or two like a newborn, but she was still nursing around the clock with varying frequencies.
She needs consistency and predictability, and allowing her to nurse some times and not others was causing her (and me) a lot of frustration.
It all finally hit the fan when we put our foot down on night weaning. I was desperate for more sleep, but there was just no way on earth she was going to give up her precious mama milkies at night as long as she knew she could have them during the day.
Why We Stopped Breastfeeding Cold-Turkey
Here are some of the indicators I mentioned that made us think our toddler was more ready to wean than we initially thought:
- She mainly used nursing as a check-in during the day
Nursing was clearly becoming more habitual than nutritive. Instead of tummy-filling nursing sessions, she’d only take a quick sip that often lasted less than a minute.
She would nurse whenever she was bored instead of finding something to do.
- Nursing was keeping her (and me) up at night
When she was younger, I could co-sleep with her, easily nurse all throughout the night, and still get good enough rest.
But as she got bigger, she got more and more active during her night-time nursing sessions and would keep me awake for long periods of time.
It also got to the point where she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) sleep unless she was latched… Which meant I was forever uncomfortable because I couldn’t change position, and she woke us both up whenever she lost her grip.
My sleep deprivation was getting intense, and I got to the point where I really couldn’t function. I was nervous to even drive some days.
I knew her quality of sleep was being compromised as well.
- She was overly fussy during the day
Because she wasn’t getting good sleep at night, she was not a fun person during the day. She was constantly tired and fussy, but didn’t nap well.
- She was able to understand more abstract verbal concepts
This part was important in my opinion because I wanted to be able to explain to her what was going on. I didn’t want her to be completely confused why one day there was mommy milk and the next day she couldn’t have any.
By 18 months, she was able to understand concepts like, “The sun has gone to sleep, Baby is going to sleep, mommy is going to sleep, and mommy’s milkies are going to sleep, too. There will be more milkies when the sun comes up.”
(Sadly, even though she understood what I was saying, she was relentless about getting her milkies, and her willpower was stronger than mine at 3 a.m.)
- Gradual weaning had hit a wall
Some day, she would go all day without asking to nurse.
Other days, she’d nurse on and off constantly.
And no matter how determined we were, night weaning was just not happening. We tried for weeks to be firm and refused milkies at night, but she wouldn’t budge. Her sleep never improved, and it was making things so much worse for all of us.
Finally, I’d had enough.
It was obvious to me that we desperately needed a change, and that my toddler’s temperament would benefit more from a clear line in the sand than a continued gradual weaning process.
How We Weaned Our Toddler Quickly
We Had a Weaning Party!
Probably the best thing we did to initiate weaning status was to have a “weaning party.”
I read that some other cultures will actually have a big party to celebrate a child being weaned around 2 years old, and I thought this was a fantastic idea!
It was just my husband, daughter, and me– no fancy invitations or guest lists.
My husband went out and picked up a little chocolate cake and a bottle of wine. Throughout the day, I told my toddler, “Tonight, you’ll get mama milkies one more time, and then the mama milkies will be all done!”
Finally, I sat down with my toddler for our last nursing session, and I repeated this reminder a couple more times.
Afterwards, we had our cake!
For me, this helped establish a clear commitment to our decision.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back, or change my mind and put off weaning for another day.
We Stayed Firm
The first night, as expected, was very difficult.
The next day, she would ask for milk, and I would just tell her the milkies were all gone.
She would try to access the goods by force, and throw a little tantrum when she couldn’t, but this never lasted more than a minute or two.
We Gave Her a Special Big Girl Sippy Cup
After the first night, we realized that she really needed a sippy cup she could keep in the bed with her.
However, the only sippy cups we had were stainless steel with stretchy silicone covers for lids. These were fine during the day, but couldn’t stay lying in bed with her because they leaked.
So I got a 98 cent Parent’s Choice sippy cup from Walmart (the coronavirus lockdown kept me from getting the nicer ones I wanted from Amazon for another month), and she was able to take that to bed with her each night.
Where she used to need to be cuddled up to my chest and latched, she could now wrap her arms around her sippy cup and snuggle it to sleep. (No, she does not fall asleep with the cup in her mouth, don’t worry! She just likes to keep it close for comfort.)
We Were Laid-Back
Whenever she’d ask (and writing this 2 months later, she still asks), I would be very cheerful and casual in reminding her there were no more mama-milks!
We never made a big deal about it; we’d just say, “Mama-milks are for babies and you’re a big girl now!” or “You silly girl! You know there are no more mama-milks!”
And she’d laugh, and I’d tickle her, and she would move on quickly.
We Offered Alternatives
Whenever she asked for milkies, I would assume she was thirsty and offer her a drink.
“You can’t have mama-milks, but would you like your sippy cup?”
“There’s no more mommy milk, but you can have cow milk or water. Which would you like?”
Here’s a trick I’ve figured out for helping a pre-verbal toddler choose one thing or the other (milk or juice) without the actual objects in hand:
Hold up one hand and say, “Would you like [option a]? OR” hold up the other hand, “Do you want [option B]? Emphasizing the respective hand, you can repeat the options a couple more times.
Motioning with left hand “Juice.” Motioning with right hand “Milk.”
Then your child can point to the hand they want. For example, if my daughter wanted milk, she would point to my right hand, the milk-option hand.
What Happened After I Stopped Nursing My Toddler
My biggest fear was that I would damage the relationship I have with my daughter or traumatize her by cutting her off so quickly, but that didn’t happen!
I was so shocked at how well she handled it.
It genuinely did not seem to phase her at all.
With her temperament, she needs to know very clearly what she can and cannot have, what is or is not an option, and so once she understood that milkies were no longer an option, she moved on with her life.
We had one hard night, and that was all it took.
Don’t get me wrong, she continued to ask for milk, but the way she asked was like, “Hey, can’t blame a girl for trying, right?” She needed to know that our boundary was still firm.
So you’re probably wondering if weaning solved all of our problems…
And I’ll be honest with you: it didn’t.
It absolutley was the right decision, and I stand by it 100%.
While not up to “normal” standards, our sleep has improved dramatically.
Rather than waking up routinely every 2 hours, she may wake up once kind of upset and groggy in the middle of the night, but she goes back to sleep quickly and sleeps for much longer stretches than before.
One of our hopes was that weaning would cause her to sleep through the night, and thus stay in her own bed, but alas, she wakes not long after we go to bed and joins us.
We’ve decided not to fight this for the time being. The sweet snuggles won’t last forever.
In addition, I am not someone who loved breastfeeding; I did not really enjoy it.
I expected our last feeding to be very emotional and bittersweet, maybe even to regret our choice by the next day, but truthfully… It was such a relief.
I love that I was able to nurse for 18 months, and provide that level of attachment for my daughter, but I’m not sad about stopping!
What I love about attachment parenting is that there are no stone cold rules to follow. If something isn’t working for you, or you resent it, then change it!
Now I want to hear from you…
Are you struggling with weaning? Tell me your thoughts on how you’re feeling in the comments below!
If you found this post helpful, be sure to check out:
- How to Bring Out the Best in Your Toddler
- 13 Simple Ways to Be a More Present Parent
- Independent Toddler Play
- How Exhausted Moms Can Take a Much-Needed Break