How to stop breastfeeding a toddler: Useful tips for mums
Have you decided it's time to wean your nurseling off your breasts? Here's how to go about it.
There’s no questioning global health expert consensus on the benefits of breastmilk for babies — exclusively until six months, and then up to one year and beyond, if possible (extended breastfeeding). However, there comes a time when some nursing mums ask this question: how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old (and older tots)?
This article will give you information on gentle ways of how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old and older toddlers, when you are ready for it. We’ll also cover the benefits of extended breastfeeding.
Before we talk about how to get a toddler to stop nursing, it’s important to go through the benefits of breastfeeding a child for a year and beyond.
The Mayo Clinic defines extended breastfeeding as when a mother continues to breastfeed her child beyond a year of age.
There are plenty of benefits in extended breastfeeding for kids, including those with special needs, according to lactation experts.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, as your baby gets older, the composition of your breast milk will continue to change to meet his or her nutritional needs. There’s no known age at which breast milk is considered to become nutritionally insignificant for a child.
- Research has shown that second-year milk is very similar to the first-year milk nutritionally. Even after two years or more it continues to be a valuable source of protein, fat, calcium, and vitamins.
- According to La Leche Leage International, the immunities in breast milk have been shown to increase in concentration as the baby gets older and nurses less, so older babies still receive lots of immune factors.
- In toddlers and young children, extended breastfeeding helps them to cope better with new experiences and changes in routine.
- Breastfeeding moments can help children return to “their familiar and safe place”. This in turn helps them face new challenges with better control of their own anxieties.
- When young children fall ill, breastfeeding helps to give immunity and replenish (but not totally replace) nutrition when their appetite is down. Breastmilk is gentler for the human body to digest and faster absorbed by the body.
Breastfeeding a child for beyond a year also has benefits for mums. Research suggests that it reduces the risk of certain illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. In other words, the longer breast-feeding continues, the better a mother’s health might be.
Having established the benefits of nursing a child into toddler-hood, there will come a time when a breastfeeding mother might want to stop.
Before a baby’s one year mark, there are three common reasons as to why mothers stop breastfeeding, according to research:
- Perception of not producing enough milk, or baby not being full enough after a feed
- Baby biting down on breast/ nipple
- Baby lost interest in breastfeeding
But beyond the one year mark and especially with older toddlers, breastfeeding is quite well established and so the reasons to wean, change.
For some mums, it could be that they are pregnant with another child*. Because of this, they may find a drastic reduction in milk production as well as pain when their toddler latches on, due to hormonal changes. And so they might wonder how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old toddler, namely, their own little one.
Other mums whose toddlers comfort feed in order to fall asleep might look at how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old so their child learns to sleep on their own more efficiently.
Also, some children might simply comfort feed whenever they want to, and their mums might find this disruptive to their routines. And so they look at weaning their toddler off the breast.
Or perhaps you’ve had to start medication or a treatment regime that forces you to stop breastfeeding.
Whatever the reason, what is the best answer to the question: how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old?
Let’s find out.
Should you go cold turkey?
Definitely not. For you, this is not a good idea because suddenly stopping breastfeeding could result in breast engorgement. Meaning, your breasts can become full, sore and leak milk. If not addressed, you could develop more serious issues like mastitis — which is a full-blown infection that needs treatment with antibiotics.
For baby too, suddenly stopping breastfeeding is not a great idea. Remember that for all of his young life, your breasts have been a source of comfort and nutrition to your little one. So suddenly halting breastfeeding will affect him at an emotional level, creating anxiety and stress.
Should you try methods like rubbing chilli on your nipples, or applying bitter substances?
No. Not only is this mean, but it could actually hurt your child. Chilli can burn and sting your little one’s mouth badly and other methods like aloe and mustard could cause your child to vomit or have diarrhea. Also, most bitter plant-based substances are mildly toxic to humans.
So the day has finally come when you decide to wean your little one off the breast. How do you do it? The answer is to use gentle weaning techniques.
Here are some tips to consider when thinking about how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old or older toddler:
1. Don’t offer but don’t refuse
According to Kelly Bonyata (IBCLC), this is the most gentle method to wean your toddler off your breasts. It simply involves not offering your breast, but not refusing if your toddler asks to nurse.
You don’t have to over-think this method either, as it’s one many mums of toddlers naturally move in to. Its only drawback is that it takes longer than other methods. However, your child’s needs and emotions certainly come first here.
2. Drop one breastfeeding session at a time
If you want to wean your child of breastfeeding at a faster pace, you could try dropping one feeding at a time, over one week, and then move onto dropping the next one.
This gradual reduction of breastfeeding sessions also means you won’t suffer from uncomfortable breast engorgement. Your milk supply will gradually reduce.
When trying this method of how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old or older child, start by eliminating the feeding session that is least important to your child, advises Bonyata.
This can be done in two ways: by offering something else at that time, like a snack or sippy cup, or shortening the duration of that feed. One this feeding session has been eliminated and your breasts are no longer full, you can then move on to eliminating the next one.
Remember that your toddler might be reluctant to drop the nursing session he enjoys the most, like his night-time or early morning one. Don’t force him to give it up, as he likely associates it with comfort, love and closeness with you. Be prepared for your toddler to even hang on to it for a few months.
You know your child’s nursing times the best. Anticipate these and distract your toddler with the offer of something else. It could be a healthy snack, a playdate or a walk. The trick is to offer whatever it is to your tot before he asks to nurse.
Worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages two and four. In some cultures, breast-feeding continues until children are six or seven years old.
In other parts of the world, however, extended breast-feeding is less common and can sometimes provoke negative reactions from family, friends and even complete strangers.
How long you breast-feed is up to you and your baby. If loved ones — and even strangers — share their opinions about when to wean, remind them that the decision is yours.
Try not to worry about what other people think. Instead, trust your instincts. When you decide to wean your baby is entirely your decision.
*Some mums choose to practice tandem nursing with a newborn and older child. If you would like to read more on this topic, click here.
Also read: The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding