So hopefully we all know that breastfeeding well into toddlerhood and beyond is recommended by the WHO and that it is normal to do so (although this message still seems to be a bit slow to filter through to some!).
But sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t working for the parent. Maybe they have aversion, maybe they’re feeling totally exhausted and touched out, maybe they’re uncomfortable with still breastfeeding, maybe they just need to stop!
Breastfeeding is a two way relationship and anyone who says a parent is breastfeeding their toddler for them hasn’t breastfed a toddler. It is INTENSE! They often seem to want to feed all day.
So the first step is try getting into a loose routine. A lot of parents find feeding first thing in the morning, mid morning before or after nap depending on whether they still feed to sleep, mid afternoon before or after nap and bed time works well. (They may still be having night feeds as well, I have written a separate blog on gentle night weaning, here. I wouldn’t try to do both at once!) You may find just cutting back a bit like this and taking a bit more control makes it more doable anyway and that then you feel you can keep going for a bit.
But if you still want to gradually wean then the easiest feed to drop is usually mid morning, especially if you go out to groups a lot as you can distract whilst out and baby will tend to fall asleep on the way home in sling, car or buggy. Have lunch ready for when for wake up.
Then once you’ve done that, try stopping the mid afternoon feed. Again get ready with drink and snacks to combat the post nap grumps if they happen.
Once you’re down to morning and bedtime, a lot of people actually enjoy it again and hang on to those two feeds for a while. Once you’re ready to drop the first thing in the morning feed just get up straight away and have breakfast (although I left this feed until last as I preferred to stay in bed at 6.00am having a nice breastfeed than get up and make breakfast!).
For bedtime feed you can switch around the order of the bedtime routine. So instead of feeding to sleep or feeding as the last thing to settle, you can try feeding them first, then do teeth, pyjamas, story and cuddle to sleep instead. This breaks the feed/sleep cycle and will make it much easier to stop the feed completely. You may find babies are ok to cuddle to sleep instead. You may find that the association needs to be changed in a more gentle and gradual way. Try overlaying another sleep association alongside feeding. This can be a toy, blanket, song, arm, all sorts of things! Once this is established you can begin to remove feeding to sleep by gradually reducing the amount of time you breastfeed so they are not falling fully asleep and cuddle the last bit. This can take time but it is a very gentle transition that many parents find is far less traumatic for everybody.
Once you have weaned be very gentle on yourself as the drop in hormones can make you feel very down for a while. It takes your body a bit of time to function normally again. Lots of cuddles will get the oxytocin flowing and help everyone adjust.
Kathryn Stagg IBCLC – Oct2019