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Gradual/Gentle Weaning Tips

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 

My DS is 20 months and for a lot of (difficult and long thought-out) reasons I am planning to start gradually weaning him.

I hope to have him completely weaned around his birthday in July.


I know, that's not a popular decision around here, but I'm hoping that someone who didn't do CLW could offer me some suggestions. I have a lot of anxiety, dread and worry going on right now and I am looking for some help and support. No judgement or questioning my decision please.


Just hearing anyone's experience with gently weaning a toddler who loves nursing will be so helpful to me. I'd also love to hear about successful non-nursing strategies for comforting and coping that helped your LO through it all. I don't know anyone IRL who nursed longer than a year and of course it's completely different weaning an older toddler. The only advice I keep hearing is "just cut him off"- that's not helpful at all and totally not our style.


My DS still nurses to sleep and for nap, he is nightweaned from bedtime until early in the morning but after that he is asking for milk all the time. He is ok usually if I delay and give him cuddles or distract him with a snack or something fun- so lately (indluding before bed and nap) he has been nursing about 5-6 times a day.


Should I start by eliminating one nursing session per week? Leave the nap and bedtime nursings till last? That's what I'm thinking of doing right now. Those will be the hardest to go and we have nooo experience putting DS to sleep without nursing so it will be hard for all of us. He has always been a horrible sleeper so this is pretty worrying for me.


Anyway... a little lost and in need of kind advice. 




post #2 of 32

I know what you are going through! We're in the process of weaning our 19 mo and it's actually going pretty well. Here are the steps we took:


  1. Night weaning. We got it down to one nursing, usually around 3-5 AM. DS has never been a good sleeper so we thought this might help him. It doesn't. angry.gif He still wakes every 2-3 hours but at least we can just pat him back to sleep now instead of me nursing him!
  2. Cut out all non-sleep nursings. Anytime DS wants to nurse for comfort or boredom during the day I try to distract him, read a book w/ him, or give him solid food. 
  3. Cut out early morning nursing, the one mentioned in #1. We give him a bottle of milk now instead, even though I'm not sure how I feel about that! He still very much needs something to eat at night or he wakes up at 5:00 AM asking for bananas and eggs. eyesroll.gif



So where we are now is DS nurses to sleep. We tried giving him a bottle to fall asleep but that doesn't seem to cut it. So we're leaving it at 2 nursing sessions a day: one for nap and one for bedtime. Not quite sure how to end those but for now it's okay. We'll address is again in a month of two and figure it out.... I would love to hear anyone's ideas for it though!



post #3 of 32

I am nursing my 3rd now and remember well the anxiety of weaning my first!  It seemed like a HUGE deal and I just couldn't imagine our lives without nursing (which honestly was the problem!).  


I nursed on demand so step one was putting us on a schedule.

Step 2 was figuring out which one I was going to quit first

Then I cut one per week.


The schedule was helpful b/c when he asked to nurse after a nap (for example) I could say "not now but ___".  It was nice and clear.


I had to be very clear and calm and now show guilt or doubt or waver at all.  This meant there were some tears but I knew from experience that my son wouldn't do well with kind of wishy washy weaning that seems to work for other people.  Like don't offer/don't refuse.  Sounds awesome but I'd still be nursing him if I did that (he'll be 6 in June).  


I think he stopped asking about a week after we were totally done.  It was great, really and we learned to relate in other ways.  It actually made me MUCH more conscious with my next 2 about not making nursing our be-all and end-all like I did with my first.  



post #4 of 32
Thread Starter 

Thanks so much for your replies. It's nice to know that others are going through/went through such similar experiences, it really helps.


So far, we're doing pretty much the same plan as you, SERE but I'm trying to be very gradual about it. I don't think my DS would do well with any abrupt big changes. Night weaning was challenging enough, and we still struggle quite a bit with that. I am realizing that like yours, my DS does get hungry at night but he either won't eat anything offered when he wakes or he eats and then he is UP. Snacks before bed don't seem to make a difference. So yeah, we are still doing the early, early morning nursing- that's the one that I really don't like right now. I can't get to sleep with him nursing, he's very intense about it at that time, he pops on and off for about 2-3hours before he wakes up and I've got back pain as well. I think the early morning nursing will be really hard to shake. Maybe I'll try offering milk- he hasn't used a bottle in about a year though, so it'll have to be a sippy- if he'll even take it.



I think you make a good point D-McG about not showing doubt or wavering. I have trouble with that right now but at the same time I'm struggling with not exuding powerful feelings of annoyance and resentment that are happening right now for me in our nursing relationship. I'd like the end of our nursing relationship to be as positive as possible and reflect what it really was to both of us for most of the time- a warm, touching and lovely time that we shared and I don't want my son to feel bad about nursing in any way. But right now I'm having trouble controlling both of those sides of the coin- my guilt, doubt and sadness about ending breastfeeding as well as my feelings of being soooo done with it emotionally and physically and resenting my DS's relentless and demanding nature when it comes to nursing.

I know I shouldn't see his behaviour in that light and the rational side of me doesn't- the tired and sore side of me isn't so rational about it though. Sometimes I think if he could happily cut down to one or two times a day and wasn't chanting MILK MILK MILK and trying to get into my shirt all day and if he was sleeping well at night and during his nap I wouldn't be weaning him at this point. But that's not happening, so well... we are weaning.


Anyway thanks for sharing your advice and experience. It's helpful. 


post #5 of 32
Originally Posted by expat-mama View Post
 I'm struggling with not exuding powerful feelings of annoyance and resentment that are happening right now for me in our nursing relationship. I'd like the end of our nursing relationship to be as positive as possible and reflect what it really was to both of us for most of the time- a warm, touching and lovely time that we shared and I don't want my son to feel bad about nursing in any way. But right now I'm having trouble controlling both of those sides of the coin- my guilt, doubt and sadness about ending breastfeeding as well as my feelings of being soooo done with it emotionally and physically and resenting my DS's relentless and demanding nature when it comes to nursing.




I can relate so well to all these feelings you describe. While we're not quite at full-on weaning, I feel the same way that I want to get us down to just nursing to sleep and that's it! In fact I am resentful of that too and sometimes consider leaving everything else alone but cutting that one out....but since it's the hardest to stop I am leaving it be for now. I also consider making more of an effort to actually wean fully and say like you have: by x and y date. I am so confused! I know that doesn't help you at all but I just wanted to offer sympathy and let you know you are so not alone! I'll be watching this thread for more ideas. Here's what we do:


Nurse upon waking up in bed, then for nap (if he's not at daycare...if he is then we nurse when he gets home) and then not again until bedtime. You may remember from my other thread that we're also on the verge of nightweaning but as it is now he nurses very irregularly on and off in the night, anywhere from 1-5x. The afternoons are hardest and I just take him out to the playground and distract him. I do not nurse when we're out and he usually doesn't ask for it. There have been a few times he asked for it (when we're at home) and I refused and he got real mad and had a little tantrum. It never lasts more than 5 mins maximum and I've been able to stay calm, validate and empathise until it passes and when it's over it's fully over and he moves on to the next thing. That's how I know it's not traumatizing or anything. He just expresses his anger / frustration and moves on. I think you have to be willing to go through a few of those because most kids do get upset, and that's ok and natural. I know the guilty feelings and it makes it harder when he literally begs, or when he starts crying....but just try to remember why you're doing this. At those times I remember the other moments when I felt resentful and highly annoyed, and it makes it worth it to sit through his storm. But yeah, distraction and going out are the best weaning tools we have. Oh and I have also explained it fully to him, and I think he does understand what I'm saying. There have been a few incidences where he hurt himself or was upset or frustrated and wanted "boo boo" to comfort him, but I told him that I love him so much and I'm right here with him and I hold him and rock him and say that we're finding new ways to feel better besides boo-boo. I think they understand more than we give them credit for and it certainly doesn't hurt to just say those things.


I wish you the best of luck Expat Mama! Let us know how it goes and I hope we get some more ideas / experiences here.

post #6 of 32
Thread Starter 

Thanks PJ. 

Things are going ok...we've had a rough few days as of late. But DH is off from work for a couple of weeks so that is helping immensely to keep DS happy and distracted. 


A while ago I bought these dolls that represent our family (DS, DH, and me) and DS likes to pay with them. He'll actually act out things we do or say so I've been using them to try to help with the situation. I'll act out DS asking to nurse and myself giving him hugs and kisses instead or reading a book. He has started acting out the same thing too. I think it just helps him to replay things in his head and understand what's going on. He really likes the dolls. They helped him get through a rough time a while ago too when he was getting upset every time DH left for work. 

I really recommend others trying something like this. 


So we are nursing 3-5 times per day now.  I'm settling on this for a while and then we'll try to cut one out. I haven't decided which yet.



post #7 of 32

We're down to bedtime and naptime here, finally.  Ds had been wanting an early morning nurse most nights, but just recently I started wearing crew neck t-shirts to bed instead of my zip up hoodie.  When he wakes and wants to nurse, he'll crawl over, paw at my chest, realize he can't get in (I always pulled down to nurse, it doesn't occur to him to lift my shirt all the way up) and then he usually just lays his head down on top of me and goes back to sleep.  He's gotten a little upset a couple of times, but I just reminded him that the nummies were asleep and it's time for him to sleep too.  Before I did the t-shirt, I started cutting down the nursing time by letting him nurse for a few minutes, then telling him I  had to go potty and leaving.  He would fall asleep while I was gone and it was much sooner than he would have if he were still nursing. 


I don't know what I'm going to do for nap and bedtime.  He's really fighting his naps lately, but if he goes for a couple of days without one, he starts wanting to sleep for 14 hours at night, and breaking down into fits every afternoon.  On days that he skips naps, sometimes he falls asleep without nursing, but he really can't give up his nap yet. 

post #8 of 32

My 18mo loves his milk. But in anticipation of getting him to fall asleep on his own, I now nurse him 5-10 minutes before i put him down for nap time, then I read him books and put him down. We're working on moving bf to the beginning of the bedtime routine instead of the end. It's going okay, but could be better. He still eats every 3-4 hours and twice at night. 


Just a thought!

post #9 of 32


post #10 of 32

I had a really hard time getting my youngest son to stop nursing and I had to , since I got pregnant with DD1 and didn´t want to have a growing fetus and nurse a 2 - year - old , so the thing , that worked for us , is 

1 . determine , which time of day he needs to nurse most and try to stop that last . For us it was also evenings and I let him nurse , since he was a terrible sleeper and that was the only way for him to fall asleep . 

2 . during the day , try to distract him and if you feel , that he is hungry , give him a snack or something to drink , maybe even out of a really cool cup , he got to pick out himself .

Since it seemed , that my son sometimes wanted to nurse out of boredom , I told him , " Mommy has no milk now , you have to wait until it´s time to go ninight " He didn´t like that very much , of course , but after a while , he accepted it .

I don´t believe in the cold turkey method either , unless there is a damn good reason for it , but if you persist , it will eventually happen .

I can tell you from experience , that it is a lot better , when you take it slowly , just don´t listen to people , who tell you to just " cut him off "

Babies and Toddlers are bf not only for nutritional reasons , but also for the bond it creates .

Of course , they can thrive if fed from a bottle , but it is still a whole different story to be this close to Mommy , when drinking on her breast and I would consider it quite cruel to suddenly deny him that , especially since he doesn´t understand , why he suddenly can´t have it anymore .

Better to cut it out one step ata time !     

post #11 of 32

So glad to read this post and the responses.  We have 23 month old twin girls and I am 8 weeks pregnant with our third.  Never thought I would do anything other than CLW but I'm working towards weaning too.  Hopefully gently and with sensitivity.  They have been night weaned, thankfully quite easily, for about a month or so.  Now only nurse upon waking, before nap (if I'm home) and before bed.  They are very clear in their want to nurse in the morning when they wake up and I offer at night to get them to settle.  That's the one I'm not sure how to remove! 

We talk a fair amount about when we won't nurse anymore and I'm preparing them for it that way.  I guess I will just go with what feels right and when. 

I've read many posts regarding three nurslings...but I just can't imagine it!  So, we're on this road too. 


post #12 of 32

Thanks for this post - very helpful and going through the same thing with my almost 2 year old. Always thought I would practice child-led weaning but feeling ready to be done but also guilty about it. I think I have been denying how physically uncomfortable even annoying it has become for me. I know this isn't necessarily helpful but I do understand. Other than before and after bed/nap my son's nursing has been very frequent but irregular. Recently I have started substituting other things more often such as food or drink if he seems hungry or thirsty and is willing to take a substitute. Sometimes if he seems to just want the comfort I will try reading a book and sometimes that works - other times he just wants to nurse so I let him. Don't know how well it will work but I plan on just very gradually cutting back and offering substitutes when he will accept them - sometimes this might mean trying a few different things. Definitely think I'll leave the before bed and nap feedings for last and might keep with those for some time - it is an easy way to get him to sleep.

post #13 of 32
I hope it is going well for you. My son will be two in June and I am thinking of weaning soon. One step hubby and I took is change up the nightime routine. After bath I read book and nurse him in the sitting room, then hubby takes him to bed (in our room, we co-sleep). It has helped learn to fall asleep without nursing, and yes the first week was tough but was a few minutes of tears, really.
We still nurse on demand thru the night, and I love co-sleeping but it has become son over hubby in the cuddles dept. So the time is near. I am anticipating weaning as part of getting him out of our bed. Otherwise there might never be a sibling! Good luck and let us know your end story!
post #14 of 32

I came back to Mothering looking for a post exactly like this. So glad to have found it!


I would like to wean my almost 19 month old. I went back to work full time when he was 17 months old (after being home for 2 years), so he doesn't have milk from me during the day. He is just fine though, goes down for naps for his nanny and sleeps for 2 hours (never did that when I was home with him lol!). Anyway, as soon as I walk in the door from work, DS will say "pweeese" for his milk. I don't even get to pee first haha! So, i don't mind this bf session. What I do struggle with is the all night long feeding. So that is where we're starting. He's also recently started wanting to drink very often, every 15 minutes, and I just cannot handle it. I' had planned on doing "don't offer/don't refuse" but instead, I've been telling him that milkie needs to sleep now or ask him to say bye to milk (many times he actually says bye quite happily).

I'd like to get down to a bedtime nursing session and the session when I get home from work. And from there, we'll see.


So, thanks for this thread! We start with the nightweaning tonight!

post #15 of 32
Subbing because I'd like to have "diddy" addict girl weaned by July. I deeply adore my sweet baby but nursing is kinda ruining my life. She still nurses like a newborn at 18 months. Sleep is awful, trying to go anywhere is awful, sex life destroyed, sick of feeling uncomfortable, touched out, and being the only person who can ever ever ever soothe her or put her to sleep. Even my work (wah) is affected by frequent nursing breaks. She is extremely high needs and once she starts screaming, there is no chance of her calming herself down. Not that she is a monster, she's a very sweet, affectionate, happy kid, except when she decides she HAS to nurse, NOW. The fact that nursing is really the only thing that provokes her tantrums makes me want to stop even more. She nurses probably 12-20 times a day, usually five or ten minutes each time, and of those, maybe half are non negotiable for her. I have tried repeatedly to cut down, schedule, phase out sessions, but with her intense personality it feels like I'm doing a lot of saying no and listening to 45+ straight minutes of hysterics, but getting nowhere, just kind of spinning my wheels. I'm afraid that cold turkey will be the only answer. greensad.gif She's somewhat verbal but doesn't really understand anything like "later" or "after lunch" and again, won't calm down wuthout nursing once she starts the hysterics, anyway. I do often tell her "diddies went night night" when she wakes up at night but it's a mixed result.

Sometimes I think if I knew how she would be, I would have EP'ed again for 21 months like I did with my first.. And now that I'm going through this, I feel like there is little useful advice and support for women who want to wean. I feel kind of abandoned, like I could get tons of support if I wanted to continue until age three but suspicion and condescention for stating what I know to be true about how I feel about my own body and mind when I say I'm DONE!
post #16 of 32
Thread Starter 

Hey mamas,


Just checking in. Things have taken a turn for us, not in a good way!

A little over a week ago, DS's canines started to come in all 4 at once. greensad.gif So I found myself nursing him again at night as we just couldn't console him. The teeth seem better now but our nights are a hot steaming mess. Argh. We've taken some giant steps backward. 

DS is increasingly difficult to put down to sleep at night. I still nurse him down (we are nursing 3 times, morning, nap and bedtime) but sometimes he just doesn't fall asleep. Then DH will try rocking him which usually works when nursing doesn't. But some nights we've just had to have him stay up until we try again (and again) to get him down. Those nights (like tonight) make my days feel sooo long and I am not looking forward to spending the whole next day with DS after that. I need down time.

In addition to that, DS has been waking in the middle of the night and not going back to sleep. For a few days we kept him in the room trying to put him down, but got no sleep so gave up on that. He was just trying to get out to play. So we've resorted to leaving a lamp on in his play area in the living room and letting him go out there for 1-2 hours. Then he'll come back in and we'll try to put him down. It's ridiculous. Sometimes he'll do this early in the morning and that'll just be his wake-up- so he'll get up at 3 and go out and play until we come out at 6. Whatever he does, it cuts into our sleep because he's coming in and out of our room. No one is sleeping. Then our next day is pure hell because he's tired and there's no point trying to do anything. Then we do it all over again. 

The strange thing that happens sometimes is that he will occasionally have long stretches during the day when he isn't asking to nurse constantly and I don't have to work too hard to distract him. A few times he even missed his naptime nursing because he fell asleep in the car and then didn't even ask all afternoon until bedtime. So that aspect of the weaning is going ok and we are having occasional good days. Days only. Nights are a different story. I think because I did nurse him a few nights when he was teething he's regressed at night in a big way. Having fits like the first few nights we attempted night weaning. Ugh.


Anyway, life goes on. I'm trying to stick with it but feeling like we are all over the place and no one is benefiting from any of it. I just have to stay focused on the long-term and the reasons why I know we have to get through this. guilty.gif It's hard though. And I'm tired and feel like nothing is ever easy with this kid.


post #17 of 32

Expat- Mama- We had a couple terrible weeks last month with the little man waking every 1-3 hours (I think due to teething) and I definitely had to nurse him to get him back to sleep which I had been able to stop doing at night a few months prior.  It took at least 2 weeks but sleep is much better now, often he will sleep a 7-9 hr stretch which is the first time ever in his 19 months that he is sleeping like that.  Basically, hang in there- it will get better!  I know it is so hard to see the light when you are in such a sleep-deprived state with an active, over-tired toddler.


My little guy is 19 1/2 months old and I am also working on weaning.  We are down to morning wake up and bed time and occasionally early morning so he will sleep in a bit.  I just cut out nap time 2 weeks ago which wasn't so bad since I do work 3 days/week and he was used to going down for nap without those nursings.  From here, I have no idea where to go.  He will not take milk from a cup and he hasn't had a bottle for at least a year so that's not an option.  He does take a paci but it doesn't seem to do the trick.  It seems like there is no replacement and that is making it very hard.  My husband isn't home for bedtime 3-4 nights a week so I have to do bedtime on those nights.  I am thinking of gradually cutting back the length of time that he nurses- I have heard of singing a song and they can nurse for the length of it or counting, ABC's, etc.  I like this idea, I think with a song that he enjoys.  I guess you can gradually skip lines, sing faster, etc to make them shorter.  Or maybe switch up the song and make it a shorter one each few days or something.  I think I will try that soon and I"ll report back. 



post #18 of 32

Hey folks...I posted a couple of weeks ago!  Since then I feel much like bri 276...uncomfortable/painful and "touched out!"  At that point in time we were doing about 3 nursing sessions a day.  It all got worse for me...I was super irritated while nursing...it wasn't feeling good.  Their latches were OK, I think I'm just getting more and more sensitive as pregnancy goes on. 

So, we just started cutting them out.  Me not offering at all.  When they ask, offering milk in a cup.  At first Q was resistent and had one pretty big crying spell (at bedtime!) and I felt horrible.  DH has been super helpful with offering them milk in a cup and reading with them while they drink it.  Sometimes they snuggle with me while they have their milk in a cup.  I have stopped coming home at lunch so I am not even an option for middle of the day nursing anymore.  Now, M is even asking for "milk cup." 

Its been 3 days and no nursing.  The last nursing session went by and I never thought it would be their last.  Perhaps it won't be, but for now, its seems like it will be.  When they ask, they seem to happily be accepting of their milk in a cup.  I am sad its over and relieved since I was not enjoying it anymore.  They will be 2 in about a week and a half! 

Good luck to you all.  Our journey did seem relatively easy and I think they were mostly ready for it.  Hope its smooth for everyone else.

post #19 of 32
Thread Starter 

It's nice to hear everyone's experiences- we'll get through it together! redface.gif

Our day time weaning is actually going surprisingly well- K only nursed twice in the day for quite a few days. His grandma was here and was able to put him down for nap one day, he fell asleep listening to DH play guitar in a new comfy little chair we got him, and he has fallen asleep in the car and stayed asleep while I transferred him to his bed a few times too. After that he doesn't ask too much until bed time and isn't upset when I delay and tell him "later". So that's going well! 


Our nights are still a hot steaming mess though. UGH. DS is sooo stubborn. He is super smart, I know he understands the whole idea of no mama milk at night- it's been MONTHS. He just gets so upset and now is refusing to go down to sleep at night and he will just stay up. So one of us (or sometimes both) is just up with him from 3 in the morning until his nap later that morning (nap ends up being much earlier and sometimes longer, which I'm sure impacts the next night- vicious cycle). Great, I know. It screws up my days with him and our schedule and any outings we have are ruined. I am crabby and exhausted and so is he. I'm at a total loss as to how to deal with nights. I feel like there's no way I can go back or "give in" to nursing at night to get him to sleep since we have left that so far behind, but I'm out of ideas, nothing works. After a while of trying to put him down he just completely wakes up and isn't in that mode where he will even go back to sleep- he's just AWAKE. It's ridiculous though- he's soooo tired and I'm so tired. We are both pretty stubborn I guess. 

He did so well with his Grandma that I'm thinking it may be a good idea to leave him with her for a few days and just go cold turkey at some point. But I think as soon as he saw me again it would go back to the same old, same old. Sigh. I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing or where to go from here to make things better. Soooooo freaking tired.

post #20 of 32

Yeah- I feel like I can't do the leave with grandma thing for the same reason, she associates me SO heavily with nursing (in fact, I wonder, does she really feel safe and loved by ME without the breasts?) that it would never work.  I don't care if I was gone for a month, the second she saw me it would be "Diddies!!!"  lol.  Of course, because she needs to nurse to sleep, I have never even left her overnight before.  I have actually only stayed out past her bedtime once (for my best friend's 30th birthday) and she was pretty much a basket case until I got home. 


So, we're going on vaca next week and I am not about to deal with the stress of travel, flying, new environment without nursing, but when we get back it's go time.  Though I have been saying no much more often, when we get back, nursing will only be several times a day for a while, then only for naps and nighttime, then gone.  It will be torture.  I envision the process going pretty quickly.  I just KNOW her well enough to know that gradual tapering off isn't going to be something she accepts or understands-it's all or nothing with this kid.  That said, I don't want mastitis and I don't want to traumatize her, so I'm thinking of it as "lukewarm turkey"- a week of steeply dropping frequency, then no daytime, then sleep times being the last frontier, which DH is going to need to help with.  2ish weeks of intense misery is expected.  And then, hopefully, we can enjoy our summer and establish good non-nursing bedtime routines, get the big girl bed by the fall, etc. 


I feel bad, but I don't.  I know that months of snapping at her, physically struggling against her pulling my shirt up for the millionth time and being afraid sometimes to let her see/touch me because I don't have time to nurse or just don't want to is much worse for our relationship than a couple of relatively difficult weeks will be. 

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