I did zero research on how to go about weaning my toddler; I went purely from my gut, my mommy instinct if you will, and it backfired a bit here and there. Although my weaning journey is only just beginning, I have some advice that you can use (or not) from my own experience of the past few weeks. So here are my 10 tips for weaning your toddler.
1. Move lunch to before nap time
One of my greatest guilt points was worrying that I would be depriving Charlotte of nutrition; that she would be crying because she would be starving. Even though she eats beautifully and healthily, she usually only had lunch after her nap. The first thing I did was shift her lunch to before her nap so I could be 100% sure she wasn’t hungry or thirsty.
2. Cover it up
Wear a high necked top tucked into pants. Those first few days were incredibly hard and she often tried to physically get down or up my tops. I made sure I was covered up as much as possible, so there was no temptation or reminder for her.
3. Sleep routines and associations
Figure out all of your little one’s sleep routines and associations. In our case, besides breastfeeding, Charly always goes to sleep lying with me, holding one of her cloth nappies and a lovey or two. We have a sleep routine of coming upstairs, changing her nappy while she holds her cloth, laying her on the bed, closing the curtains and then it was feed and sleep. The only change I’ve made is trading the feed for rocking.
4. Do it together
I thought it would be easier for Charly if somebody other than me settled her to sleep. I thought she would be more upset if I was there, withholding her milk from her. I have never dealt well with her crying and it has invariably ended with me crying – I didn’t want to upset her more by being upset. I was wrong. She needed me. She needed me because I am her safe space. It was as much the quiet physical togetherness, just the two of us, as the breastfeeding that she needed. Having me with her made her feel safe and that everything would be okay, that I wasn’t leaving her or abandoning her.
5. Consider what you replace the feed with
I knew she needed to be close to me. When she was little I used to get her to sleep by holding her against me and rocking back and forth, it was the only way to settle her in the first few months of her life. When she has big loud tantrums, I always try to pick her up and gently but firmly hold her in my arms, rocking her and talking or singing to her in a low voice. It has worked for us fairly well for the most part, so it seemed like a natural thing to use both those associations to settle her to sleep.
It never occurred to me that she might adopt this as her “go to” way to fall asleep, and at 4am, sitting up and rocking your 15kg toddler for the third time that night is not ideal. Choose wisely.
6. Introduce something special
We got Charly a sleepy milk cup and a gorgeous teddy bear lovey. After the first week, I also gave her a few dummies just for nap time. While none of them “replaced” the feed, she loves them all and she does associate them with time to “rock rock”.
7. Read the room
Just because she has always fed to sleep, didn’t mean she was thirsty. Other than some curiosity, she has not shown any interest in drinking expressed milk. I was trying to force it, as I believed it would be easier to just get her away from the breast if she still had her milk. It was just leaving her more upset and confused; so after a few days I just had to trust that she didn’t need it.
8. Go with it
I know that Charly is impossible when she doesn’t nap, I have spent every day of her life working my life around her naps to ensure I don’t get stuck with a toddler tornado. While all toddlers dodge naps, I never had to deal with that; partly because she sleeps so shockingly at night and partly because breastfeeding was like a magic sleeping spell.
While I maintain the routine and try every day to get her to nap, I can sense when it isn’t going to happen. Whether I’ve missed her window or she is just not in the mood, I can feel it in her little body when no amount of rocking or screaming is going to end in sleep. It goes against my every instinct, but there have been three days in the last 3 weeks when she hasn’t slept at all. It hasn’t been pleasant for any of us from late afternoon, but we’ve all survived.
9. Be incredibly patient
Keep reminding yourself that the screaming, hitting, hair-pulling anger flying off your little person is from frustration and doesn’t mean they hate you. The louder and more aggressive she got, the quieter and more gentle I got; even when my instinct is to join in with the screaming. So far it has mostly worked.
10. Once you start, the only way is forward
Some might disagree with this, maybe their child isn’t ready for this step and stopping is the better choice. For me, I know it is time. For me, I know without hesitation that it won’t be any easier if I wait. For me and my child, stopping and then starting again would just confirm for her that I didn’t really mean it; and that would have played out terribly in all aspects of our lives. For me, making the decision was a huge deal and anything less than following through was unfair to both of us.
Every child is different. My child has a far stronger will than me and I am pretty sure she is smarter than I am already; doing it this way was the only way it was going to happen. It has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. I guess I have answered the question I asked before starting this journey, “How many times can the mommy heart break?” In these past few weeks, my heart has ached and broken a thousand times, so there it is.
Yesterday my baby girl cried when she heard it was nap time, and then I pulled her gently into my arms and rocked with her singing and she was asleep in under 3 minutes – literally, I timed it. It is hard, it is heartbreaking, it leaves you feeling like a really bad mommy at times, but you will get through it. If you have any questions or even if you just need a shoulder to cry on or to talk it through, contact me. I promise I will respond. You are not alone.
Sending all the love xx