Do you want to wean your toddler from nursing at night? Here are 5 practical tips to help you get started.

To wean your toddler from breastfeeding is alike yet different from weaning a baby. Let’s have a look at these 5 toddler-specific ways you can lovingly and efficiently help your toddler make this transition.

Breastfeeding at night until toddlerhood is an amazing experience, one that can make the bond between you and your child that much stronger. My daughter and I happily did this for over 2 years. Then, for many reasons, a time can come when you would like to wean your toddler from nursing. But how to go about it??

A picture of my daughter and I at the beginning of our co-sleeping/breastfeeding journey
My daughter and I spent 2 beautiful years sleeping together and breastfeeding at night

5 practical tips to wean your toddler at night

These tips helped us through this process really well and I hope they can do the same for you! You can use them if your toddler is co-sleeping with you or in her own crib or bed.

1. Make a plan

Do not go back and forth with mixed plans and signals. As Heidi Holvoet (founder of Baby Sleep Advice) always says: your baby feels your determination and will adapt accordingly. However, making this decision, and the plan that goes with it, is often the hardest part, at least it was for me. It’s important to accept that getting there is a process. Allow yourself time to be sure that you and your toddler are ready before you commit.

When you have made your plan, I recommend putting it in writing. This will help you stick to it, even in the middle of a difficult night.

2. Talk to your toddler about weaning!

Your toddler understands so much more than we often realize, even though they might not be speaking so much yet. Once you have your plan, talk often to your child about what going to happen and why. It will make them feel heard and part of the process. You and your baby are a team! Here are some things you can tell your little girl or boy:

  • From now on you can have boobies (or whatever you call them:)) in the evening and in the morning
  • At night we need to sleep and the boobies need to sleep too
  • You can also practice to let her finish your sentence: at night the boobies need to… ‘sleep’! At night no more….. boobies’
  • You can give the last feed (well before bedtime) and install a ‘good night boobies ritual’. Your little one can give the boobies a kiss and a hug and you say: ‘good night, see you tomorrow boobies’!

You can of course come up with your own explanations/strategies that might be more in line with your approach. However, talk about this with your toddler during the day and NOT at night/in the heat of the moment. At night she won’t be able to ‘hear explanations’. It is better to just use one short key phrase you can repeat. For example: ‘No boobies at night’ or ‘The boobies are sleeping’…

My daughter happily playing in her crib.
My daughter happily playing in her crib

Also very important, PRAISE your toddler for the times it worked well and even if it didn’t, praise her/him for the effort. Focus on what is still possible: boobies in the evening and the morning for example. This keeps the interaction positive and encourages your child to make the change you would like.

3. Make gradual changes to wean your toddler successfully

Don’t go from 100 to 0 all at once but install a gradual process. With sudden weaning, you may not have the time to prepare yourself and your child for the physical and emotional changes that you will likely experience.

When your body doesn’t have a chance to adjust to the quick changes, weaning can be more difficult, even painful.

Depending on the wake-up patterns of your child (relatively fixed times or not) you can either eliminate 1 feed at a time or stop giving the breast during a specific time period, from bedtime to 3pm for example. This is the exact process we guide you through to reduce the need to feed at night inside of our Overcome Frequent Waking program.

If at all possible, you can enlist the help of another person. They could take on at least a few wake-ups and put your little one back to sleep. As you might have seen in this personal story about my husband, he has always been very supportive in helping with our daughters’ sleep.

To start the weaning process we decided to sleep together in our daughter’s room with her in her own bed for as long as possible. He then helped me take care of more and more wake-ups. As she was not bothered by wanting the breast this also seemed to be less stressful for her.

4. Introduce an interesting alternative

At those moments when you don’t let your toddler nurse, or have started reducing, it can be powerful to offer an alternative. It’s best to engage your little one in the choice of the alternative.

You can get a fun regular cup, a special sippy cup, or anything similar you think might work for your baby (and you might need to experiment with different options a bit). Make a big deal out of it. For example, let your boy or girl choose the sippy cup herself in the store. Talk a lot about how this is a special cup for during the night for when he/she is thirsty and the breasts are sleeping.

If your baby does not have a transitional object yet, this could be the moment to try and encourage the attachment at night to a fluffy toy, special blanket, or another object your toddler really likes.

Offer it every time your little girl or boy goes (back) to sleep and also offer it regularly, or at least keep it near during awake time. You can also ask your toddler to ‘put the teddy bear to bed’ before he/she goes to bed as part of the bedtime ritual.

5. Weaning your toddler from nursing at night is a process

This is a process, a gentle and progressive one. Going through a few ups and downs is the norm when making any kind of progress like this, that’s how the changes are imprinted and become the norm.

Don’t be afraid to be flexible, to nurse more for example, when your baby needs it. When they are sick, or you are not sleeping at home for example. As long as you keep communicating with your toddler, they will able to adapt. Trust your child and be determined.

Know also that this process for most comes with a lot of emotions. As a mom, you may feel you’re mourning this special bonding time. Your toddler will need to adapt to this new reality and might show anger and frustration at times.

And as a dad, you may feel frustrated if the process takes too long. Each of you will have their very personal individual reactions.

If you would like more individual support through this process to wean your toddler from nursing at night please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Are you currently weaning your toddler? Or planning to? Let us know in the comments below.

Tessa is a Dutch psychologist and yoga teacher living with her (French) husband and 22-month-old girl in Geneva. She has worked for over 10 years in the humanitarian field mainly providing psychosocial support to mothers, other caregivers and (their) children all over the world, from Asia to Africa to South and Central America with agencies such as the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and UNICEF. At the moment she is working towards opening up her own independent practice. She became a huge fan of Heidi Holvoet’s approach while struggling with their daughters sleep and not wanting to let her ‘cry it out’. She could not be happier to now be part of the team and have the chance to offer parents and their babies the same non-judgmental support and to work together with parents and baby on a gentle approach to more sleep with respect for everyone’s needs and rhythm.

3 Comments

  1. Steph | | Reply

    This was so relatable and I’m with you, a process, and a gentle one when applying these techniques! Thanks for sharing, Tessa. 🙂

    • Heidi Holvoet | | Reply

      Me too Steph!! And to me, the way you explain it Tessa makes this feel actually doable and achievable and not this hugely complex, lengthy and draining affair to go through. Thank you!!

  2. Jen | | Reply

    Such a brilliant article! The tips were so helpful and so hands on!

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