First of all, I ask you to evaluate why you are trying to wean--is it because you want to, or because you feel pressure from others? I encourage you to review the reasons you have chosen to breastfeed in the first place, and to keep it up for as long as you and your child are both happy with the status quo. With that said, if one of you is genuinely not happy, making changes can be healthy and good.
Whether you're night-weaning, fully-weaning, or just cutting back a bit on your nursing routine, hopefully some of these will be helpful. By no means should you feel the need to try them all! But hopefully something here will work for you.
- Stop offering the breast. This might seem obvious, but some kids don't really ask for it, they just take it when offered. If you stop offering it all the time that could greatly reduce their nursing.
- Nurse whenever they ask, but only for a short time--for example count to 10 and then say 'all done' and stop. They can ask again as often as they want, and never be turned away...but each nursing episode is very brief. With time the child will likely adjust to short-duration nursing, and it then becomes easier to cut back the frequency. (I posted about my experience with this here.)
- When the child asks to nurse, offer a drink or other snack. (If they are asking out of hunger, then find other ways to meet the need.)
- When they ask to nurse, distract them with a book, toy, or other activity (Little Bear often will ask to nurse simply because he just remembered that the milk is there--via seeing me changing or whatever. In these situations it is easy to distract him.)
- Cuddle, sing, rock in the chair...do all the things you do when nursing, but don't get out the breast.
- Get pregnant. No, I'm not being facetious. Many children self-wean because the milk either dries up or changes in taste during pregnancy...of course, many women experience acute breast tenderness when pregnant and have to push weaning because of the pain...so take the idea with a grain of salt. If you've been thinking about getting pregnant though, know that yes, you can nurse while pregnant, and it may help your older child to wean (or it may not, and you may get to tandem nurse... ☺)
- Here is KellyMom's list of articles on weaning (including information about whether or not a medical situation warrents weaning--most do not--and more ideas on how to do it gently)
- Here is an index of all Dr Sears' articles on breastfeeding (including weaning).
- Many women have said that they handled night-weaning by telling the child that the breast/milk went to sleep at night (this is best after 18months, as they may not understand the logic before then). This is the tack we've taken and while Bear is frustrated over it, he accepts that the nanu sleeps just like everybody else.
- Put the breast away--this can be done during the day too, but is especially applicable at night, when many of us just leave it hanging out...easy access usually means lots of nursing. Toddlers rarely even wake up in these cases--they just latch on and keep on sleeping. If there is nothing to latch on to, they may just sleep!
- Scoot over or roll away. If the child is co-sleeping, they may be nursing simply because it's there...even with your shirt pulled down the persistent child can feel the breast and knows that it's right there. The determined ones may pull up your shirt and go after it! However, if you roll onto your back, or scoot away from the child a bit, then the breast is not right there, access is not so easy, and they are more likely to forget about it.
- For night-weaning, consider Dr Jay Gordon's program (it is geared to the over 12months co-sleeping crowd)
- Here are 12 ideas from Dr Sears for gentle night weaning.
Please take into account that when a child is sick, or learning a new skill (walking, talking, potty-learning, etc) they will probably not handle other changes (ie, weaning) very well. It is best to just do one thing at a time.
Please let me know if you have other gentle weaning tips and I'll add them to the list.