how to wean your toddler

I didn’t plan to breastfeed Percy for as long as I have but here we are.

I knew that weaning him wasn’t going to be as straight forward as it was with Che and Poet. Percy’s birth was challenging, his first few months were very unsettled and now he’s asserting himself with a defiance that is both admirable and confronting. It’s safe to say that birthing and parenting him has been an entirely new experience for me. Weaning him has been much the same.

Just before we went overseas I decided that I would wean as soon as we returned. I wanted to feed him in Bali to keep his immunity boosted and to ensure he was settled on the plane trips. My plan worked. But what I didn’t anticipate was that the new environment and humidity would have him feeding like a newborn. He really was on me all. day. long and I was exhausted as a result.

A few Balinese women suggested I put something bitter on my nipples to deter him. Turns out that was the only thing that would work.

As soon as we returned I lazily attempted to wean him but he wasn’t having a bar of it. And then I discovered I was pregnant and predicted that my milk would change flavour and he would wean on his own accord.

Not a chance.

And then the exhaustion of the first trimester took hold and feeding him meant fifteen minutes of peace and the opportunity to lie down. So I took it, gratefully, all the while knowing that I had to wean him…and soon.

My supply started to deteriorate, I began to experience breastfeeding aversion and I was getting absolutely fed up with the toddler doing acrobats while feeding. The nipple tweaking was starting to wear thin, too.

But then one day I just decided that enough was enough. I needed sleep, energy and a few months break between breastfeeding my toddler and my newborn.

And just like that I discovered an abundance of patience and with Daniel on board, we embarked on the weaning process.

Years ago someone told me that it only takes a baby three days to make or break a habit. With that in mind, we persevered.

I’m not going to tell you it’s been easy because it most definitely hasn’t been. It’s been tough. Late, unsettled nights punctuated by persistent screaming, 3am wakes with more screaming and consistent requests for milk.

The first thing I did was put apple cider vinegar on my nipples. “Yuck,” he said. And yet he still asked for it…for days.

And so I kept refusing and Daniel would pour him a cup of water or milk to distract him. And then he’d take him for a walk or play with his trains or read him a story. Watching them form a new relationship – where I’m not required – is the silver lining of this experience.

We let him stay up well past his bedtime (and we’re pretty strict with the 7:30 in bed – no excuses – rule around here) and read him stories, sing him tunes and rub his back. Eventually he would surrender to sleep. But the night waking and screaming continued.

Two nights ago, at 4am, I realised that he was probably hungry so I got him a banana and watched him eat it till his eyes closed. But then my eyes closed and it was only when I rolled onto a wet, squishy thing  in the early morning that I remembered. “There’s too many bananas in the bed!” I exclaimed.

Parenthood, hey.

What advice can I give you?

Summon up all your patience, replace milky with milk or chamomile tea (or bananas), read endless stories and sing lullabies till you think you can’t sing them anymore.

Percy has, quite literally, been grieving for the past week. There’s no other way to put it. But last night when he woke he was happy to snuggle under my arm and place one hand on my chest. No screaming, no requests for milk. And today he’s been much happier.

When I weaned Poet I sang her all three verses of Twinkle, Twinkle.

But Percy has settled best to Hush Little Baby.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.

If that mockingbird won’t sing,
Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring.

If that diamond ring turns brass,
Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass.

If that looking glass gets broke,
Mama’s going to buy you a billy goat.

If that billy goat won’t pull,
Mama’s going to buy you a cart and bull.

If that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s going to buy you a dog named Rover.

If that dog named Rover won’t bark,
Mama’s going to buy you a horse and cart.

If that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little boy in town.

So hush little baby, don’t you cry,
Daddy loves you and so do I.

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Showing 13 comments
  • Nicole
    Reply

    I had exactly the same thoughts as you – our youngest will wean because my breast milk will change flavour because I’m pregnant. Our eldest weaned himself when I was ten weeks pregnant with our second. So easy. This time, I had to nudge our second to wean. Eventually he did when I was twenty months pregnant. And he still asks for it a month later. The best thing, as you said, is the relationship he now has with his dad. Beautiful

  • Lucy
    Reply

    With my colicky babies I used to add in verses to ‘Hush Little Baby” to keep my patience and humour while pacing around and rocking, one was “And if that diamond ring won’t shine, papa is going to buy mama a case of wine” Ha! Hope everything is easing now. There’s nothing like managing first trimester exhaustion whilst trying to be on top of your parenting game. Well done!!

  • Paula
    Reply

    I never really went through this with my 3, they all self weaned quite happily as I was planning too but I can’t remember how old Percy is but around 18 months both my sons would wake in the middle of the night for a few months and be so hungry we were up having another meal. They would eat then go back to sleep. I always put it down to an age / growth spurt thing.

  • Rachel
    Reply

    vinegar on nipples was my weaning method too 😉 the balinese traditionally use coffee! It’s definitely an emotional time. Best of luck with the new pregnancy – so exciting! x

  • Kelly
    Reply

    Oh this made me cry. How tough for you all, but hearing of his grieving tugs at the heartstrings as you don’t wish that pain on anyone, let alone a wee dot. I hope you regain your strength over the next few months before you begin on your bf journey again. What a beautiful, selfless mum you are.

    I’ll save this post to look back on when I start weaning my young one (currently 10 months old).

    Xx

  • Sherry
    Reply

    My heart goes out to Percy in his week of grieving but he will forget about this period, good luck to you mama and congratulations on baby #4

  • Ina F.
    Reply

    I went through the exact same thing last year, Mama! I felt every emotion and thought you described. This story added so much value to my morning and reinforced my motherhood. Cheering you on as well as other mamas trying to make the transition!

  • kelly rae
    Reply

    Soooo I’ve been thinking about weaning my second child. He just turned 12 months and I think it’s still a bit early to wean I’m still thinking about it. I’m ready for my breasts to be my own again and I’ll probably still wait till 2 like we did with our first-I AM so ready. I’ll have to remember the 3 day rule when it finally comes time. Our first was super easy to wean but I’m suspecting that our second will put up a fight.

  • Inga
    Reply

    It is so interesting what you said about Percys behavior. I have only two children, but I know so many families with three or more children who have had the same experience with their third ones (complicated births, very strongwilled, very different from the first two etc.). I’m almost starting to see a pattern here, even though every child is of course unique. All the best to you

  • Tamara
    Reply

    I never went through a difficult weaning process with either of my kids. My eldest I was only able to breast feed for 6 weeks and it just wasn’t working well. I did grieve that quite hard. I was so relieved when nursing my youngest was easy and he happily breast fed for a year but then he was just done. It was so abrupt, I wasn’t quite ready, but had to accept it. So there were still lots of feelings, but mainly mine. I can’t imagine nursing while in the first trimester. That truly does sound exhausting. You’re a trooper for sure.

  • reanna
    Reply

    My first weaned herself easily, but my boy was the opposite-he was obsessed with ‘booby’…when I was about 4months pregnant with #3 I decided it Had to be done and I reckon the first 3 days/nights were def the hardest. We did a combo of daddy being in the bed with him ot me going in butbwearing one of daddy’s t-shirts..itbwas tough but we did it- although he is only 2months off turning 3 and #3 is 4.5months- and he still tries/asks for booby at times!!! Maybe its a boy thing?
    Congrats on #4. Love reading your blog, it inspires and grounds me and I often go back and find old.posts that are useful to me. X

  • Malayka
    Reply

    Oh THANK YOU for writing this! I’m just in the middle of the same process, and that 4am crying session (lasting up to 2 hours until she’s allowed milk at 6am) is so heartbreaking. They really do grieve don’t they? They are tears of frustration but also of such sadness it seems. I always thought I would breastfeed until 2 years, but both times I have reached the 16 month mark and my body is just screaming at me to stop! It makes me feel so guilty in many ways but I guess the journey is different for everybody and we have to listen to our bodies. x

  • Jodi
    Reply

    My eldest didn’t wean until he was 3.5! He nursed right through my second pregnancy (even when I didn’t make any milk for several months, which I didn’t realize until many weeks in), and while my second was a newborn. I had no intention of nursing so long, it just happened. I was waiting for him to wean himself. And then, the day he turned 3.5, I was nursing him before bed (the only nursing we did for the last year), and my skin started to crawl; it just had to stop. He cried one night in the next week but then he was over it.
    My second stopped just before he turned two during a bout of international travel and jet lag.
    And now I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my third, and the joy that comes from nursing a newborn who needs his/her mama.
    Wishing you the best of luck with your fourth pregnancy (!).

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