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Weaning off breastfeeding: older children

1-4 years

If weaning off breastfeeding is something you want to do with your toddler or preschooler, you’ll have more success if you go slowly, changing your child’s routine gradually over weeks or months.

About weaning off breastfeeding

Children have different levels of attachment to breastfeeding. They’ll all wean in their own time. But if you don’t want to wait for your child to wean herself, weaning can happen when you’re ready. You might need to wean, for example, because you’re going back to or starting work.

Weaning: planning ahead

For many toddlers and older children, breastfeeding is more about security and comfort than about food, so weaning can be quite stressful. Others might decide for themselves that they’re ready to give it up.

Breastmilk gives your child lots of nutrients, no matter how old your child is. But your older child can easily get the nutrients he needs from other sources.

The end of breastfeeding is likely to be a significant change for any older child. This means it’s probably best to avoid weaning when there are other major changes in your child’s life – for example, toilet training, starting child care or moving house.

You can ease the transition by talking to your child about what will happen a few weeks or months before you start weaning – this will give her time to get used to the idea.

Weaning tips

When you’re weaning older children off breastfeeding, a good way to start is to never offer a breastfeed, but never refuse.

Here are more tips that can help. You can start with the tip you think will suit your child best, or use a few if that suits you both:

  • Drop one breastfeed at a time, and wait weeks before you drop the next one. It will also be easier on your breasts, which might get engorged if you stop too suddenly.
  • Consider dropping daytime breastfeeds first, then gradually drop any bedtime or night-time feeds – these are the ones your child probably feels most needy about.
  • Introduce a few limits, like not breastfeeding when you’re out, or feeding only after lunch during the day.
  • Introduce lots of activities and outings into your daily routine so your child is too busy and distracted to think about breastfeeding.
  • Occasionally replace a breastfeed with a ‘grown-up’ alternative. Your child might be excited about having a special but healthy drink like a babyccino at a café when he’d normally be at home having a breastfeed.
  • The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle can work well. You can try leaving your child with someone she’s comfortable with at times when she’d normally have a breastfeed, because she’ll be less likely to miss it if you’re not around.
  • Avoid dressing and undressing while your child is around, and wear clothes that make it hard for your child to get to your breasts – for example, dresses rather than separates.
  • If your child wakes in the night for a breastfeed, try to let your partner or someone else settle him with a cup of milk or water. 

Weaning off morning and night feeds

Your child’s last remaining breastfeeds might be at bedtime and when she wakes in the morning.

To drop the morning feed, try to be up and dressed before your child wakes, then offer him a cup of milk and breakfast.

To drop the bedtime feed, a change of routine can help break the old routine. You could try a sleepover with grandparents, or your partner reading stories to your child instead of a breastfeed. 

If your child is used to being fed to sleep, change the routine by offering a story after the feed, as an incentive to stay awake. 

Feeding in another room, and not just before bed, can also help break the association between feeding and sleeping. Once you’ve broken the association, over time you can drop the feed.

When weaning your child off night feeds, make sure her bedtime still involves a relaxed, warm routine with lots of cuddles.

If you’re feeling a bit sad about the last breastfeed, that’s pretty normal. It might help to remind yourself that you’ve done a great job giving your child a healthy start to life.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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