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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

Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding your child.

Some children are more attached to breastfeeding than other children are. 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

Weaning is likely to be a big change for your child. For many older children, breastfeeding is more about security and comfort than about food, so weaning can be quite stressful.

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.

A few weeks or months before you start weaning, it’s a good idea to start talking with your child about what will happen. This will give your child time to get used to the idea and can help to make the change easier.

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 a few days before you drop the next one. This 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.
  • Try the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. This involves 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. 

Remember that children over 12 months of age can be weaned to cow’s milk from a cup. You don’t need to wean an older child onto formula.

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 could read 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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Last updated or reviewed
08-08-2018

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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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