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How Do I Wean My Three-Year-Old?

I’ve been using Mondays to clean out my mailbag. This week we’re tackling the topic of weaning a three-year-old from breastfeeding. Although I normal wean my own babies by age 2, the same method should work for older toddlers, too. Read on for the details.

Monday Mailbag

Question: Weaning a three-year-old

Dear Jennifer,

How do I wean my three-year-old from nursing? She would love to nurse five or six times a day, and sometimes I’m successful in nursing her only before naptime and bedtime in the evenings. However, she’s quite persistent in declaring her desire for “mama milk.” My husband wants me to wean, and I’m ready, though I confess to being fearful of guilty feelings, thinking perhaps I should continue passing on my immunities to her… especially during the upcoming cold and flu season. Is she ready to defend herself against such things?

Incidentally, her older sister weaned at 2½ and became deathly ill just three months later. What began as a flu-type virus was quickly complicated by pneumonia, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (caused by E. coli), and finally, acute septic shock. She barely survived — over 99% of children who get sepsis at that age don’t. I’m reluctant to risk going through an ordeal like that again.

Sign me,
Nursing Mother

Weaning a Toddler

Answer: Reduce feedings gradually, then cut the last out cold turkey

Dear Nursing,

As for weaning, it sounds as if you’re already halfway there if your daughter is only nursing once or twice a day, but cutting out that last feeding can often be even harder for mama than it is for baby. Breastfeeding provides such a sweet time of bonding and is mutually beneficial to both mother and child. Still, there eventually comes a time when all children must wean — it is one of the necessary first steps they take on the path to independence.

To make the transition easier, try setting a date, say next Friday, on which you’ll discontinue those remaining bedtime feedings. Enjoy your last few days of breastfeeding, but as you cuddle and nourish your little one, lovingly explain that come Friday, she won’t be allowed to nurse anymore. Once the big day arrives, stand your ground. When she crawls into your lap and begs for “mama milk,” hold and soothe and remind her that she’s a big girl now and must drink her milk from a cup. This may upset her initially, but she’ll soon adjust to the change.

As for immunities, you daughter’s health has undoubtedly benefited from the three years you’ve nursed her, but her body has had plenty of time to build up antibodies of its own now. You need not feel guilty that you are weaning her too early. Your husband wants you to wean, you’re ready to wean, and your daughter is old enough to wean without being adversely affected either physically or emotionally.

According to my doctor husband, the HUS that nearly claimed the life of your older daughter is so rare that continued breastfeeding would not have given her specific immunity against it. The fact that she became infected so soon after weaning is a tragic coincidence and is certainly not something for which you should blame yourself. It would be extremely unlikely for your three-year old to wind up with the same disease, but if it would set your mind at ease, you could always pump your milk through the winter months and feed it to her in a cup.

Wishing you every success in this endeavor…

PS. If you’re a mother who likes to journal, you’ll love Sweet Child of Mine, my interactive devotional journal for moms. It contains 200+ pages chockfull of uplifting scriptures, writing prompts, word studies, and thoughtful quotes on the topic of motherhood, plus some of the most beautiful vintage artwork I’ve ever seen.

Sweet Child of Mine: A Devotional Journal for Mothers

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