Did you ever think ending your breastfeeding would be more challenging than starting it?
At the beginning of your breastfeeding relationship, you were trying to figure out latch and positioning, sorting out days and nights, and just generally struggling to learn, well, everything.
As a mama breastfeeding a toddler, you have come so far! But when it comes time to wean for many moms, it feels just as daunting - and just as complicated- as the beginning of your breastfeeding relationship. There are so many reasons for this, but it boils down to the fact that this is not a place many others have been in, so real support is practically impossible to find.
That's where I come in... I'm Jenna Wolfe - a lactation counselor at Parenting Coach and owner of Own Your Parenting Story. I'm also a breastfeeding mom like you, and I've navigated extended breastfeeding, tandem feeding, and toddler weaning, and now I support other moms to do the same.
...and when they do, it's not based on a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all strategy or some tired old advice from people who don't know what it's like to be in the trenches of motherhood with a toddler pulling on your shirt while you are trying to make dinner.
That approach can be found abundantly in moms' groups, search engine results, and on the lips of well-meaning friends and family. Poor support has led to some stubborn "Toddler Weaning" myths.
In this blog post, I am breaking down five myths I see repeatedly.
Toddler Weaning Myth #1:
Offering to Breastfeed is Moving Backwards
This comes from the idea that breastfeeding is a habit that needs to be broken.
Breastfeeding, regardless of age, is not a habit. It is a method of getting needs met.
It's a parenting tool! What's critical for the long-term emotional wellbeing and even physical well-being of your child is secure attachment - and that is formed when your child's needs are continually and reliably being met, especially in those early years.
So when you breastfeed at a time that you've previously decided isn't the time to breastfeed, or you're offering to breastfeed even when your child isn't asking, what you're doing is you are meeting your child's need - you aren't "giving in. What they take away from that experience is that when they had a deep need, it was lovingly met. Not that when they cried/had a behavior, they got breastmilk.
Take away: When you breastfeed your child when you didn't "plan" to, you are moving your child forward in their development of secure attachment, NOT moving backward in your weaning process.
Toddler Weaning Myth #2:
Breastfeeds should be swapped for snacks.
Yes, breastmilk is packed with nutrition REGARDLESS of your child's age. BUT, particularly by the age of 2, hunger and thirst are not likely to be why your child is continually asking for breastmilk. So swapping out breastfeeds for snacks is unlikely to be an effective method of removing the need for breastmilk.
This mindset also leaves parents obsessing over food intake and worrying that if their child doesn't eat enough or has enough opportunity to eat, they will wake up more for breastfeeding or ask for breastmilk more during the day. That kind of obsession is stressful for everyone - you and your child.
Take away: Your child does need to have food regularly offered, but they don't need MORE food offered just because you are weaning from breastfeeding.
Toddler Weaning Myth #3:
You have to Night Wean first
I don't see this one being spoken about directly, but it seems just to be assumed by moms and parents that you have to night wean by a certain age or that feeds during the night need to be eliminated before other changes are made.
Continuing to breastfeed during the night well into toddler years is not a problem. It will not inherently cause oral issues or developmental issues, and even if you are feeling tired, there are many things you can do to support yourself to feel more rested before you consider night weaning. The reality is that you can breastfeed whenever works for you, and stop breastfeeding whenever it doesn't. For many families, breastfeeding at night is a way to connect and provide continued immune support when they are apart for most of their waking hours. Night weaning also does not necessarily mean that night waking will stop. The night wean decision is very personal and should not be taken lightly. Often, the issues that are being blamed on night breastfeeding are a symptom of something else (and the night feeding might be a symptom of that other thing as well!).
Take away: Night weaning does not have to occur at any particular time and is not the right choice for everyone.
Toddler Weaning Myth #4:
Weaning from breastfeeding is just slowly dropping feeds.
Most extended breastfeeding moms are not on a strict schedule with their breastfeeding toddlers - and for those with their child throughout the day, they likely cannot tell you how many times their child breastfeeds in a day - let alone when. This is a very simplistic view. How do you go from breastfeeding a toddler "on demand" to telling them "no" for vast chunks of the day? How can you possibly "drop" feeds one at a time when your feeds aren't timed?! This means you would first have to create structure around your feeds, and if you are already in a place to consider weaning, that is probably a tall order.
The reality is - you can't. Or at least, you can't without a lot of pushback. There are valid REASONS your child is continuing to ask for a breastfeed, and those reasons don't disappear just because you have said "no." This myth is particularly confusing for moms and tends to compound the shame and frustration they are already feeling.
Take Away: Dropping feeds one at a time is unrealistic for many breastfeeding moms and leaves them with more questions than answers.
Toddler Weaning Myth #5: Distracting your child from breastfeeding is critical to weaning.
This is one I see ALL the time! The belief that you need to distract your child with "more exciting" things than breastfeeding pops up repeatedly as a "gentle" weaning method. The problem? Breastfeeding is a method of getting your child's needs met. Distraction does not stop those needs from existing. Distraction is likely only to cause those needs to go unmet, and they will pop up in either asking for breastfeeding more, difficult and unwanted behaviors, OR shutting down those needs because they unconsciously come to believe they may never be met. There is an important distinction that should be made, however. Redirection is not the same as distraction. Distraction has the goal of having the child forget about breastfeeding. Redirection aims to redirect the child to a different method of getting their need met.
Takeaway: Distraction can make weaning harder. Redirection is a better method.
What myths have you heard about toddler breastfeeding and weaning? Let me know in the comments!