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How To Shorten Your Toddler's Breastfeeding Session in 3 Easy Steps

You finally got to sit down on the couch after working, cooking and cleaning all day and your sweet little toddler climbs up next to you. As you lean in for a snuggle, those adorable chubby little fingers yank down your shirt and begin their frantic search for your nipple.

You want to connect with your kiddo and you do enjoy the closeness of breastfeeding, but after 15 minutes of suckling your skin is crawling and every time you say “all done” their little face contorts and the wails that ensue cause a splitting headache so quickly that you pop your breast back into their mouth and tell yourself you will try again in a moment.

Bottom line - you enjoy breastfeeding your child, but you do not enjoy reliving the marathon breastfeeding sessions you thought you were done with after those early newborn days.

It’s so easy to get in your head about! You “gave in”, so you are reinforcing this behaviour, right? But it seems like they need this comfort, so maybe breastfeeding as long as they want is the right thing to do? Cue the mental tug-of-war!

I get it.

I have been on that couch, with those fingers inside my bra feeling the rope pulling in my brain… and I support mamas every day in that same situation. It leads you to wonder if things would be better if you just weaned… but if you can’t even handle shortening a feed, how will you ever cutting them off for good?!

Well, fear no more, sweet mama. I got you.

Here are my 3 easy steps to shortening a breastfeed!

Step #1: Check for the need.

I know I sound like a broken record when I say this, but breastfeeding is ALWAYS meeting a need! It’s not “just” a habit or “just” for anything else.

Your little kiddo’s brain isn’t integrated in a way were they can sense what is happening inside of their body, understand it and then find a way to support it. That brain structure simple does not exist yet! So, instead they impulsively react to their internal experiences without thought and even they don’t understand why they are behaving the way they are.

This means that it becomes our job as their caregivers to become detectives and seek out the underlying needs that our little humans are trying to get met with their immature brains.

An acronym I’ve adapted from recovery programs is HALTT. (”HALT” is often used as a proactive way of assessing whether someone in recovery is at risk of making a poor decision, but my tweak makes it quite handy for moms breastfeeding toddlers!).

H: Hungry

A: Angry

L: Lonely

T: Tired

T: Thirsty

If your child has previously been in any of those states, or it’s possible they are in one now, see if you can swap breastfeeding as the method of meet that need for an alternative method!

Note - more needs than those exist for desiring to breastfeed, but it’s a handy checklist to remember for sorting through a number of the big ones!

Offering an alternative method to getting their need met is an important first step in shortening their feed!

Step #2: Pick a Tool!

The need behind the breastfeed is one reason why breastfeeding sessions can become lengthy, but another huge one is that little kids have a HARD time with transitions. Remember when I mentioned their immature brains in the last step? Well, it applies here too. Just like they don’t have the physical connections in their brains to have insight into their behaviours, they also don’t have the right type of connections in their brain to allow them to transition from one task to the next. The lack of integration causes them to get “stuck” on one task and struggle to shift their focus to the next. Their brains hold on tightly to the task at hand and changing tracks can take a lot of time and support.

This is where parenting tools come in. Your child needs some help making & strengthening the connections in their brain that help smoothly transition from one task to the next. Having another method of getting their need met isn’t all that helpful when they aren’t able to get their brain to entertain it.

If you google “toddler transitions strategies” you will find oodles of suggestions for different tools you can use to give your kiddo the support they need, but I know if you let your creative juices flow you can likely come up with a few all on your own (most parents do once they understand what’s actually going on in in their child’s little brain!).

A good tool for supporting your child in transitions is something that:

-Gives them time to process the transition

-Respectfully gives them closure for the task at hand

-Is playful, fun and/or connecting

Bonus - gives them a concrete idea of what will happen next (I talked about one "hack" for this a little while ago!)

Some options might include:

→Waving “goodbye” to the current task and blowing kisses (this gives a moment for the child to process, allows them to have some closure, you can remind them of what is happening next, and it’s playful and connecting when you do it along side them).

→Singing a song and switching tasks at the end. (Again, it allows the child space, the song cues them that change is coming, they are allowed to have closure at the end of the song, and it is playful and connecting).

Again, many options exist, but you will know the right one for you and your child. They may like to have a couple to choose from! You know the temperament of your child best.

Step #3: Practice the tool

The magic of transition tools really comes in the long game. The more you use the tool, the more your child understands what it means, and the more their brains wire in a way where the tool feels safe, fun and predictable - all things that support the tool becoming more and more effective!

Practice should not be confused with “consistency” though! You don’t need to use the tool consistently for it to offer support. You just have to use it! Work it in at times unrelated to breastfeeding, maybe when you are leaving the park, or getting ready to eat dinner.

In fact, working it in neutrally at times away from breastfeeding can be a great place to start because you’ve now created a language, or a short-hand, for what it means to transition (or wrap up an activity and move on to the next) so when you do present it around breastfeeding, your child has a much easier time understanding what is occurring.

Shortening breastfeeds can be the thing that makes all the difference in your toddler breastfeeding journey and can add years on to it if that is what you would like to do! It can also be a natural step towards weaning if that is the goal you are looking for as well. Either way, it’s an important skill to have in your breastfeeding journey and I hope this gave you some support as you navigate it! If you are looking for more ways to shift the dynamics in your toddler breastfeeding relationship, be sure to grab my free "Making Changes" guide & cheat sheet to learn more about saying "no" the feed while still saying "yes" to the need.


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