Tips for Weaning Your 1-Year-Old
By Carma Haley Shoemaker
A child’s first birthday is cause for celebration. Changes in the child’s life will continue to occur, lessons will be learned and adventures will happen almost daily. Weaning at this stage of a child’s life can be just one of those adventures.
Harder for Mom or Toddler?
Weaning an older child who has developed a routine which includes breastfeeding can be a time of trial and error. Older children are more equipped to express their feelings related to their wants, needs, likes, and dislikes. Children entering their second year have learned various skills to aid them in verbalizing their inner feelings.
An older child may also express his/her disapproval of being weaned through behavior changes.
An older child may also express his/her disapproval of being weaned through behavior changes. This can offer a signal to the mother that weaning is not progressing in the manner she had hoped. Gale Prachniak, lactation consultant and program coordinator at Woman and Infant’s hospital in Rhode Island says, “Older children may act out as a result of being weaned and it is not always easy to determine the reason for the behavior. If the mother notices that the toddler is suddenly very irritable, is having trouble sleeping, is toilet trained and goes back to having accidents, begins stuttering, or needs a toy or blanket for security where they didn’t before, it is possible the process is going a little too quickly for them.”
Just as a toddler can become accustomed to breastfeeding, mothers often find it hard to allow their babies to wean. The interaction between mother and baby has benefits for both, and weaning can often become an emotional time for mom. Elissa Sonnenberg, mother of two from Cincinnati, says, “I gradually weaned both my sons from breastfeeding when they were around 1 year old. I guess you could just as well say they weaned me. By the time they were giving up the breast, I was really unsure whether I was able to let go. In the end, I think it was harder on me than it was on my boys.”
According to Prachniak, the feelings of loss and guilt are normal and are no indication of a mother’s wrongdoing. Weaning a child from the breast is a transition, and as with all transitions, time to adapt is necessary. Mothers can find assistance in getting through these feelings, as well as the weaning process itself, by joining a local support group, visiting online discussion groups, or talking with other mothers who have previously gone through the weaning process.
Weaning Toddlers Gradually
Reducing feeding times or the number of feedings has proven successful for mothers weaning children entering or in their second year. Allowing the process of weaning to be gradual will prevent any undue stress on both Mom and child. “Try cutting down the feedings one at a time. Stick with the new schedule for a couple of days,” says Prachniak. “This can decrease these different behaviors or at least allow a mother to know why the behaviors are happening. Then when things seem to level out, you eliminate another feeding. Some children have very strong preferences and will allow you to cut out the noon feeding but they desperately need the one first thing in the morning and for bed at night.”
As with younger children, those entering their second year may benefit from the gradual weaning process. Michelle Alcido, mother of one from Houston, says, “I took away feedings that did not take place right before or after sleeping, as these were very soothing for both of us. The next step for us was to discontinue naptime feedings and then bedtime feedings. The early morning feeding was the most difficult for us because we had gotten in the habit of Joseph coming to bed with me to nurse in the morning and then we leisurely made our way downstairs for breakfast.”
“One benefit with weaning older children is that with an older child you can reason with them. You can say, ‘While we’re in the store I’ll give you the juice box because I would like to nurse you in private.’ An older child would understand and perhaps be willing to go along with that whereas a baby wouldn’t want to be put off in that way,” says Prachniak. “Sometimes you can use these types of bargaining techniques with an older child and then substitute nursing with a glass of juice in the sippy cup and playing with Play-Doh. It’s something very exciting and stimulating and you’re with them to do it so the one-on-one interaction of nursing is still there.”
Giving a toddler something to drink using a straw and cup can be a good substitute for a nursing session because the action of the straw is very similar to breastfeeding. In addition, children between the ages of 1 and 2 years who are being weaned may also benefit from solid food choices that are offered with creativity. “Joseph began drinking water and juice from a cup at 10 months, so drinking milk from a cup was natural once we stopped nursing,” says Alcido. “I started introducing fun and interesting foods for breakfast. Strawberry yogurt or oatmeal into which he put raisins and coconut went over really well.”
As babies become toddlers, their worlds will continue to expand. Weaning a child does not mean a mother is no longer involved in this world, but only that her role has changed. “A mother’s involvement with her child doesn’t end at weaning. It doesn’t end anytime after weaning,” Prachniak says. “Weaning is the mother’s opportunity to help her child expand and grow. Depending upon how it is approached by both Mother and Baby, it is an opening for the perfect way to incorporate new activities for old ones.”