Are you nursing a toddler?
Sadly, our culture still views toddler nursing as ‘taboo’ and calling it ‘extended breastfeeding’. The reality is that nursing a toddler is NORMAL and healthy. However, because we often spend so much time trying to be accepted, we forget we also can set boundaries with our toddlers.
There’s a false dichotomy that it’s either nurse on demand or wean. This is not true! You can limit nursing sessions or cut down some feeds and maintain your breastfeeding relationship. You get to do what works for your family.
So here are some tips to help you set loving boundaries around breastfeeding your toddler. Please note this is for TODDLERS, aka 12 months and up. Babies under 12m should always be fed on demand.
Understand your Why
There’s a lot of reasons you might choose to cut down on feeds. Maybe you’re feeling touched out. Maybe you’re just ready. Maybe you’re getting ready to wean in the future.
Whatever your reason is, it’s valid! But what I don’t want you to do is to cut feeds because your mother in law said so or you feel like all your friends are. There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding your toddler on demand if it works for you all.
Explain Ahead of Time
If you already know when you want to nurse, explain this to your toddler. For example:
‘Now that you’re getting bigger, we are only going to nurse for bedtime and nap time. During the day, you can have snacks instead.’
Keep it simple! You don’t need to overexplain your reasons. The idea is to give your child a heads up of what’s to come.
Observe when your child asks for milk and what need they are trying to meet. Do they ask when they’re hungry? Do they ask when they are upset and need comfort? Do they need it to fall asleep? Do they ask when you are distracted and they are seeking connection?
Understanding this is key. It allows you to meet their needs before they even come up. For example, if you notice they will be seeking connection you can give them some quality 1:1 time before hopping on your phone.
Label what you think their needs are, even if you aren’t ready to set the boundary yet. For example:
‘You want boobies right now. I think you’re hungry. Does your tummy feel hungry?’
This starts to foster your child’s sense of bodily awareness. It’s so important for them to learn how to identify their own needs.
Knowing what the underlying need might be, you can start to redirect them when they ask for milk. For example:
‘I hear you want to nurse, it seems like you are hungry. Would you like a snack?’
For many toddlers, that simple prompt might be enough to distract them. But depending on their temperament, they might need more of a boundary. For example:
‘I hear you want milky right now. I see you want some bonding time. We can’t do milkies right now but I can cuddle you instead’
Remember, this is your body! You are allowed to set a boundary about what you are and aren’t willing to give. That doesn’t mean they have to like it, though. Your job isn’t to fix their feelings but rather to empathize with them.
Offer a Choice
It also helps to offer a simple choice when you are trying to redirect. This helps your toddler feel empowered and in control. For example:
‘We aren’t going to nurse right now but I see that you’re hungry. Would you like goldfish or veggies for a snack?’
Remember both choices need to be choices you’re okay with!
Empathize and Hold Space
Again, just because you set a boundary it doesn’t mean your toddler has to like it. They are allowed to be upset! Welcome their feelings and empathize with them. For example:
‘I hear you, you’re so sad we can’t nurse right now. It’s okay to be sad. I’m here for you.‘
Remember you’re not ‘fixing’ their feelings. You’re just holding space for them and helping them co-regulate.
Looking to Wean?
If you’re ready to start the night weaning process but don’t want to use cry-it-out or any harsh methods- I got you!
My friend Marissa and I created an amazing Gentle Night Weaning course which has everything you need to know to support your toddler thorough weaning in a slow and responsive way. Marissa is a certified Lactation Counsellor and fellow Baby Sleep Specialist. We both have weaned our toddlers and have helped countless families do the same. Check out the course page here to learn more!
A cheat sheet
Pssst! I made you a little cheat sheet if you wanna screenshot and save:D