Skip to main content

When to know it’s time to wean – and how you and your toddler can get through it

Your sweet infant has depended on you for the comfort, connection, nutrition, and survival that breastfeeding has given them their entire life. It’s been emotional for you, too—someone was completely dependent on you 24/7, and that was overwhelming and fulfilling at the same time. Your bond has been linked to breastfeeding, and now you’re wondering if it’s time to wean. No one besides you can make that choice, but here is the best advice we have to offer to help you through this time that is pulling at your heartstrings.

When babies grow into toddlers, it is exciting and sentimental. We want them to grow up, but not too fast. We want them to be independent, but not forget us. Parenting is full of these conflicting feelings through every stage, but this is the very first shift from one stage to another, so it’s that much more sensitive. For parents who are breastfeeding, there is another element of physically separating yourself, which can be hard on both of you.

Related Videos

How to know it’s time to stop breastfeeding your toddler

There are no simple answers here, but there are a few factors that may lead you to the decision to wean. You may want your body back for your mental health, or you may be unable to sustain pumping at work. You may be seeing behavioral issues in your toddler, like nipple biting that you want to stop. Or you may feel you’re ready, or they’re ready, or both. There are a few medical reasons to stop breastfeeding, like if the breastfeeding parent needed a medical treatment that made their breastmilk unsafe for their child to drink. Otherwise, a child can healthily breastfeed until just about any age.

Major health organizations recommend breastfeeding for at least one year, with some suggesting two years. All of them (CDC, Academy of American Pediatrics, WHO, American Academy of Family Physicians, etc.) say that breastfeeding is healthy and beneficial past two years. Since you introduced solids around 6-months-old, breastmilk (and formula if supplementing) slowly becomes less of a significant chunk of your child’s nutritional intake each month until they can survive on food and any milk (such as cow milk) entirely. In the U.S., this point of deeming breastmilk no longer necessary is at the one year mark, but as has been mentioned, that doesn’t mean there’s any issue breastfeeding beyond one year as long as it still works for you and your child.

According to some data, children worldwide self-wean (turn away from nursing on their own) anywhere between 2.5 and 7-years-old, or sometimes younger. If you want to wait until your child self-weans, the signs will be that they don’t ask to breastfeed anymore. This can come on suddenly and be emotionally difficult for the parent if they didn’t know it was coming, so it’s best to prepare yourself as soon as they turn one since they can become ready and turn away at any time. Even if you want to keep breastfeeding until your child self-weans, you can put up boundaries as they get older, like only nursing at bedtime.

If your child is still asking to breastfeed, but you don’t want to anymore, know that this choice about your own body and parenting is valid. It’s OK to stop for yourself even if that wasn’t your plan on Day One. Your mental and physical health also matters—remember that a happy parent best serves your child. Just like child-led weaning, parent-led weaning doesn’t have to be a hard stop—it can be an introduction of boundaries that eventually leads to complete weaning.

If you’re searching for a hard rule to know it’s time to stop nursing, you, unfortunately, won’t find one. It’s a personal choice. You can transition away from breast milk to formula if your child is under 1-year-old or cow’s milk if your child is over 1 – any time you feel is right. Trust your gut and seek support for the emotional side of the transition.


How to wean a toddler from nursing

Your toddler’s age will impact your strategy. If they are old enough to have full conversations with, you can talk about how milk is going “bye-bye” or whatever language is natural for you. If they’re old enough to tell you with words about how that’s OK or how it makes them sad, you’ll be able to address it like any other change or rule.

If nursing time is snuggle time, replace nursing with a bottle or sippy cup of another drink, and still give them the same cuddles. They can lean their head on your chest as they drink to ease the transition. If another parent or parental figure can do bedtime for a bit, it may also help not to have the breastfeeding parent around as much while they’re still associated with breastfeeding.

If they’re a big kid, you could even frame it as a celebratory growing up moment and give them cake and a party to say goodbye to nursing! Distract them with a present as congratulations for growing up.

These methods, like “don’t offer/don’t refuse,” are also tried and true. Whatever you do, it will be right for you.

Editors' Recommendations

Going through the IVF process? Here’s what to expect
Ready for the IVF process? The steps and expectations from start to finish
A woman undergoing an ultrasound

Because of modern science, the birds and the bees aren’t precisely what they used to be. The rise of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has given parents ways of conceiving besides intercourse.

More than 8 million babies have been born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) since its inception in 1978 and 2018. In 2019, more than 83,000 babies were born via ART, according to CDC data. It’s unclear how many of those were from the IVF process, but the CDC notes it’s the most common form of ART.

Read more
5 things you should never say to a pregnant woman
She's already cranky, puffed, and exhausted. Please don't make it worse with these common questions for pregnant women
Pregnant married woman standing in a floral gown

These lists are sometimes hard to compile because of the beautiful complexity and differences between women. What may be offensive to one may be exactly what another needs to hear. Women, particularly pregnant women, are multidimensional, deeply thinking, individualistic human beings, and there is no "one-size-fits-all" list that applies to everyone.
However, there does seem to be an invisible boundary of privacy that drops when a woman is expecting a child. In a time when she is very likely uncertain, nervous, and potentially bombarded with any number of questions, swimming in a pool of nerves, people think this is the time to invade her space.
Most of these are well-intentioned questions, habitual, even. Rightfully so, people are excited and happy at the sight of a pregnant woman, and sometimes in that joy, manners can slip. It's important to keep in mind that many women -- particularly the more introverted ones -- are uncomfortable with all the new attention they're probably receiving. For the women who don't relish having these conversations with their family members, friends, hairstylists, and strangers in the produce section, these questions can be very awkward. Keep reading to find out the things you should never say to a pregnant woman.

'Are you going to breastfeed?'
This one is usually said with an air of haughtiness that also says, "It is the best choice, you know. Any mother who doesn’t breastfeed is just the absolute worst and shouldn’t be allowed to have children if only because of her shocking selfishness."
Ladies (and gentlemen), think about this one for a moment. While, as mentioned above, your intentions are undoubtedly lovely and kind, you may very well be deeply offending the already uncomfortable pregnant woman you’re talking to. Take into consideration that there are many reasons her answer to this question may be (gasp) "No."
Perhaps she has a medical issue that prevents her from breastfeeding. Perhaps she has a deeply rooted psychological reason she’s chosen not to. Perhaps she just feels icky about the whole thing, and despite her best efforts, just can’t move past it. Whatever the reason, she already knows breastfeeding is the healthiest and “best” option without you telling her so.
She doesn’t need to know that it’s what you did and that your babies were just healthy little horses. She doesn’t need to hear that feeding her precious, unborn baby formula is the equivalent of feeding it Tang instead of freshly squeezed orange juice. She’s thought about her choice more than you have; whatever that choice is, it's really none of your business.

Read more
How to help your toddler adjust to a new baby
Is a child's reaction to a new sibling abnormal toddler behavior? Maybe, but probably not. What to know
A toddler holding a new baby on a white bench

Your first baby completed you. You loved them so much that you decided to have another.

Parents may worry their kids won’t hit it off. These concerns may be amplified for parents having children close together. Toddlers don’t have the language or empathy to understand why a new loud, tiny human is commanding lots of attention — attention that used to be theirs.

Read more