Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has been working with children, adolescents, families, and schools since 1990, and has written dozens of articles and several books about children and adolescents. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for Parents Space, 'Ask Dr Dona.' Please send your questions to her at the e-address below. She'll do her best to answer your question as quickly as possible.

rsz breastfeeding toddler 150x150 Weaning a Toddler: Be Kind, Firm, and ClearQuestion: I need some advice on weaning a toddler. I weaned Connor just after his second birthday. Although he LOVED to nurse, he didn’t seem to miss it at first. But about two months later, he became very interested again, often shoving his hands down my shirt. I tell him that the milk is all gone, and he does understand that, but he still wants it. He finds it soothing. Do you have any suggestions? With #2 on the way, I’m not interested in him nursing again.


Weaning a toddler is more complicated than weaning a younger child. After about 18 months, a child has a will of his own, and breastfeeding can become a power struggle. Like all toddlers, Connor wants to do what he wants to do, right now, and he doesn’t like to be thwarted. Some toddlers have temper tantrums when their mothers attempt weaning, and others employ more persuasive tactics, like reaching for a breast.

Weaning a toddler can be complicated by a mother’s feelings of guilt—you’re depriving your child of something he loves to do, and that may be beneficial for his health. It can also be complicated by a mother’s ambivalence. Breastfeeding probably gives you pleasure, too. Weaning Connor means a loss of his dependence on you, and the beautiful feelings of symbiosis and total connection that are particular to breastfeeding. Weaning means moving on from a meaningful part of your life.

Connor is old enough to sense any guilt or ambivalence you might (understandably) feel. He’ll know if you’re not totally sure about weaning him, and will persist in his resistance to weaning until you are absolutely clear and definite with him about it.

It might help any guilt you feel about weaning to remember the importance of healthy emotional self-regulation. You want Connor to learn how to soothe himself—a very important coping skill.

Now that you’ve weaned him, Connor needs to learn that you’re entitled to some privacy around certain parts of your body. You want him establishing boundaries about his own private parts, and there’s no better way to teach that than by insisting on that for yourself. You also want him to learn that it’s not okay to grab women’s breasts, no matter how soothing he might find it.

Because you have another baby coming, and you’re probably planning to breastfeed again, I’d tell Connor that he’s a big boy now and can have other kinds of nourishment. Let him know that breast milk is only for babies when they’re too little to have real food. Talk with him about the foods he enjoys. Make a list of those foods. Remind him that babies can’t have any of those things.

There are lots of other ways you can give Connor comfort. It’s important for the first few months after weaning that you have some extra one-on-one time with him. Snuggle up with him for reading or singing or story-telling. Make him the foods he likes best. Do the things he loves doing.

As part of the weaning process, give Connor opportunities to develop his self-reliance. Let him pour his own milk onto his cereal, for example. (You might want to buy small milk cartons for that purpose, and empty out some of the milk before giving it to him to pour.) Look for ways for him to gain a sense of self-sufficiency.

Weaning a toddler requires that you be kind, but definite and unapologetic. Yes, maybe he wants your breast, and yes, maybe he’d get some comfort from it, but it’s important for you to set that boundary kindly, clearly, and firmly.

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