Mother-led weaning (from 18 months onwards)

Mother-led weaning (from 18 months onwards)

What happens when a mother decides it’s time to stop breastfeeding? What difficulties can she face? How does the baby’s age impact this? In this article, we discuss mother-led weaning of children aged 18 months and older.

How does it all begin?

“I have a 26-month-old child and I can’t anymore. I feel bad, but I have to do it. I don’t want to continue. I don’t feel like breastfeeding anymore. I’m tired of her asking me non-stop and the ways she asks me for breastfeeding. She gets angry, screams, and protests if I don’t give in. I don’t want weaning to be traumatic for her, but I can’t go on like this.”

We receive consultations like this one on a daily basis.

Many mothers feel alone and disappointed because nobody helps them with ending breastfeeding. And even when they have the courage to complain, the comments they receive are devastating: “You asked for it,” “That’s what you’ve got her used to, “”I told you so,” “You wanted to continue for so long, now don’t complain.”

Every mother has the full right to decide when she wants to stop breastfeeding, and when she is tired or fed up with nursing, she has every right to say so and to be understood.

You are not a bad mother, you are not a horrible being, and you are not the worst mother in the world…. you are just a mother.

Breastfeeding is like going out dancing with your partner. You go out on the dance floor and dance until one of you gets tired, which is completely logical and respectable. If you want to stop dancing, stop. There is nothing wrong with doing so; in fact, you should stop dancing if you no longer enjoy it.

How will my child take it?

That said, we must also understand that a two-year-old or older child will not accept it easily when the mother decides to stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship and just as there are children who wean themselves before they reach one year of age, there are others who have no intention of giving up breastfeeding. And frankly, it would be extremely rare for mother and child to agree to stop breastfeeding at the same time.

For toddlers, the breast is everything. It is easier to wean a baby under one year old, who unfortunately has no say in their mother’s decision, but weaning a toddler is far from simple and usually not pleasant. For them, giving up breastfeeding is painful and very hard, and most of them fight this decision with all their strength.

Many mothers tell us that they are suffering because they don’t want to traumatize their children. They obviously don’t want to hurt them, and they suffer when they see their children finding it difficult. It’s impossible to avoid this difficult experience, but you can accompany your child to make it as least painful as possible.

How you can help your child

Stopping breastfeeding is breaking with a way of relating between mother and child, and so you need to look for and create new forms of relationship.

During the weaning process (whichever process you choose), you need to offer your child much more love and understanding. Give even more kisses if possible, and don’t be scarce with your cuddles. Have triple the patience and accompany and understand their tantrums and crying. It will not be pleasant; it will be painful. The key here is to be by your child’s side, to give the maximum of love so they can, in some way, compensate for the loss.

How can I do mother-led weaning?

There are several ways to achieve weaning, some perhaps more successful than others, but each mother should choose the one she thinks will best suit her needs and, above all, accompany the process to shape a new relationship between mother and child.

In the following table, you will find the most common ways of weaning from around 18 months old and our comments on the subject. The first methods described are more respectful for the baby because the mother is by their side, and the transition is slower.

Don’t offer, don’t refuseThis is a long process that requires time and patience. If the child does not ask for breastfeeding, don’t offer it. If they ask for it, let them feed for a few seconds (without complaining) and then suggest an alternative activity to make the feed shorter.
Postpone / distractIt’s a long process that requires imagination and help from your partner, family, and friends. When the child asks for breastfeeding, you immediately distract them with an activity that may appeal to them or tell them yes, but they have to wait a bit for you to finish what you are doing. In this way, you try to distract the child. You can try to get help from the child’s father/ your partner so that they can find more moments of play and affection together. The idea is to open the range of possibilities of entertainment and love and “distract” the child’s attention from breastfeeding.
The band-aid/plaster trickIf your child associates plasters with pain, this can be a trick to make it easier for your little one to understand. Place a band-aid or plaster on your nipple, and the child can help to put it on. Remind the child that there is no breastfeeding because mommy is in pain.
Rub your nipples with garlic, mustard, or bitter flavorsApply something unpleasant-tasting or bitter-flavored onto your nipples. When your child wants to breastfeed, offer your breast. But be aware that some children don’t seem to mind the taste of the breast and continue to suckle. Nail polish, which is very bitter, tends to be more effective.
Go away for a few daysSome toddlers lose their sucking reflex if they stop suckling for a few days. When they start sucking again, they may not be able to. This is the least respectful solution because, in all other circumstances, the child can still receive comfort from the mother during the process.
Note: Taking specific medication to reduce prolactin in the blood, known as medication to stop breastfeeding, is not an effective weaning method, nor does breastmilk disappear.

You may also be interested in…

Deciding to start with mother-led weaning marks the beginning of a new stage in your motherhood journey, and it’s normal if you have a lot of questions. But as with so many other things in breastfeeding, planning and support can help you make the experience as smooth as possible.

In case you don’t have the help of a partner, here are some more tips on weaning on your own.

At LactApp, you can find tools to make you feel supported and informed. There is so much content on weaning inside the app and also on our blog. You can also visit our consultation channel inside the app, where you can talk to one of our breastfeeding experts on our team about your individual case. You can download the app for free on Android and iPhone.


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