Weaning:When a toddler refuses to wean

I am breastfeeding my 18 month old. I also have three other children. I am really ready to stop nursing, but my daughter insists on the breast and nothing else! When I offer her a bottle she throws it on the floor and screams. All she does is cry until I nurse her. The doctor suggested letting her cry it out because eventually she'll get thirsty and have to take what I give her. I tried this and she went for three days before I ended up giving in and breastfeeding her. I ended up taking her to the hospital because she was so dehydrated. I feel so guilty but I just don't know what to do.

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

You want to wean your daughter, but you don't want to jeopardize her physical or emotional well-being while weaning her from your breast. That can be challenging, but not impossible, when you have a toddler who just wants to nurse.

Toss out those bottles! An 18-month-old breastfed toddler will usually have nothing to do with bottles, no matter what nipple you put on them. Your little one's reaction is just what I would have expected. Nursing is so much more than food to her. That is part of the beauty of nursing, and is also why she is so reluctant to give up this close contact with you.

Weaning can be hard work for parents, if a baby isn't yet ready to give up this special relationship on her own. Often there is more to this issue than normally is seen. I can imagine that with four children under the age of six, you must be very busy much of the day -- and night. Your 18 month old probably knows that nursing is the one time she has you all to herself. She feels loved, enjoys skin-to-skin contact with you, and as a bonus, receives your milk. Nursing is calming for your busy toddler, and a nice way to touch base with you. What you need to begin working on is finding other ways to give your daughter her daily doses of close, loving contact, as you begin weaning her from your breast.

I would not recommend allowing your daughter to cry it out -- or withholding food -- especially since she became dehydrated and was hospitalized the last time you attempted to wean her. I would definitely advise moving along slowly. (By the way, it is unusual for a toddler of this age to go totally without food or drink for several days, leading to serious dehydration. Maybe other issues, such as illness were impacting her situation.)

When deciding which feed to eliminate first, pick her shortest and least important one. Patiently, begin substituting "other mothering" for one feed, no more often than every three or four days. Read a book with your little one, color, take a trip to the park, or just sit down and play with her, rather than offering the breast for that particular feed. Wear an outfit that would be difficult to nurse in, and avoid sitting in "the nursing chair." Keep busy. (This is the hard part!) When she asks, have a drink and snack prepared, but don't push it. She will eat when she is ready, and isn't forced. Some toddlers need to move slowly, so try to follow her lead. If you feel very sure about your decision to wean this will come across to your daughter, while she will also know if you are feeling conflicted about this decision.

You didn't mention whether or not your daughter is eating solid foods. Solid foods should be making up a much larger part of a baby's diet during their second year of life. If she is refusing all solid foods, this may be negatively affecting her health and you should discuss this with her Health Care Provider. Best wishes for an easy transition!

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