Help with weaning an 18 month old
In this article, Dr Justin Coulson, who amongst other things is a Senior Associate at the Positive Psychology Institute, a parenting speaker and author, and a father of six daughters, outlines some ideas to help a mum who is wanting to wean her 18 month old.
This is her letter to Dr. Justin.
You can also tell us below if you have had problems weaning your child.
My son is 18 months and is still really attached to breast milk. I’ll be doing other things around my home and all he does is cry or have a tantrum. I try to comfort him without feeding but he just snuggles into my chest and wants milk. I’m drained! There are nights when he will try to drink all night. How do I wean him?
Dr Justin says:
My initial thoughts when I read your request for help were, “Wonderful! A mum who has breastfed her boy.” But then I saw the problem. You’re exhausted. You’re not producing enough milk to sustain him. And you’re not getting enough sleep.
Weaning a baby is challenging in a lot of cases. While some kids seem quite happy to take themselves off the breast and take a bottle or eat food, other children seem to want to never, ever let go. My initial feeling is that you would be best served by chatting with your GP or a paediatrician about this challenge. This is particularly true because of the health and dietary issues that play a part in managing your son’s transition. The simple fact is that at 18 months of age, your son needs a lot more than just breast milk to flourish and enjoy good health.
From a psychological perspective, however, there are a few things I can add.
I’m sure you’re aware, there is nothing at all wrong with your son being breastfed. If anything, I’d encourage it. We are seeing more and more kids stay on the breast until up to age three (and some for even longer). The trouble is that it’s causing you problems and it’s not making things any better for him either. He’s seeking more sustenance than you can give.
As such, with appropriate advice from your doctor, I’d suggest trying to move him off you entirely and onto solid food. Try the following tips, chat with your GP, and see how things evolve:
- Offer him food. Regularly. Offer a variety of foods suitable for children his age, and offer it in a variety of ways and at a variety of times. Kids don’t eat when it’s convenient for us to feed them. They eat when they’re hungry.
- Dietetic researchers have discovered that it can take young children at least seven real tastes of a food before they decide it’s OK to eat. That means we need to offer food again, and again, and again. They may spit it out several times and then surprise us by eating a plateful of it. So keep offering, but also recognise that he may simply say ‘no’ and not want to go near it as well.
- Encourage him to sit at the table with you and participate in meal time. He’s now old enough to be in a high chair of some kind and have food with you. Modelling how to eat ‘real food’ may get him going as well.
- Make food available to him at a level he can reach at all times throughout the day. Some children like to have solid meals. Other kids prefer to ‘graze’ on bits of food throughout the day. If he can walk over to a coffee table and snack on some cheese, a sandwich, or other healthy food that’s always there, he may be happier to help himself.
- Make food fun. This might mean using shape cutters to cut fun shapes into a sandwich, having him help prepare something, or some other creative way to help him discover food.
- Some kids don’t like food because of how it feels. If it’s a tactile thing, he may respond better once he is more familiar with how ‘stuff’ feels. Let him play with dirt and sand, bubbly water (suds), goop, and other unique tactile experiences so that the food he touches doesn’t turn him off. (Just make sure he doesn’t eat too much of the non-foods he’s experimenting with for a tactile experience.)
- Some parents find the weening process works best if they reduce the number of feeds slowly. This may work for you. You may find it helpful to explain this to him (although sometimes this can create big tantrums. You know your son best so this may or may not work in your circumstances).
- It’s not nice to say it, but if it is really too much for you and the breastfeeding has to end, you may find it is best to simply go ‘cold turkey’ on him. Let him know that he can only have food on a plate now. He may be unhappy and you could have a really, really rough three days. But he’ll adapt quickly and get on with eating reasonably well in a short time.
Once again, these are a range of ideas that may be helpful. Chat with your partner or those who support you, and definitely see what your GP says. If you aren’t sleeping, it’s going to be hard to be a good mum regardless of whether your son is breastfed or not.