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I’m so sad about having to stop breastfeeding my 2-year-old daughter.
Q: I am still breastfeeding my 2-year-old daughter simply because she loves it so much and I love the bonding and private muments when I nurse her. I know I have to stop. Can you give me some encouragement on why I don’t have to feed sad or bad? I’m crying already.
Sue Kuala Lumpur
A: Sue, it’s wonderful that you and your daughter have had such a positive breastfeeding experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies until at least one year of age, and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least two years of age. In fact, you can continue to breastfeed as long as it works for you and your baby.

Remember, it is your decision when to stop breastfeeding. Think carefully about why you feel you have to stop: do you feel you need more independence? Do you feel your daughter needs to become more independent? Are you feeling pressure from your husband, other relatives, friends, your doctor, or the community? Do you feel your daughter is losing interest in breastfeeding? Are you having another baby? If you decide to stop breastfeeding now, make sure it’s what you want to do.

It’s completely natural to feel sad anticipating the end of breastfeeding. This is an important milestone in your daughter’s growing up, just like her first tooth, her first steps for walking, becoming toilet trained, and the first day of school. You can feel sad for the end of a stage, and also look forward to the beginning of a new stage. Remember, you’ve given your daughter the important benefits of breastfeeding for her nutrition, immunity, and bonding with you. And you will be able to continue to enjoy intimate times together in the future, in a slightly different way.

Explain to your daughter that she’s getting to be a big girl now and she won’t need baby milk anymore. Talk to her about growing up—what she did when she was a little baby and the different things she can do now that she’s getting older—this can help her understand and be proud of being a big girl. Now that she’s older she can have special big girl time with you instead of breastfeeding. While both of you may be feeling some sadness giving up breastfeeding and baby time, it is best that you show her a positive attitude about the transition. As with all parenting, aim for kindness and consistency.

Most mothers and babies find it easiest to stop breastfeeding gradually. For example, you may first cut out breastfeeding mid-day or in public places. You can explain to your daughter that breastfeeding is now something that you only do in a particular room or chair at home, before bed or first thing in the morning. When she asks for the breast during the daytime, you can give her a sippy cup with milk, juice or water; or redirect her attention to a different activity such as playing with a favourite doll or stuffed toy, reading, colouring, or singing. When you’re ready to stop breastfeeding entirely, you can continue your special cuddling time enjoying the above activities together with her instead of breastfeeding. For additional positive reinforcement, you might even consider giving your daughter a present to celebrate being a big girl now. At first she may be confused or upset by the change in routine, as she probably associates nursing with special “mummy time.” However, if she continues to get her special mummy time, it will be easier for her to give up breastfeeding and accept a new routine.

Remember, part of parenting is moving through the stages of childhood. It may be sad to give up the sweetness of the old stage, but you will gain something different in the new stage. You’ve given your daughter and yourself a wonderful gift by breastfeeding—you’ve established a lifelong bond, which will flourish in new and sometimes surprising ways.