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My 15-month-old is more demanding when he wants to breastfeed; why?
Q: I am still breastfeeding my 15-month-old son. Lately, he has become more demanding when he wants to breastfeed. He will refuse his sippy cup and tug at my top while screaming until I breastfeed him. Is this okay? Should I consider weaning him?
A: Wanda, your 15-month-old is definitely acting his age. This is the age where toddlers begin to assert their independence and sense of control. He knows what he wants and he wants it now! It’s not just about the breast—toddlers can also be this way about their bottle, food, nappy changing, clothes, and bedtime ritual.

Having breastfed your son for over a year, you can feel very good that you’ve given your son the full advantages of breastfeeding. You have helped your son bond with you and boosted his immunity to help protect him from illness. Recent studies also show that breastfeeding may have helped enhance your baby’s development and protect him against allergies and obesity. Having breastfed has also reduced your risk of developing breast cancer.

Now, only you can make the decision about whether you want to continue to breastfeed your 15-month-old or wean him. Whichever you decide, he’ll be fine—you just have to decide what works best for you.

If you continue to breastfeed, you may be able to continue to experience this closeness with your baby. But if you don’t like him screaming and lifting up your shirt, you’ll need to establish some limits that work for both of you. For example, you might decide to only breastfeed at certain times (e.g., first thing in the morning and at bedtime), or in certain places (e.g., at home).

If you decide to wean your son, this is a good time since he can get all his nutrition from his meals and drinking from his sippy cup. Although he relies on the breast for comfort, it can be easier to wean him at this age because of his natural drive toward independence. Here are some tips for weaning:
  • Be sympathetic and maintain a positive attitude. For your baby, weaning is a step along the way to growing up and becoming increasingly independent. Remember, too, that both you and your baby may experience some sadness with ending breastfeeding, so try to find other opportunities to preserve your physical closeness.

  • Explain to him that he’s becoming a big boy now. Even though he may not talk a lot yet, he understands a lot more than you think. Point out the other big boys he knows and show how they drink from their cup. Give him lots of praise for being a big boy and drinking from his cup.

  • Decide whether you want to wean all at once or gradually. If you decide to wean all at once, you have to be firm about your decision and be prepared for some screaming and crying. If you decide to wean gradually, it’s easiest to give up the daytime feedings first since he can be distracted by the chance to walk and run around, climb, play, and explore his environment. The morning and bedtime nursing may be more difficult to give up since he may rely more on the comfort of nursing. You may try the technique, “Don’t offer, don’t refuse.” This means that you don’t initiate breastfeeding, but you’ll do it if your son seems to need it a lot. Try to avoid holding him in the position and environment that you normally nurse him; and try to interest him in other things such as a bath, a book, a song, and a cuddle with a stuffed animal. If your baby’s father is involved, have him wake up with your son and put your son to sleep. He may gradually lose interest in nursing.

  • Consider offering your baby another comfort object. If your son seems to need to cuddle a little more, try a blanket or a stuffed animal.
Remember, whenever you decide to wean your son, it can be a rough transition for a couple weeks, but then you’ll both be fine.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician