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Gentle Ways to Wean

When Rachel Fagan of Asheville, NC, discovered she was pregnant with her second child, she decided it was time to stop breastfeeding 17-month-old Rebecca. "I was worried about weaning, since nursing was the most reliable way to comfort her, and it was also a big part of our bedtime ritual."

Fagan's not alone. Many moms dread the task of taking away the breast or bottle  -- often their toddler's most beloved source of comfort and security. But doctors suggest eliminating bottles around 12 months to prevent tooth decay and improper alignment. And if you've been nursing for the past year  -- the amount of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics  -- you may be ready for a break (though there's no reason to stop nursing if you and your child still enjoy it). To ease the transition:

Introduce a sippy cup If your child isn't already drinking from one, offer her a cup at your next meal  -- when she'll see you drinking from a glass and most likely want a "big girl" cup as well.

Eliminate one feeding at a time Start with those in the middle of the day, since early-morning and late-night sessions are often special times with you and harder to give up, says Melvin Heyman, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Once you've eliminated one feeding for a week, drop a second, and so on.

Don't let her tummy rumble Offer a sippy cup with water or juice (up to six ounces a day) and a favorite snack when she seems irritable or hungry.

Offer distraction When she wants to nurse or have a bottle, suggest going for a walk or reading a book first. Postponing a feeding by just 15 minutes a day can quickly turn two into one. If you can keep her busy with errands and excursions, she may forget about her request altogether.

Shorten feedings You can also eliminate a session by making it progressively quicker. Tell her that she can nurse for as long as it takes you to sing a favorite song, for instance.

Make bottles less appealing Water down the milk or just switch to plain H2O.

Change the routine Move the rocking chair you usually share into another room, reschedule bathtime, or have your spouse put your toddler to bed each night.

Provide extra support Spend plenty of one-on-one time during the transition and help her find other ways to comfort herself when she's upset, such as hugging a favorite toy or blanket.

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