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Toddlers: "Scheduling" Big Milestones and Transitions

On “Scheduling” Big Milestones and Transitions

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I love your site and the advice that you offer to moms (and dads!).

Our youngest will be 2 in just a few weeks. She has a few big things coming up and we aren’t sure the best way to “schedule” them. We need to move her to a big girl/toddler bed, potty train her, and start to wean her from breastfeeding. I know it’s not good to do many big changes like that at once but we aren’t sure what the best way to do it is.

When my oldest was this age (almost exactly), we moved her to a big girl bed. We had the bed (we move them to twin beds) in her room for a few nights before we had her sleep in it. Then let her sleep in it with the crib still in there, then moved the crib out. We had to get her out of the crib because little sister was on the way and we didn’t want her to feel like she was being kicked out. The kiddo in question doesn’t show any signs of trying to climb out so we aren’t in a huge hurry to move her to a twin but we know that time is getting close. Within the last few months, she finally just started to sleep through the night and will sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and put herself back to sleep. I’m worried that when she is in a bed, she will come out or get out of bed and not go back to sleep well. We have thought about pulling her door all the way shut or putting up a baby gate to keep her in but I’m not crazy about that.

When we potty trained our oldest she was 2 and 2.5 months. We waited because when we originally wanted to train her was the same time that new baby came along and we didn’t want those two big events to collide and cause issues. She did great and trained in about a week. Little one is starting to show some signs but honestly, if she is anything like the older one, I am ok leaving her in diapers for a bit longer until she is really ready to make the switch easier and less messy for everyone.

And the breastfeeding….We are down to morning and nighttime nursing during the week and we include naptime on weekends (she naps great at daycare without any milk or anything special). Unfortunately, she nurses to sleep at nap and bedtime. I know, I know…I feel like I totally messed up huge with that one. Our oldest self-weaned at around 16 or 17 months. We thought about dropping her morning nursing first and then naptime and then bedtime. Weaning won’t be easy because she is so used to that as part of her routine (although she can go to bed without milk if I am not in the house). I think the biggest thing is getting her to sleep on her own with having to nurse to sleep. I used to nurse my oldest in the living room with the lights and the tv on. I nurse my youngest in her quiet and dark room because the oldest is around and she gets super distracted. I’m not necessarily in a huge hurry to wean her for good (I think mostly because she is probably my last) but at the same time I never imagined I would still be nursing a 2 year old.

So with all of that being said, I will gladly take any advice you can offer. 🙂

Thank you!!

Since there doesn’t seem to be any super-high pressure from outside forces behind any of these — you don’t need the crib for a new baby, she’s not taking dangerous head dives out of it, she’s not starting a school with a potty-training expectation, etc. — I’d probably go with letting her lead the way. I don’t really see a need to rush, and as you’ve correctly stated, allllll of these processes and transitions tend to be MUCH EASIER when your toddler shows at least some sign of readiness on her part.

Kids march to their own timelines

HOWEVER: You keep mentioning your older daughter’s timeline/age and comparing them to each other, and that’s something I’d advise that you go ahead and disregard as completely irrelevant information. Kids march to their own timelines, and the ages when a sibling potty trained or weaned or moved beds are not at all a reliable indicator that your next toddler will fall anywhere close to that range. My kids did EVERYTHING at slightly different ages and stages, and I had to gauge their readiness independently of each other. So if your younger daughter is showing readiness and interest in the potty NOW, go for it! Don’t feel like you should hold her back because her sister was older, but also don’t be surprised or think you made a timing error if it takes longer than a week. Every kid is different. Encourage her to sit and try, don’t push just yet, and probably in a few weeks you’ll have a much better sense whether she’s really ready to train in earnest, whether she’ll just “get it” on her own…or if it is, in fact, too soon and you’ll try again later.

If she’s safe and sleeping well in the crib, by all means leave her in the crib! Man, I loved keeping my kids in the crib because the bed just messed with naps so badly. On the other hand, once she starts climbing out or is otherwise really excited/interested in a big kid bed, go ahead and child-proof her room and try letting her sleep in the big kid bed. And yes, you’ll be in for a week or so of her popping up and out and you marching back in to settle her down. I never locked my children in but I did shut their doors completely — this is a great time for a video baby monitor, if you don’t have one already. I would just holler up to get back in bed and my boys all thought I was some kind of magic, all-seeing wizard for a few nights.

And that leads us to weaning. Which actually doesn’t sound like your primary goal — that’s to get her to sleep on her own without nursing. This, out of all the things you mentioned, is probably the one to zero in on and focus on. Everything else can wait. So you do need to tweak your routine a bit. Leave the lights on in her room, maybe. Nurse her with the TV on WITHOUT the expectation of sleep,  then have your partner put her to bed while you stay put. If she dozes while still on the breast, unlatch and SLIGHTLY rouse her, then give her a lovey to focus on in the crib. If she cries and protests, soothe her and reassure her, but stand firm that milk is over and going night-night now. You might need to incorporate some gentle, gradual extinction sleep-training methods for a few nights.

If you really DO prefer to just wean all together and let the sleep stuff be the secondary goal, the morning session is usually the easiest routine to break. There’s so much to DOOOOO in the morning so lots of babies/toddlers don’t realize there’s even a reason to protect when you wake them up and go right to the breakfast table or playtime without a nursing pit stop in between. Once that session is gone for a few days (up to a week), move on to the next target. Which for some kids, the bedtime one is the best one to knock out, while for others that’s the last one to go. Since she naps at daycare without milk, you again might want to enlist your partner’s help (or a relative/sitter who can come over) for a couple days. Get her to associate naps at home as ALSO happening sans milk.

(Also, a call for comments! Need more input/advice on weaning a 2 year old and/or breaking the nurse-to-sleep habit at that later age. Mine were all done with the boobs long before that.)

I imagine an argument can be made to switch her from crib to bed BEFORE you eliminate her sleep crutch, but ehhhhhh I dunno. I think the older kids get the harder those crutches are to deal with already, and even an extra month or two into toddlerhood can make a big difference. Plus knowing she’s fully capable of putting herself to sleep before making the switch to a bed will help you set reasonable expectations for her, and not worry that you need to start adding middle-of-the-night nursing sessions back in just to settle her back into her Freedom To Roam Bed.

Photo source: Depositphotos/fuzzbones


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Paige Smith

    I weaned both my kids just shy of their third birthdays. At that age, I just told them what was going to happen, then took off for a mom’s weekend.

    About a month before, I started dropping hints about how three year olds are big kids who don’t need to nurse. Two weeks ahead, I started talking about it in a more direct way: “I’m going away for X weekend, and when I come back, we won’t nurse anymore.”

    Right before I went away, I did a last nursing session, which I identified as the last one, more for me than for them. My daughter, she nursed a little longer than she had been, maybe by 5 or 10 minutes. My son got distracted about 2 minutes in, said goodbye, and went to go play.

    Both kids, I went away for a Friday-Sunday. My husband stayed home when it was my daughter’s turn, and took the kids camping when it was my son’s turn. He reported no extra fussiness or any concerns on their part. My daughter did ask to nurse again, once, six months later, shortly after my son was born. And that was it – neither has asked again, and neither expressed any unhappiness with this method at all.

  • anon

    I weaned my son at about 27 months because I was pregnant and knew I didn’t want to tandem nurse. Like your daughter, he was down to morning, nap time and bedtime and generally nursed to sleep, except at daycare when he went to sleep just fine on his own. I think weaning a toddler was actually easier than a younger baby for a couple of reasons: first, he was already using a cup and drinking cows milk at mealtime, so we didn’t have to worry about that switch. Second, and most significantly, we could talk about it. We had several low-key conversations about how he was a big kid now and it was time to stop nursing. Then we set a date and just cut out one nursing session at a time. For nap time, we picked a long weekend when my husband could put him down for his nap and after three days of that just explained that mommy would do nap time the next day but there would be no nursing, just like when daddy put him down. We did the same at bedtime. I found that as long he understood what was going on, he was fine. I’m not saying it was easy — weaning was emotional for both of us, but he managed to go to sleep just fine. He did sometimes ask to nurse and I would just remind him that we didn’t do that anymore. I caved a couple of times when he got hurt and really wanted the comfort of nursing and I don’t think that caused any confusion or setbacks. Good luck.

  • Sarah in Georgia

    I say start with weaning. My kids were both almost two when they weaned, and I started with the don’t offer, method–this works well in the mornings if you can get up, out of the bedroom, on to breakfast. If she asks, you can nurse, but I would guess that she would be easy to distract and wean.

    Then, if your daughter can go to sleep without nursing, then like Amy said, make arrangements for you to be out of the house and have someone else help with naps. If she’s in daycare 5 days a week, that’s only two days you need to not nurse at naps in almost two weeks (if that makes sense). I would guess by the second weekend she could still do naps without nursing, and certainly by the third weekend.

    The night nursing was the last to go for my two kids, but once your down to just nursing before bed, you can always start building a new before-bed routine (possibly in conjunction with no-nursing naps) that makes nursing less front-and-center and focuses on the story or song or whatever.

    Personally, I’m a fan of the crib as long as possible–my daughter was almost 30 months when she transitioned to a big girl bed. Unless you potty train soon (and she’s dry at naps and night) then I would keep her in the crib. I also have a bias towards waiting until three or later to potty train, but that’s what worked for my kids.

    Whatever you decide, good luck!

  • Rachel

    Here’s my experience with weaning a toddler. I weaned my 21 month old when I got pregnant. He was nursing 3x a day at that point: morning, evening and MOTN. He was also nursing to sleep which he picked back up at around 19 months. What we did: dropped the morning and MOTN sessions right away (like, the day I found out I was pregnant). Those were no big deal to him, like Amy mentions the morning one in particular was not difficult because there’s so much else to focus on. Then about 2 weeks later we dropped the last one. We’d been nursing in the recliner in his room and all I did was cuddle him and rock, in the cradle position we used for nursing. He screamed for about 10 minutes then was asleep 5 minutes after that. The second night he whimpered for a few minutes then fell asleep, and by the third or fourth night he’d stopped crying for nursing and was fine with rocking to sleep.

    Good luck!

  • Myriam

    My second was a breast addict and I nursed until 25 months. It was really hard to “not offer” because she would demand it. So I nursed, until one night when she forgot, and I ran with it. For the next few nights, I would be “busy” and never sit down during the bedtime routine, and daddy was put in charge of actually putting her down. That’s what worked for us. As your say that yours gets distracted by her sister, I would use that to my advantage. switch the bedtime routine and nurse her around her sister. She might get distracted, and then you go to the next step. You already know she can go to sleep on her own (she does it for night waking). So when she protests, you can be conforted in that she ‘knows”, she just “doesn’t want to do it”. Do you know the Gordon method? It’s mostly for cosleeping family, but you could adapt it to your particular circonstances maybe? Finally, as Amy said, don’t “force” your seconf child to conform to the first child’s schedule. It can be fun to compare, but keep it for entertainment sake, not “milestone scheduling”. Gook luck!

  • Hp

    I weaned my oldest at 2. I worked on dropping one session at a time and replacing it with something else that he was interested in. Not my best idea–but we switched to “milkshakes” (milk with a tiny scoop of ice cream) for the most resistant sessions until he didn’t ask to nurse at that time anymore (he also got tired of mikshakes so it wasn’t a really long term replacement).

    As far as the bed, he never slept in a crib well, so he slept on the floor starting at 20 months. We moved the mattress up to a bed at 2.5. We just baby proofed his room and put up a gate until he was capable of handling freedom at night (since he was a horrible sleeper and prone to wandering).

    We also didn’t potty train until 3.5 because we were lazy and had an infant. After a few weeks of resistance (No. I will use the potty when I am 4), he eventually decided that he was ready and potty trained overnight. We just kept offering prizes until he agreed he was ready. I still have a stockpile of dollar store junk because I thought we were going to need a lot more bribes. Once he agreed, he did it. (Side note: The best bribe ever was “getting a toy out of time out.” Things he didn’t pick up get put in time out. Every time he used the potty he got a toy back. Cheap and highly motivating).

  • T

    I just wanted to throw out there that I really enjoyed the book “Oh Crap Potty Training,” especially the discussion of signs that your kid is capable of potty training. (The author recommends between 20 and 30 months.)

  • bookworm81

    I weaned my still nursing to sleep second at 22 months because we were going to be trying for # 3 and it was messing with my hormones. My best advice is to not make it harder than it needs to be. I was super stressed about it and it turned out to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. Since I wasn’t in a huge rush I went with the “gentle weaning” strategy of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” (Amy’s suggestion of absenting yourself is a good one as well). I think I started by ditching the first thing in the morning session but since your little one already naps without nursing at daycare I’d definitely start there and see how it goes.