When and how to wean from the breast, a big milestone for both of you!
Are you ready to wean? Is your child? How can you make it easier on yourself and your child when the time is right?
There are not very many moments that are sweeter than nursing or bottle feeding your sleepy baby. What precious memories I have of those moments, and how quickly they pass. There are many precious moments in parenting, and as your child grows, sometimes there is a twinge of sadness when your child moves on to another stage. Weaning is a natural stage in a child’s growth and development, but it can be filled with many emotions, some excitement and some sadness as your baby becomes a bit more independent.
When should you wean?
Babies should have breast milk or formula for the first full year of life. Deciding when to wean from the breast is a very personal decision. It will be easier to wean from the breast after a year of age because your baby will be eating more solids and may naturally decrease the amount of nursing. There will be less breast engorgement for Mom too because your baby will be taking less breast milk which will decrease your production.
Weaning does not have to be all or nothing. Some Moms choose to wean during the day and breastfeed at night, and some Moms will wean except for the morning and evening feeding. The best way to wean is to be flexible and pay attention to what works best for you and your baby.
Weaning is easier if the child has taken milk from other sources besides the breast. If your child is at least a year old, you will wean to cows milk in a cup. If your child is younger than a year, you will wean to formula in a bottle. Sometimes Mom will be the initiator in the weaning process, and sometimes the child will show the signs of being ready. Children may show indifference or be irritable when given the breast, or they may nurse for shorter and shorter sessions. Many babies show readiness to wean between age one and two. Babies who are bottle fed should be weaned to a cup at about age one.
There are four weaning processes:
- Abrupt weaning, when a Mom stops nursing quickly. This may occur because of an illness or because medications that the mom is taking are dangerous for the baby.
- Gradual weaning, when one feeding is eliminated every couple of days or weeks and Mom gives another form of nutrition or comfort.
- Partial weaning, when a mom keeps one or two nursing sessions a day and replaces the others with another form of nutrition.
- Child led weaning, when the child decides that he or she is ready to wean, sometimes this can be abrupt but usually this is a gradual process.
How to Wean
1. If possible, wean your baby when there is not a lot of extra stress in you and your baby’s life.
2. Replace one feeding at a time. It is easiest to begin with the feeding that is the least favorite. If your baby is a year old or older, replace this feeding with a snack and a drink of cow’s milk from a cup. If your baby is less than a year, replace with formula from a bottle or a cup.
3. Give yourself and your baby a few days and then replace a second feeding.
4. The method of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” works well for many Moms. This means that you do not offer the breast for one feeding at a time, but if your baby is interested, you do not refuse the feeding.
5. Try to limit situations that encourage breastfeeding. For example, do not sit in the chair that you normally breast feed in, but be open to breastfeeding when your baby needs it. Change your routine a bit during the day to keep your baby engaged in other things when he or she would normally nurse. Wear clothing that makes nursing a bit more inaccessible.
6. If your breasts feel full from skipping a feeding, express a small amount of milk, just enough to relieve the discomfort. Soon your breasts will produce less milk and this will not be needed. Cold compresses and cabbage leaves will also help with comfort. Do not bind your breasts or drink fewer fluids. Check your breasts to make sure you are not developing any firm, tender areas. Call your doctor if areas become red, sore, or warm, or if you have a fever. This is more likely to occur with abrupt stopping of nursing.
7. Ask Dad to help distract your baby during a normal nursing time. This is especially helpful when you are trying to eliminate the bedtime nursing. This also helps increase the important time between Dad and baby.
8. If your baby starts to pick up other comfort habits like thumb sucking or a “lovey”, do not discourage it! Your baby is using the other comfort habits to adjust to the change.
9. Slowly decrease the amount of time your baby nurses at a feeding, and offer more milk from the cup before and after the feeding.
10. Expect before nap and bedtime nursing to be the last to end.
11. When you are ready to end these nursing sessions, you should already have a bedtime and nap routine established. Try to switch up the routine so that nursing is not the last thing your baby does before sleep. Keeping sleep from being equated with nursing will help the transition. Reading a book, giving a back rub, singing a song, giving a healthy snack etc. all should be part of the routine. Lots of activity and exercise during the day will help your little one be tired and be ready to rest.
12. Sometimes having Dad or another caregiver do the bedtime routine will keep your baby from thinking about nursing before sleep.
13. Make sure that you are giving your baby plenty of touch time during the day. Continue to snuggle, hold, and rock your baby.
Be prepared to have many feelings during this process–and have set backs occasionally. If the amount of time that a baby is nursing is decreased, eventually the amount of milk that you produce will also decrease, and your baby will nurse less when there is less milk supply. As a child increases his or her intake of food and milk from a cup, breastfeeding will decrease and the child will eventually wean himself or herself.
Weaning from the breast is a big milestone for you and your baby! When the time is right, both of you will adjust just fine! Tuck those precious moments of nursing away in your heart along with the many memories you will store there!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.