When It Is Time To Wean
Breastfeeding provides many nutritional and health benefits not only for your child but also for you as the mother. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months with continued support for breastfeeding along with complementary foods for the first year and beyond as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.
Weaning from breastfeeding is inevitable. While it can be very emotional, it also can be a beautiful transition if done right. Weaning can occur intentionally and unintentionally. It can occur due to supply issues, returning to work, convenience, toddler self-weaning, and many other personal reasons. One of the most important things to remember though is that weaning from breastfeeding is a process that takes weeks to even months. Never attempt to wean overnight. It will end badly for you and your baby.
If you are weaning a baby under 1 year of age, follow steps 1 and 4; if you are weaning a toddler, follow all the steps below.
- Eliminate one session at a time
Whether you are transitioning to formula, whole milk, or water, the key is to transition slowly. Substitute one nursing session for a bottle, sippy cup, or glass of water. Middle of the day feedings tends to be the easiest to drop. Save the early morning and nighttime feedings to wean last as they are the most emotional and comforting feedings.
- Change up the routine
Toddlers can be easily distracted and redirected. If your toddler asks for a feeding, distract them with toys, storytime, or an activity. This will buy you some time before the next feeding. Even spacing out feedings can help to drop a feed while weaning. Another technique when working to wean is changing up your normal routine, while still sticking to some type of routine. If you typically go to the park, come home, feed, and play inside- try going to the park, having a snack or reading a book, then play inside. While this still provides the toddler some structure it also distracts them enough to forget about the feeding altogether.
- Don’t ask, don’t offer
If your toddler doesn’t ask for the breast, don’t offer it. The reverse goes, however, if your toddler asks, don’t say no. You can distract to buy more time, but do not deny your child a feeding as this can affect the mother-child bond.
- Decrease the time
The final step is decreasing the time spent at the breast. Milk production is based on supply and demand. If we don’t totally empty the breast- decrease the demand- your supply will decrease as well. With younger infants, decrease each feeding by 2 minutes each day with eventual elimination. With older toddlers, playing the counting game can help. Tell your toddler they are able to feed until the count of X (10 works for a lot of mothers). Once you reach the number, tell the toddler their time is up and time to move on to the next activity. For most toddlers, communicating timing helps the toddler to better understand expectations.
Whatever your reasoning or situation for weaning, the key is to do it as a gradual process. If we are able to change up routine, distract the toddler, stop reminding the child, and slowly limit the time of the feeding, eventually we will be able to wean from the breast. Remember, always leave morning and nighttime feedings as the last to go.
If you have any other questions about lactation or weaning, feel free to reach out to our lactation consultant Dr. Megan Echternacht, DNP, CPNP-PC, CLC