Most mothers wonder about when and how to wean, and get lots of conflicting advice. So we’ve put together our top tips for weaning gently and successfully.
If you’re wondering when is the “right” time to wean, rest assured that it is different for every mother and baby, and you should feel empowered to do what is best for you and your babe!
- Just to put things in perspective, you should know that in cultures world-wide where there is no artificial pressure to wean, babies self-wean somewhere between 3 and 7 years.
- Some babies may self-wean earlier than this, but usually won’t truly self-wean before 18 – 24 months — “nursing strikes” where the baby refuses to breastfeed are often confused with weaning, when actually they are more like behavioral growth spurts that can be addressed and worked through so that baby and mom continue to get the benefits of breastfeeding. For more information about nursing strikes, see kellymom.com
- Mothers may choose to wean their babies because they need to return to work and can not pump, have an illness, or other reasons. All mothers should acknowledge and applaud themselves for however long they were able to breastfeed, whether it is a few days, a few weeks or a few months! With breastfeeding, truly every ounce counts and is worth the effort.
- Weaning does not have to be an “all or nothing” process, unless for example you are undergoing a mastectomy or chemotherapy for breast cancer, or are facing another illness where complete weaning is necessary. Remember, you can pump and feed your pumped milk, and even if you are using formula you can breastfeed or use pumped milk.
1) Go slowly. Abrupt weaning can make things even harder for you and your baby. View this as a learning opportunity for both of you, like learning to walk or eat solid foods, and invest the time to educate and make it positive.
2) Drop one feeding per day, for a week at a time. Pick the easiest feed to drop, bedtime and waking feedings usually are last to go! Substitute pumped milk or formula in a cup or bottle (many babies can go straight to the cup!) or whole milk if your baby is over one year of age.
3) You may want to try shortening the feeding time, and supplement with the beverage or snack of your choice as above.
4) Distract your baby and postpone feedings. Older babies and toddlers respond better to this technique, as they are busy and sometimes easier to distract! Read a book, sing a song, play a game, involve other family members and caregivers to help.
5) Provide lots of love! Your baby will need to time to adjust and may need lots of closeness from you and others. Remember that nursing provides so much more than food, so your baby needs comfort and cuddles, and this is the time to rely on your “village” of friends and family members too.
6) Cover up! The sight of your boobs provides a visual reminder of nursing, so don’t wear super-low cut shirts or bikinis during the times of day and the weeks when you are cutting back, and be conscious of the appeal of your tatas if showering with your baby or co-sleeping.
7) Ensure nutritional needs are being met. Remember, breastmilk is a superfood, so you want to ensure that nutritional needs are being met through pumped breastmilk, donor milk, or formula before a year, and through appropriate solid foods if the baby is over 6 months and is developmentally ready (some breastfed babies are not ready for solids until later).
8) Be flexible! Weaning is a physical and emotional process. Going back to work, a family crisis such as divorce, moving, or illness can all be more stressful and are not the best time to wean. If your baby is sick, he or she may need to nurse more often which will help him or her recover faster, so wait until baby is healthy to wean. Remember it is okay to take two steps forward and one step back.
9) Love yourself. Weaning is bittersweet and can be anguishing and emotional for some moms and babies. Celebrate your milestones and success, and remember that the most important gift you can give your baby is love! Acknowledge any feelings of sadness and regret you may have and pat yourself on the back for the breastfeeding you were able to provide. Remember that you are doing the best you can, and that is what is truly best for your babe. :-)