When you’re ready to start weaning your baby, you might be worried about how to do it and if it will be difficult— much like you did when you started to breastfeed.
Just as breastfeeding has a learning curve, weaning also takes some time. Yet with a few simple strategies and some patience, weaning can be a happy experience for both you and your baby. Here’s how to make it happen:
Regardless of how old your baby is, it’s always a good idea to wean slowly. If you stop breastfeeding cold turkey, your breasts will be engorged and you run the risk of getting mastitis, a breast infection that affects about 10 percent of breastfeeding moms.
Mastitis is not only painful and will probably make you feel miserable, but if it’s not treated right away, it can turn into an abscess which could require surgical draining and hospitalization, said Nancy Mohrbacher, an internationally board-certified lactation consultant in Arlington Heights, Ill., creator of the Breastfeeding Solutions app and author of “Breastfeeding Made Simple.”
Eliminate one feeding a day, wait a few days until your body adjusts and then drop another feeding. Start with middle-of-the-day feedings, which will be easier than the first and last feedings of the day when your baby is more likely to want to nurse. You can gradually reduce the length of each session too.
Know when to wait
If you have mastitis, it’s a good idea to continue breastfeeding or pump to help resolve the infection before you wean. Also, if you’re moving, going through a life transition, or starting a new job, it might not be the best time to wean either.
“Sometimes moms try to wean but it just doesn’t feel like it’s working and in that case she may need to wait a little bit longer and then try again,” said
Jean Rhodes, PhD, a certified nurse midwife and an internationally board-certified lactation consultant in Mount Pleasant, S.C. and a clinical education consultant for Medela.
Express a bit of milk.
If your breasts feel full, manually express or pump a small amount of milk to prevent engorgement and mastitis until your body adjusts.
“It doesn’t prolong the process, it just makes it more comfortable,” Mohrbacher said.
The weaning process can take between two to three weeks but it’s also important to take into account your child’s temperament. The process might be easier and faster if your child is already easygoing, but it can be more challenging for a sensitive child who is resistant to change.
“What we want is a process that is healthy and reassuring for both the mother and the child,” said Diana West, an internationally board-certified lactation consultant and director of media relations for La Leche League in Chicago, Ill.
Don’t offer, don’t refuse.
“Once a child actually asks to nurse, then it becomes more difficult to distract them away from it,” Mohrbacher said.
For older babies and toddlers who have developed strong preferences about breastfeeding, try the approach, “Don’t offer, don’t refuse.”
Also, make sure your child isn’t hungry or thirsty, so he will be less likely to want to nurse.
Replace breastfeeding with other things.
Sit with your baby and her favorite blanket, book or toy and find opportunities throughout the day to nurture her in other ways. Give plenty of cuddles so that your baby still feels comfort and attachment.
Change the routine.
If you usually breastfeed in a favorite chair for example, switch up your routine and sit with your child in another room. If your baby is 1 or 2 years old and you typically nurse during the night, ask your partner to wake up and comfort the baby instead.
Let your baby take the lead.
For toddlers, the best strategy is baby-led weaning, said Dr. Joan Meek, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breastfeeding and a professor of clinical sciences for the Florida State University College of Medicine. Toddlers will likely already have less interest in breastfeeding so you can take advantage of that and gradually eliminate feedings.
Sure, it might be time consuming and inconvenient, but if you want to stop breastfeeding but you still want your baby to have breast milk, you can pump and freeze your milk.
Be kind to yourself.
Between the hormonal changes going on in your body during the weaning process and the transition to this new phase, realize that it’s normal to experience mixed emotions, sadness or a sense of relief that it’s over.
What’s more, regardless of how long you were breastfeeding, realize that you did what was best for you and your baby.
“It’s really important for [mom] to give herself a sense of accomplishment that she should feel really good about what she’s done,” Rhodes said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.