Once you have made the decision to wean your baby and your body from breastfeeding, it can be normal to question how the heck you even go about it. Where do you start??
You might also wonder how to avoid upsetting your child or how to avoid painful issues like clogged milk ducts.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about weaning, including:
- When the best time to wean is
- When you should NOT consider weaning
- How to Wean from Breastfeeding
- How to Wean from the Pump
- Nutrition after weaning
- and more!
How to Wean from Breastfeeding and Pumping
When is the Best Time to Wean?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age. Then introducing solids slowly while continuing to breastfeed until age two or beyond.
“Weaning” is often used to describe the process in which a mother stops breastfeeding. But the term actually means the process in which breastmilk is gradually replaced with other nutritional sources such as solid food or formula. Eventually, it does, of course, lead to the baby/toddler stopping breastfeeding altogether.
Ever heard of “Baby Led Weaning?”
All that term means is the process of adding food to your baby’s diet that facilitates the development of age-appropriate oral motor skills. It is not talking about your baby leading the way in weaning from breast milk.
Weaning or stopping breastfeeding altogether is a developmental milestone and all babies will hit that milestone at different times.
There is no reason to rush the process.
In fact, the benefits of breastfeeding past the one year mark are well documented. You can read about those benefits, here.
Rushing weaning before your child is ready can lead to other issues, like:
- Separation anxiety
- Crying, whining
- Clingy behavior
- Refusal to eat
- Becoming attached to something else like a toy, thumb sucking, paci, blanket, etc
- Stomach issues like constipation
Once you have made the decision to wean, it is best to take it slow and be sensitive to how your child reacts. It is best to start the process when your child starts showing readiness.
Whether you initiated the weaning process or your child does, approach it with sensitivity and know that there is no right timeline to wean. Go at your own pace.
When Should You NOT Consider Weaning?
Weaning is a process that is both physically and emotionally taxing for both you and your baby. There are a few times/situations when you might want to consider postponing weaning.
1 – Illness
If your child has been ill, it is best to wait until they are well again to start the weaning process. Breastfeeding is strongly associated with comfort and babies need that physical closeness with their mother. Weaning at this time might make it more stressful. Consider waiting.
2 – During A Major Change
If there have been any major changes at home, it may not be a good time to start weaning as the comfort will be needed by your child. Whether you have changed child care, returned to work, moved, etc consider waiting until things settle down before weaning completely.
3 – Allergies
If your baby or family has a history of allergies, waiting to wean until after the 12-month mark will benefit them a lot. Many allergies lessen after that point and you will be able to focus their diet on foods that do not contain the allergen since after the 1-year mark they can start taking the bulk of their nutrition from food sources instead of breast milk.
How to Wean from Breastfeeding
Now that we have discussed when the best time to wean is and when the best time NOT to wean is, let’s talk about how to wean from breastfeeding.
Step 1 – Take it Slow
As we discussed above, take it slow and watch your baby/toddler for clues that you are moving too fast.
Another benefit to taking it slow? You will avoid engorgement and clogged milk ducts which can lead to a host of issues.
Step 2 – Drop 1 Feeding at a Time
Start by dropping 1 feeding at a time.
Typically, babies are most attached to the first and last feedings of the day so pick one in the middle of the day. If you normally nurse after lunch, try distracting them with an activity instead.
Work on the dropping the one feeding by developing a new routine before considering dropping more.
Step 3 – Change Your Routine
Babies are creatures of habit. Changing your routine up might help them naturally give up nursing sessions.
So if you always sit down on the couch to nurse after breakfast, try putting on shoes and taking a walk outside instead. The walk will become the new routine and your child will quickly adapt. If you always nurse on the couch, sit on the floor instead. If you always use a nursing pillow, then skip it.
Breaking that routine and familiarity can help with the weaning process.
Step 4 – Offer Breast Milk in a Cup
If you have expressed milk that your child can take, consider giving it to them in a cup.
This can help break them of nursing sessions before naps and bedtime (those were always the hardest to drop for me).
Step 5 – Don’t Refuse Your Baby/Toddler
Your child may ask to nurse or become upset if you refuse.
It is best not to refuse as it can make them focus on it even more. Allow them to nurse but maybe work on cutting the nursing sessions short by distracting them with a new activity.
If your child doesn’t ask to nurse, then go with it and skip the nursing session and do not offer it.
Step 6 – Give Lots of Cuddles
Don’t underestimate the need for closeness that your child has. Nursing gave this time to them.
Spend lots of time hugging and cuddling your baby/toddler to help ease the transition.
Step 7 – Continue to Drop Feedings
It may take some time but eventually, you will continue to drop feedings until you are nearly done.
Most babies hold onto that last feeding right before bedtime.
It’s a tough one to break. A cup of breast milk or water, a lovey, or just some extra cuddles from mom can help your child feel secure enough to give that last one up.
Again, breaking your routine will help.
Maybe reading a book before laying down, avoiding the rocking chair if that’s where you normally nursed, etc can help them let go easier.
How to Wean from the Pump
Weaning from the pump is a little easier than weaning from breastfeeding since the emotions of a small child are not involved.
Again, taking it slow to avoid engorgement is the best practice.
There are many reasons a mom may want to wean from the pump but the most common reasons are:
- Moms who no longer want to pump at work
- Exclusively pumping moms who are ready to wean
- Moms who have built a substantial freezer stash and no longer wish to add to it
Step 1 – Drop one pumping session at a time
Start by dropping one session every 3-7 days. You need to give your body time to adjust to the missed feeding so it can realize it is no longer needed and your supply will slowly reduce.
Step 2 – Reduce pumping time for all sessions
Shorten your pumping sessions by a few minutes every few days. So if you typically pump for 15 minutes at a time, reduce all pumping sessions to 13 minutes, then 2 days later to 11 minutes and so on. If you are feeling engorged then take it slower and push it out to every 3 or 4 days.
Step 3: Go longer between pumping sessions
Try spacing out how often you pump. So if you normally pump every 3.5 hours then try going to every 4 hours. Then 3-4 days later try every 4.5 hours.
Step 4: Get down to one pump session per day
By spacing out the pumping sessions and reducing the time you spend pumping, it won’t be long before you are only pumping once or maybe twice a day. This last pumping session should be fairly easy to drop. Keep shortening the time you pump until you are getting only a few ounces.
Step 5: Stop pumping!
It can be scary to take the plunge and stop pumping altogether but if you followed the steps above and got down to just a few ounces then your body will know it’s time to give it up.
Nutrition After Weaning
Ensuring your baby is getting proper nutrition after weaning is essential.
Age: 0-6 Months
If your baby is less than 6 months old at the time you are initiating weaning, you will need to give them expressed breast milk or formula. This will be their diet 100% of the time and they will need a bottle every few hours depending on their age.
Age: 6-12 Months
If your baby is 6-12 months of age and you have decided to wean, your baby’s diet will still need to consist of either expressed breast milk or formula for a majority of their nutrition.
Around the 6 month mark, solids may be introduced, this, however, should NOT replace breast milk or formula feedings. It is in addition to the milk. Babies still rely on breast milk or formula for proper nutrition at this age.
Age: 12+ Months
After the 12 month mark, most toddlers are quickly beginning to expand their interest in food.
Offering them a balanced diet can eliminate the need for formula or expressed milk. Some babies have not taken fully to foods by the 12-month mark and that is ok, keep working on it. Offering expressed milk or formula is fine.
Just take note that some babies will refuse food if they are filling up on formula or expressed milk. It is best to offer new foods before offering a bottle.
Do Babies 12+ Months Need Cows Milk?
The short answer is no. For a long time, it was drilled home that you transition your baby to cows milk at the one year mark. Today, health experts agree that it is not needed.
Your baby can get the same nutrition from other foods as well – yogurt, cheese, etc.
A balanced diet is key and giving your toddler cows milk is not needed if you are fulfilling those needs from other sources.
Weaning can be great and sad all at once. It’s normal to grieve that stage in raising your baby. It signals a new phase in their life. It is also normal to feel relieved that you are done and you did it! You can finally have your body back to yourself.
No matter how long you were able to breastfeed or pump or any combination of the two, give yourself a lot of credit! You gave your baby the best you possibly could and that deserves to be celebrated.
Are you starting the weaning process? Share your journey here by leaving a comment!
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