HOW DO I WEAN?
Are you feeling ready to wean? Breastfeeding sometimes can feel overwhelming. Sometimes just cutting back on the amount of times you breastfeed may help you feel that it is more manageable. If your baby is under a year (or older, sometimes), you might have to substitute a bottle feeding or cup feeding for a missed breastfeeding. An older baby may accept a drink from a cup, a nutritious snack, or just a distraction in the form of a game, a toy, or change of scene. Breastfeeding is a relationship, a two-way street. If you resent sitting down to breastfeed, your child will pick up on your feelings. Remember, weaning does not need to be all or nothing. The first time your baby has something besides your milk is the first step on the long road to weaning.
If weaning is your decision, it’s best for you and your baby to do it gradually and with love. If you wean abruptly, your breasts will likely become painfully engorged, and you might develop a breast infection.
WEANING FOR MEDICAL REASONS
If your doctor decides that you need to take a medication for a medical condition, make sure that they know how important it is for you to continue breastfeeding and check to see if a breastfeeding compatible drug can be used. You may not need to wean at all or it might be temporary. Do your own research, or get a second opinion from another doctor/hospital, if necessary. A Leader can also help you find information about how a certain medication can impact nursing.
Depending on the age of your child and the frequency with which they nurse, certain medications may have little or no effect on them.
If you must wean suddenly, it helps to express some milk from your breasts, for comfort, until you begin to produce less.
If you must be separated from your baby while undergoing treatment but do not wish or need to wean, you can help to maintain your supply by expressing your milk by hand or with a pump and disposing or storing the milk.
WEANING A BABY UNDER ONE YEAR
Try to substitute their least favorite feeding session first. If the baby won’t accept the bottle from you, see if a support person can do so. It also may be helpful if you are not in the room/home so baby cannot smell you. Let the baby have a few days (or weeks, if possible) between each time you substitute a breastfeeding session with a bottle.
Be sure to express a little milk from your breasts, to your own comfort, if you become engorged. Don’t express a whole feeding’s worth of milk; just enough to take the pressure off. Your body will get the signal to make less milk over time, slowly. For help with the weaning process, contact a La Leche League Leader.
WEANING AN OLDER CHILD
There is no set number of years or months that you should nurse your child. If you and your child enjoy breastfeeding, there is no reason you need to stop. Both of you will continue to benefit from breastfeeding as long as you like. Many parents choose to wean naturally, allowing the child to outgrow the need gradually, in their own time.
Breastfeeding an older toddler or child can be different from breastfeeding an infant. Many parents naturally begin to place some restrictions on nursing as their child grows. This may include delaying feedings, (“We can nurse after I finish cooking.”) or limiting access. It may also mean focusing more on good “nursing manners” to discourage some behaviors, such as, twiddling, shirt pulling, pinching, fidgeting, “niplashing”, nursing gymnastics, and more. While all of these behaviors are normal, they certainly can be unwanted or even painful. Luckily, there are strategies to help to establish good breastfeeding manners.
- Start early– Putting in the effort to stop unwanted behaviors like twiddling in the beginning is more effective than waiting until it grows into a more ingrained habit.
- Wait it out– Often annoying toddler behaviors are a phase that they will eventually outgrow.
- Distract and redirect– Find alternatives like playing with a necklace or soft toy. Talk to them or read a book to shift their attention.
- Communicate– Older babies and toddlers can sign for “milk” or “please” rather than pulling at your top. Praise them for gentle nursing, but also set firm boundaries and communicate those boundaries clearly. For example, “I can’t nurse you while you wiggle. Let’s go play and get the wiggles out. Then we can nurse in a little while.”
It can also be helpful to learn more about typical childhood behavior and needs based on age. A good place to start is by attending La Leche League meetings. There you will meet families who have nursed their children through the years and are happy to share information and ideas with you. Find a group near you.
It is possible to wean during the day but only nurse at night as the nighttime feeding is usually the last to go. Or wean at night but still allow nursing during the day. It does not need to be all or nothing.
TIPS FOR DAYTIME WEANING
Generally, these strategies work best for daytime nursing.
- Don’t ask, don’t refuse– Breastfeed the child when they ask, and don’t offer when they don’t. This simple technique known as “don’t offer, don’t refuse” may help accelerate the weaning process when used with other methods.
- Change daily routines– Instead of heading home after picking him up from daycare, head to the grocery store or elsewhere instead. Try to avoid the “nursing chair” or other usual “nursing station” in your home as much as possible at the times when they usually would ask to nurse. Yes, this may mean a lot of standing up.
- Ask your support for help– If possible, get help from other family and household members. If she usually nurses upon waking, try getting up first and have your partner or someone else do part of the morning routine. Someone could also take over bedtime so that a child may forget about “milkies” before bed.
- Distract and substitute– Anticipate nursing sessions and offer substitutions and distractions. Try offering a snack or drink at that time. Take them to their favorite place at the usual nursing time. Other distractions include: reading, bike or stroller rides, visits from friends, a new toy, walking/singing to the child.
- Shorten and delay– Shorten the length of sessions or see if you can delay even by a few minutes. Some parents will say that they can have one ABC song per breast or count to 25. If they don’t yet understand time, saying that you can once you finish reading a book may help.
TIPS FOR SLEEP TIME WEANING
The nap and bedtime nursing sessions are often the last to go and can be more difficult. La Leche League does not advocate for any sleep-training techniques that includes children being left to cry for long periods of time. Staying close to your little one to allow for quick attention before they are fully awake can also help with the overnight times.
- If the child is sleeping with you, you might consider moving them to their own bed or into bed with an older sibling. However, if the child resists the move, they might increase breastfeeding in order to preserve the feeling of closeness with you.
- Allow another family member to help by taking over sleep-time routines or nighttime wakeups.
- Offer a drink of water or snack if the child seems hungry or thirsty at bedtime or during the night.
- Offer cuddles, hugs, and music to replace nursing at night or for naptime.
There are also children’s books that focus on night weaning. You can find them listed in our Goodreads account.
If you decide to wean the nighttime feeding, make a bedtime routine not centered around breastfeeding. A good book or two will eventually become more important than a long nursing. Your child may agree to cuddle or rest their head on your chest instead of feeding. Talk to your child about what’s going on ahead of time if you can as they may understand more than you expect. If you’re open to it, it can help to let your child make suggestions. If they’re part of the plan, they may handle the transition better.
WHEN A CHILD ISN’T READY TO WEAN
If weaning is going too quickly for the child, they’ll usually let you know by their behavior. Increased tantrums, regressive behaviors, anxiety, increase in night waking, new fear of separation, and clinginess are all possible signs that weaning is going too quickly for your child. Illness and teething can also interfere with weaning and it might be necessary to take a break. Transition periods can be good or bad times to wean; sometimes, a child is so busy moving from one house to another or starting preschool, that they forget about nursing entirely. Other times, they want to nurse even more, making weaning an even harder road.
Your child may be old enough for you to simply explain to them that you feel it is time to wean. Many children this age or older can understand the concept of stopping nursing. Some families let the child pick a date, or choose one themselves, and call that the “weaning day” after which they will no longer nurse. Some parents will throw the child a “weaning party” with supportive family and understanding friends to help celebrate the milestone. Perhaps the child will receive a special “weaning present.”
Some families allow the child to choose a coveted toy and buy it after weaning, or buy it before weaning and wrap it up to be put on a shelf for when the weaning day or weaning party comes.
Obviously, these techniques will not work if the child is extremely resistant to weaning, but many families have used them with success. Remember that they will have a continued, perhaps even deepened, need for closeness with you. You can anticipate the child’s need for closeness and spend as much of the day as possible having “special time” with your child.
Weaning can be a difficult time for everyone. It’s normal to have many feelings including sadness, anxiety and despair, or even post-weaning depression. A La Leche League Leader or group can help you to feel less alone as you go through this big step. To learn more about weaning you can attend a local group or reach out to leader.
Gentle Toddler Weaning (PDF), LLL USA
Is My Baby Self-Weaning? (PDF), LLL USA
Is My Baby Ready for Solids? (PDF), LLL USA
Thinking of Supplementing? (PDF), LLL USA
Excerpts from A Loving Weaning, LLL USA blog
LLL USA recommended weaning books, Goodreads
Weaning: I Want To, LLLI
Weaning Articles, La Leche League New Zealand
Breast comfort during weaning, KellyMom
FAQ about Weaning, KellyMom
Night weaning, KellyMom
Weaning: We did it together, LLL USA blog
A Weaning Celebration, LLL USA blog
My attempt at mother-led weaning, LLL USA blog
Breastfeeding and weaning: A personal reflection, LLL USA blog
Breastfeeding through the years, LLL USA blog
The Last “Susu”: Our Weaning Story, LLL USA blog
Weaning from the Pump, LLL USA blog
Weaning Gently: Outgrowing the Need, LLLI blog