Whether it is after you have met your breastfeeding goals, or when outside circumstances push you toward it, weaning is a topic every nursing parent will encounter.
Gradual weaning can take place over several weeks or even months. It is often a natural progression of the nursing relationship, with the parent slowly offering a snack, bottle, or cup in place of the breast. A slower transition can be more comfortable for the nursing parent as it allows their body time to adjust to a decreased demand for milk.
Parents wanting a more gradual process in a shorter period of time can opt to cut down one nursing session every few days.
Certain situations do not allow for the luxury of time, and parents may need to encourage weaning to happen as quickly as possible.
If you need to cut out nursing cold turkey, it may be best to have another person available to help with feedings for a few days like your partner or a grandparent, especially if baby is not so happy about weaning. Extra snuggles is key. Some parents take the opportunity to go away for a long weekend, a child-free getaway with their partner or a business trip, and simply do not resume nursing when they return.
- A good, supportive bra;
- Cool compresses for your breasts (cabbage leaves really can be helpful!);
- Hand expression if need be to release some pressure from fullness in your breasts;
- Ibuprofen can help ease swelling and discomfort, but check with your medical provider or pharmacist.
- Do not be surprised if you feel the blues or some mood swings as you go through the process. You can blame them on hormones and things should settle back out shortly. If feelings of depression or anxiety worsen or persist, check in with your healthcare provider.
- Extra snuggles! Nursing is about more than just nutrition, so keep the oxytocin flowing with kisses and cuddles.
- A change in routine can be a helpful distraction, but it is also a way to get creative with ways each parent bonds with baby. If you have always nursed your little one to sleep, or nursed and rocked before bed, switch roles with your partner and have them do the bedtime routine. Things may be a bit bumpy at first, so stay patient and persistent. Soothing sounds from a white noise machine, soft lighting, and post-bath baby massage can all be helpful for bedtime.
- Healthy snacks and drinks, depending on the age of the child weaning. For children under the age of 1 year, breast/chest milk or formula should be their primary source of nutrition, complemented by healthy foods as appropriate per your pediatrician or dietitian. If drinking formula will be new for your little one, don’t be surprised if they give you the stink-eye after a taste! It is a new flavor to adjust to. Parents can make this transition smoother by combining expressed breast/chest milk with formula (Mix the formula with water first according to its label!) in baby’s bottles, before switching entirely to formula.
Have you weaned a child from the breast? What helped you? Tell us in the comments!
Written by: JoEllen Noble, IBCLC, CD (Labor), ProDoula