When it comes to breast milk, pediatricians agree that there is no better food for your baby. However, all things – even breastfeeding – must come to an end. Maybe you have to return to work, have to spend long stretches of the day away from your child, or maybe you simply feel that baby’s breastfeeding stage is over.
Whatever the reason, we want to help you and baby wean gently, because if you do it abruptly, it can cause both you and baby unnecessary grief. To be clear: these tips are only for those who need to wean baby, not for those whose babies have lost interest in breastfeeding. We are also assuming that you’re producing lots of milk, so these tips can help those who want their bodies to adjust to this new phase of motherhood.
If your baby is less than a year old, you’ll need to replace the milk he’d get during breastfeeding with formula or bottled, expressed breast milk (freezing your breast milk in anticipation of weaning is a great idea). Whatever you do, don’t go cold turkey. Baby will miss the close interaction and your body won’t understand the sudden change. Try these tips instead:
1. Replace one breast-feeding with a bottle-feeding every three or four days. If your baby eats every four hours, give him a bottle instead of the breast for his second feeding of the day. Continue doing this for three days. On the fourth day, replace his third feeding of the day with the bottle, too. If your breasts are too full and uncomfortable, wait a day before replacing another feeding. However, if your milk supply is decreasing (which can happen as you reduce the number of nursing sessions) and your breasts are not full or uncomfortable, you can move a little more quickly and replace a breast-feeding every two days.
2. As you wean, replace morning and evening nursing sessions last. The reason? First, your body generally produces more milk in the morning, and it will take your body some time to adjust to producing less morning milk. Second, putting an end to the last nursing session of the night can be tough emotionally. Baby may be used to falling asleep at your breast, or you may feel that that’s a special bonding time (not to mention, you’ll have to come up with a new bedtime routine). The most important thing is to take it slow and not to worry if you don’t follow an exact timetable or deadline for weaning. There are many moms who breastfeed exclusively at night until they feel ready to completely stop breastfeeding … or until their bodies stop producing enough for a full feeding.
3. Do not suddenly stop breastfeeding. We can’t say this enough. If you stop breastfeeding overnight, your body won’t follow suit and simply stop producing milk. In fact, it will keep right on producing the same amount of milk as it’s used to producing. That can lead to clogged milk ducts that can become inflamed and even infected. When an infection sets in, the area becomes red and painful, and can cause a fever. Call your doctor at the first signs of infection to check for mastitis and get his treatment recommendations (usually antibiotics).
4. Find relief. Few first-time moms are prepared for the inconvenience and discomfort of weaning (this is due to swollen breasts caused by milk accumulation). To relieve a bit of the discomfort, place cold, fresh cabbage leaves on your breasts. You can also alternate between hot and cold compresses. Some moms find relief in hot tubs or hot showers. If you notice redness in your breasts, fever, headache or have flu-like symptoms, call your doctor immediately as you may have developed mastitis.
5. Spend lots of time cuddling baby. Weaning can be very difficult for baby. Take care to replace the intimate moments that breastfeeding provide with lots of hugs, cuddles and attention. Carry baby in your arms (but don’t be surprised if he tries to root out your breast for a feeding), give your baby a massage, take him for a walk … devote a lot of attention to him to help him realize that though mom may feed him in a different way, she loves him just as much. If the baby refuses the bottle and is older than six months, try feeding him with a sippy cup. In general, if exclusively breastfeeding for the first year isn’t possible, it’s advisable to accustom baby to take breast milk from a bottle after breastfeeding has been well established (after baby is about 4 to 6 weeks old) so he won’t reject the bottle later.
Good luck! And remember: do not stop breastfeeding too fast or before you are ready. Don’t feel pressured by others or listen to bad, but well-intentioned, advice.