Whether you’ve loved every minute of it, slowly come to enjoy it, or simply powered through it, at some point breastfeeding will come to an end. Knowing when and how to begin the weaning process is not necessarily intuitive, but with a little planning and patience, you and your baby will find new ways to nurture without nursing.
It takes two to taper
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for six months and then “continue for at least the first year and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” It’s the second part of that statement that is key; nursing is a two-person endeavor, and therefore not always a simple decision. Sara Chana, IBCLC, RH (AHG), breastfeeding expert, birthing instructor and mom of seven in Brooklyn, New York, weighs in:“If you decide to wean, it is important to ask yourself a few questions: Is this what I feel is intuitively correct, or are others influencing me? Has my baby stopped gaining the weight that she was gaining before? Am I taking a medication my doctor has told me I cannot continue breastfeeding with?” Some women encounter medical reasons that necessitate a premature end to breastfeeding, and others experience emotional strain associated with pitfalls of their breastfeeding journey.
No matter the reason, deciding when to stop nursing is as personal a decision as deciding to start in the first place. “Weaning your baby is often difficult for both the mother and the baby,” says Chana. “Sometimes weaning is the best choice for the mother, sometimes it is the best choice for the baby. Just make sure you are weaning for the right reason instead of weaning from misinformation.”
Slowing the flow
Once you’ve determined that the time for moving on from breastfeeding is ripe, and that both you and baby are ready, then what? Unlike the initiation of your nursing undertaking, stopping it doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, going cold turkey is a bad idea for both mom and baby. “Don’t just take away breastfeeding suddenly,” Chana urges. “Change is difficult for most people, including your baby.” Not only will abruptly ceasing to drain your breasts of milk on a regular basis cause pain for you, it may be hard in emotional ways for your baby. “Make sure to speak with your infant, no matter how old the baby is,” advises Chana. “Explain the process that you and she are going through—all of us would like clear explanations of the changes in our lives.”A gentle approach, with the mindset that the process will happen gradually over time, is best.
Cut it out
You’ve likely heard the phrase “supply and demand” used to explain milk production—when your baby demands nourishment by sucking, your body supplies it. As you wean, you are simply telling your body not to make as much milk over time, so that slowly, it learns not to make any at all.You can begin to decrease your output by eliminating one feed a day. Choose the session baby will miss least, or the session in which feeding length is the shortest.This will help with both your engorgement and baby’s adjustment to a new routine. Continue taking away feedings gradually until you’ve successfully moved to a new schedule that does not include breastfeeding. And eventually, the breast, as they say, will be history.