Whew! I‘ve done 5 weaning consults this week alone. All ages and stages from 6 months old to 4 years old. Reasons for weaning vary greatly from person to person. There is no specific way or time to wean your child. I’ve had many of my repeat clients, whom have trusted me to be on the nursing journey, return to me with one final piece of the puzzle. How the heck to end this journey? There are a few ways, keep reading.
The WHO (world health organization) and UNICEF recommends breastmilk as the primary food source for up to the first two years of life. AAP (American academy of pediatrics) recommends up to 6 months and to continue breastfeeding up to one year with complementary solid foods.
If you’ve been thinking about ending your nursing journey, remember this will be an emotional time for you and baby. Take care of your mental health and be patient, open and gentle with yourself.
Try these gentle weaning techniques at your own pace. Follow your baby’s lead and go with the flow.
1. Don’t offer – don’t refuse: This is likely the most gentle approach to weaning when you are the one making the choice not the baby. It‘s exactly as it sounds, don’t offer your baby any breastfeeding sessions but don’t refuse if they ask/demand. Many parents naturally go to this method as their child gets older. This method is the best for taking a child’s needs into account, but it’s not going to be best for those in a hurry to wean. This is a slow but steady pace method.
2. Drop feedings - This is an active approach that you can do by eliminating one feeding per day over a period of 3-7 days. You could also go as slow as once a week. This allows your milk supply to decrease slowly, without your chest getting engorged, overfull and uncomfortable.
Start by choosing the feeding that is of least importance to you. You can either shorten the session(s) or distract or substitute with something else like sippy cup of expressed milk, other milk, water or a little snack they enjoy during the session(s) you wish to drop.
When you have successfully dropped a feeding session without discomfort of being overfull, you are ready to move onto dropping more. You will continue to nurse normal as usual at other times with dropping these sessions. If you have chosen to drop the feed session, avoid offering the baby to nurse. If baby is extremely insistent, you don’t have to refuse.
You may want to avoid, slow the pace or postpone weaning if your baby becomes fussy or clingy, gets ill, or seems to be teething. Naptime, bedtime, and first/early morning feedings are usually the last to go as those are also times of comfort.
Take your time and enjoy the snuggles when not nursing. It is very normal for a baby to drop all but one feeding – and hang on to that one for a few weeks or even months.
3. Distract - Think about the times your baby wants to nurse and try to distract them or offer a substitution in place of nursing. A favorite snack, a favorite, an outing, a walk outside, playtime, a favorite book, etc. can all be helpful for this method. The trick to this method is to anticipate when your child wants to nurse and to distract BEFORE they want to nurse.
4. Substitute - If you can anticipate when your child wants to nurse you can offer a substitution in place of nursing. A favorite snack, an outing, a walk outside, playtime, a favorite book, etc. can all be helpful for this method. You will be most successful in this method if you provide substitution BEFORE baby wants to nurse not when they want to, which can be a fight.
5. Routine Change - Avoid anything else that may remind your baby of nursing during the weaning process. Wearing clothes that are less accessible for nursing also helps with those grabby little hands. Stay away from nursing areas in your home (bed, couch, nursery, etc) or places you nurse a lot in public or other spaces. Change the routine, if you typically nurse after bath time, maybe offer cuddles and a cup of something with a story instead while sitting somewhere other than the area you would nurse in.
6. Hold off - Not now please, we can later. Sometimes later never comes as they can get “busy“ with their little baby activities. This also teaches patience, manners and is good for older nursing babes. They know they will get it later after the first time this works. Trust is everything.
7. Shorten the duration of feeds - Begin by gradually lessening the amount of time per feeding. Each feed is shorter and over time is reduced to none. For an older child, you might try nursing while you sing a song like wheels on the bus, row your boat, ABC’s or twinkle twinkle. Just to help them with understanding how much time they have for each feed. This helps with the anxiety of weaning for some babes and parents too.
8. Night weaning - This comes last, and it too will past. If weaning during the day, avoid beginning night weaning until day weaning is accomplished and vice versa. During the daytime weaning be sure to continue nursing as you would through the night. If you want night feedings to drop but you need sleep help, please check out my good colleague Jen Varela, gentle sleep coach 😴 🧸 at Sugar Night Night A sleep routine could be helpful to your night weaning journey. I will write another blog about night weaning.
9. Older nursing babes - Some willing older babes will be interested in trading a new toy or special outing in exchange for a nursing session. Go with it if this works for you and you don’t have to think big. This could be something as simple as a sticker book or special snack. Consider going to a support group to ask other parents for advice on how they weaned older babes. You can also buy books about it. I recommend one on my blog about my favorite books.
I highly recommend weaning parties for mama/nursing parent and baby! You should both be celebrated for the amazing things you’ve accomplished on your breastfeeding journey. This is a time to be proud & happy but tears are welcome!
If you become frustrated, confused or overwhelmed consider asking for help by seeking a lactation professional such as an IBCLC, CLEC, or peer breastfeeding counselor. I provide gentle weaning consults!