Just like every mother and baby is different, every breastfeeding journey is different – and each journey begins and ends under unique circumstances. No matter what factors have gone into your decision to wean, know that it can be a very emotional time. You may feel relieved, sentimental, sad, or a combination of all these emotions.
Try to be proud of what you’ve accomplished, whether you breastfed for two weeks or two years. You gave your baby the best nutrition possible – and that’s an amazing thing.
Whether you decide to let your little one choose when to wean (baby-led weaning) or direct the process yourself (mother-led weaning), here are some tips for weaning to make the process easier on both you and baby.
Weaning Tip #1: Replace or Distract
Try to anticipate when your little one will want to breastfeed and plan distractions or substitutions that he or she enjoys. For example, during the usual feeding time, offer them their favourite snack or game instead. Go on an outing that you know keeps your little one particularly engaged and excited.
Offering a distraction is a delay tactic and may just help you to be able to slowly cut down the number of times your little one wants to breastfeed. Remember to offer your little one plenty of fluids and complementary foods to ensure that they have enough to eat and drink.
Shorten or Postpone Breastfeeding
By adjusting the amount of time you spend breastfeeding, or by delaying it, you can gradually help your little one grow less interested in breastfeeding. If they ask to breastfeed, you can either say “not now, but later,” or “only for a few minutes.”
The hope here is that, later, they will get busy and forget about their desire to breastfeed, or they will grow more comfortable breastfeeding for a shorter amount of time.
Some mothers like to choose a short song or rhyme that their little one enjoys and tell them that they can breastfeed until the song is over. Other mums may tell their child that when the sun goes down, mummy’s milk goes to sleep too and that there is only breastfeeding when mummy’s milk is awake.
Proceed Gradually with Weaning
Going “cold turkey” can be challenging for your little one and emotionally draining for you. It may lead to uncomfortable and serious physical complications like plugged ducts and mastitis.
Because of this, it is advised to remove one feed at a time, rather than all at once. Then after a week or so you can remove another feed and continue until your baby is no longer receiving any milk from the breast.
Choose the breastfeeding session that your little one seems to be least interested in and go from there. Not only does this slower, but more gradual method of weaning help reduce your supply over time, but, it is also gentler on your little one as they have time to adapt emotionally and get used to the changes.
Make Plenty of Time for Cuddles
Breastfeeding is about more than nutrition… and many children breastfeed for reasons other than nutrition. Children breastfeed for comfort, to feel safe, to calm down after a busy day, to ease a sore throat- the list is endless!
As you’re weaning, make sure you still have time for emotional connection and physical affection. Your little one may need more cuddles than usual or may appear more clingy than normal.
As they adjust remember to comfort them as much as they need – this is a big change for them as well for you!
It’s OK to Say No
It’s OK to give yourself permission to say “no.” While you want to respect your child’s feelings and desires, you should also do what works for you and create appropriate and gentle boundaries.
If you want to start to wean, it doesn’t make you a bad mother!
Remind Yourself that it’s Ok to Be Sad
It’s ok to feel a mix of emotions (including sadness) about the end of the special intimacy breastfeeding provides. Your breastfeeding journey is ending, but, so many exciting adventures are ahead for you and your little one!
The lack of breastfeeding hormones Oxytocin, and Prolactin, in particular, can make some mums feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster for a while, maybe feeling anxious at times or even irritable.
Give yourself time to process all the changes and for your body and hormones to adjust. If you feel that the feelings don’t subside or that you are concerned, it is important to seek help from your health practitioner.
One Final Weaning Tip: Relieve the Pressure
During the weaning process, as your body adjusts to making less milk, your breasts may feel full. To relieve fullness and engorgement, you can express milk – just enough to be comfortable. Some mothers use ice packs, or cabbage leaf compresses to offer some relief.
The decision to wean is a personal one based on the relationship between you and your little one – and you know when the time is right. No matter when it happens, or how long your breastfeeding journey has been, celebrate your accomplishment!
Have you already gone through the weaning process with your little one? Or are you just not beginning the weaning process? Please share your experience so that we can learn from each other!