How and When to Wean Your Child Off Breastfeeding

Ah, weaning. It is the breastfeeding topic that makes most women hesistant to ask for help. Many feel nervous because they feel they will be judged poorly or criticized, but there is nothing more important than being understood and acknowledged during this time. The mother's feelings can vary day-to-day in the decision to wean and being armed with information is key to her well-being and to the baby's.

Misconceptions About When to Wean

Mothers are often told to wean their babies when it is, in fact, not necessary. Here are some of those reasons:

  • The mother feels overwhelmed by her obligations to the baby.
  • The baby is teething.
  • The mother has mastitis--Weaning could make this worse.
  • The mother is going back to work.
  • The mother is ill, needs a particular medication or will have surgery. In most cases, breastfeeding can continue.
  • The baby is ill or will have surgery. The mother's milk will help the baby to bounce back faster.
  • Pregnancy.

Mothers and babies should wean when they are ready, whether it's been 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years. So many feelings are associated with weaning, but a mother should not be told by anyone else -- the baby's father, family, friends, even strangers -- that she has to wean.

How Do I Start Weaning?

The ideal way to wean is gradually. Dropping feedings, by skipping the entire feeding, one-at-a-time is best, giving each dropped feed 3 to 4 days to settle in (being very conservative, a mother could wait an entire week).

Gradual weaning will allow for the mother's milk supply to decrease slowly and she should not be uncomfortable or have severe engorgement. Obviously during this time, as breastfeedings are eliminated, the baby will need supplementation. If the baby is younger than 9 months old, he will most probably take bottles.

If he is older, 9 months to 1 year of age, he may be able to take a cup. With planned weaning, many women choose to stockpile their breast milk in the freezer well-ahead of time to make the transition easier for the baby.

Partial Weaning

Abrupt Weaning

Baby-Initiated Weaning

To make weaning as comfortable as possible, the mother should hand-express her milk just to comfort, use ice packs, watch her salt intake and drink only to thirst. The prescription drug Parlodel (to "dry-up" milk) is no longer given to weaning mothers. In 1994, the FDA reported serious adverse reactions to the drug, including strokes, seizures and a few deaths.

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