Breastfeeding is an intimate and bonding experience – one that baby benefits from and most moms enjoy. Of course, like all good things, nursing must eventually end. Sometimes because mom must return to work. Other times because the baby is getting older. And other times simply out of preference. Whatever your reason, the following 8 tips may help you in the process. Just keep in mind that each stage is different, and what works for one baby might not work for another. Be willing to experiment and try different things, but always be mindful of what is best for you and baby throughout the process.
**** A Special Note on Weaning Your Baby ****
Before we start the list, we at GYB want to ensure you know the full recommendations on nursing, particularly when it comes to the best age at which to wean. The APA, WHO, and other health organizations recommend exclusive nursing during baby’s first six months of life and continued nursing (with the slow and eventual integration of solid foods) for at least one year. We stand behind this official recommendation and we encourage all moms to nurse their babies as close to a year as possible – or longer, if you can! Of course, we also know that there are extenuating circumstances, which is why we support all moms, regardless of whether they nurse or formula feed. What matters MOST is that baby is happy and healthy.
1. Be Prepared for the Process
Perhaps the very best advice that we can give to weaning moms is to be prepared for the process. Research different methods well ahead of time. Consider each option, and how it might work with your situation. Have everything you need on-hand before you start (bottles if you’re going to bottle, books or snuggle toys if you’re replacing nursing sessions with cuddle time, etc.). We also encourage you to psychologically prepare for the transition. No matter how much you think you’re ready, there is always the possibility that you will miss nursing just as much as your baby – only your sadness is likely to last longer because your baby will move on and start exploring the world around them. You, on the other hand, will likely hold onto the memories of nursing forever.
2. Consider Your Timing Carefully
Some babies do better if you start weaning during a big or transitional moment (i.e., going to daycare, going on a vacation, etc.), but others can go into complete meltdown mode if you try to wean them during times of stress. As such, we highly encourage you to consider your timing carefully. If your baby is learning to walk but wants to be nursed when he or she falls down, you may want to wait a bit before taking away their comfort source. On the other hand, if your baby is cruising about and ready to explore the world, now may be the perfect time to start weaning. Let baby’s temperament and coping abilities be your guide.
3. Slowly Decrease the Number of Times You Nurse
The best approach that I have found is to take a slow and steady approach to weaning. Start by eliminating some of the less necessary feedings (comfort feedings) and replace them, instead, with cuddle time, a story, or playtime on the floor. This ensures baby still receives the comfort and bonding that they enjoy, and it avoids the tantrum you might witness if you try to take a way an important feeding (bedtimes, early mornings, and nap times were always the last to go for my kiddos). Eventually, you can start to remove lunch feedings or morning feedings and replace them with solid foods (or nurse for a bit and then give solid foods, if baby is just too cranky).
If your baby is under six months of age and you are weaning him or her over to the bottle, you’ll need to switch out nursing sessions for a bottle (starting with pumped breast milk and then moving to formula usually works best) – but don’t do it all at once. Start by replacing just one nursing session at first, then add another, and then another over several days or weeks (which may depend on your baby’s temperament or your current situation).
4. Have Your Partner Help with Feedings or Soothing
If you are weaning over to bottle, know that it is common for babies to reject a bottle from mom in the very beginning. As such, you may want to employ the help of your partner. Have them give the baby a bottle with breastmilk first (usually makes the transition easier), and then slowly move over to formula. If you are weaning off the bottle and, instead, trying to get baby to nap without nursing (typically done in the final stages of weaning), have your partner handle the soothing beforehand. They can rock, cuddle, sing to, read to, or gently bounce baby – whatever soothes him or her. But having that buffer can significantly reduce your stress levels (which can make baby more stressed and cause weaning to become a nightmare of a process).
5. Spend Extra Quality Time with Baby
As you start weaning, your baby is likely to miss the intimacy and closeness of nursing. Mitigate against it a bit by spending extra quality bonding time with your baby. Read to them, snuggle, or simply play on the floor. Play games and sing songs. Swaddle them and give them a pacifier (as long as you’re okay with using them, of course). In other words, try to figure out what it is that your baby enjoys most about nursing, and then find another way to give it to them.
6. When You Have to Go Cold Turkey
We don’t recommend cold turkey weaning, but sometimes it is warranted. Perhaps you’ve become pregnant again and are experiencing complications. Perhaps you have become ill and need medications that are not considered safe for breastfeeding. Or maybe you had to unexpectedly return to work with little to no notice. Whatever the reason, it is important that you remember this can be the most stressful weaning method possible. Baby is likely to cry and fuss, particularly at bedtime and nap times. Try using the partner-soothing methods and have your partner feed baby when possible. But definitely, make sure you spend some extra quality time with your infant. Most of all, keep your own stress levels under control; stressed mom makes for stressed baby, and then it becomes a vicious cycle. If need be, put baby down and have someone else step in to help
7. Consider the Possibility of Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning, or allowing baby to decide when he or she is ready to stop nursing, is becoming a rather popular trend – but it’s been used by veteran nursing moms for quite some time. Most simply wait until baby starts showing interest in food and then offer soft, easy to smash foods at meal times. If baby eats it, great! If not, that’s okay, too! The point is not to stress about the when or how, but to let baby decide. Keep in mind that this option may not be appropriate for moms that need to return to work since it does require that you wait until baby facilitates weaning (some do it is early as 8 to 10 months, but others take longer). However, it may be a great option for some stay-at-home moms and those that work from home. Just keep in mind that your baby’s iron needs do increase around 6 months of age, so a supplement may be needed if they have not taken an interest in solid foods. Talk to your pediatrician for guidance on if and when they should be given
8. Use the Art of Distraction to Your Advantage
If you’ve waited until your baby has hit the toddler stages to wean . . . First of all, congratulations! You’ve joined the ranks of a small but growing fraction of moms. Now comes the hard part. Remember that nursing has been a source of comfort for their entire lives; it is going to take you some time to fully wean. Try the other tips, but also add in the art of distraction. Find a fun game to play when they ask for their nursing. Avoid laying down with them, and consider also keeping your breasts covered (they’re less likely to ask if your breasts are hidden). Head outside for a stroll, or do something active. Over time, nursing will become less important and less frequent, and you and your tot will hopefully have a wonderful, bonded relationship.