This week's topic comes from a request from a local mom, which by happenstance, recently became relevant in my own mom life as well. When do you stop breastfeeding and how should you approach weaning? I can't claim any expertise on the topic, so I reached out to friends, family, and the far corners of the internet. This is what I found.
When should I start weaning?
At around six months, you'll begin the process of weaning by introducing solid foods into your baby's diet. If you're breastfeeding, it's recommended that you continue in addition to adding solid foods to baby's diet. The length of recommended time varies: the American Pediatrics Association suggests breastfeeding up to a year or more and the World Health Organization suggests at least two. Suggestions aside, the decision to wean comes down to what works for you and your baby. Generally, weaning approaches fall into two categories.
Sometimes you'll see this referred to as "self-weaning" or "natural weaning" (though I think the latter seems to put an unnecessary moral undertone on the term) and this is when your baby makes the decision that they are ready to stop breastfeeding. Some signs that your baby might be ready for this include gradually breastfeeding less frequently or for shorter periods, or they seem to lose interest or are distracted while breastfeeding.
Sometimes referred to "planned weaning," this is when mom decides when it's time to stop breastfeeding. There are several reasons a mom might decide to stop, and all are perfectly fine. To paraphrase my doctor while we were discussing the merits of breast milk, at the end of the day a fed baby and a loved baby is what is most important. If you're thinking of trying this method, you may be asking yourself "how do I start mother-led weaning?"
Gradually reduce the number of feedings
It's not recommended to wean cold turkey – both for you (do you remember what your breasts felt like in those early days?) and for baby. Lots of different sites suggest different timelines to cut down feedings with some suggesting cutting one ever one to three days and others one every couple of weeks. Pick what is comfortable for you.
Drop a daytime feeding first
Even in my own experience, I've found that dropping a daytime feeding to be easiest to start. Offer baby formula or cow's milk (depending on their age) or a quick snack. Some moms suggest transitioning right to a sippy cup rather than a bottle – one less thing to wean off in the future. When all else fails, go for a distraction with a toy or and outing to get baby's mind off nursing.
Slowly shorten your sessions
If your baby is like mine, most of the time she nurses for comfort rather than sustenance. A good way to start the weaning process is gradually shorten the length of each nursing session. Yes, baby may fuss and squawk, but after a couple of times they do get used to it.
Hide the goods
Out of sight, out of mind. Keep those low-cut shirts in the closet and cozy up into a bulky sweater (thank goodness for FSJ winters!). If baby can't see your breasts, it can be easier to adjust to the new schedule.
Be ready for a bit of a fight
I think one of the hardest things during my experience of weaning, was making baby mad. After all, a snack and a cuddle with mom? Who'd want to give that up? It's so easy to give in and nurse – especially when you're tired. Bracing yourself and remembering that the resistance is only temporary can help you get through those rougher days.
Night weaning? Get your partner to help
If you're tackling night weaning, this tip was a game-changer for me. I'm a mom who nurses her baby to sleep, but as she got older and began sleeping longer stretches, I wanted her to break the habit of using nursing to go back to sleep at night. Sending your breast-less partner in to put baby back to sleep can be a great tool. I started sending my partner for the first wake up in the night, while the weight of sleep was still heavy for baby. Now, no longer expecting a nurse at midnight, baby usually (knock on wood!) sleeps right through until our only early morning wake at 4 a.m.
Whichever way you approach weaning, do what feels best for you and your baby. If I've learned anything from the experience of motherhood is that the internet can make it look easy with its cookie-cutter advice and Instagram-worthy stories of success. Mama, it might be a bit of a rough go, but you and your baby will get through it. I hope these tips offer you starting point. Good luck!
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at email@example.com.