So the time has come for you to finish your breastfeeding journey. Whether you’ve only breastfed your baby for a short time, whether you breastfed them for a year or if you did extended breastfeeding, this can be an emotional and scary time. It can be both physically and emotionally difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you are currently breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed you probably have some questions about weaning. When should you do it? How to avoid the pain of engorgement or mastitis? How do you help with the emotional disconnection? Is it better to go cold turkey or slowly reduce?
The decision to finish breastfeeding can be a big change for both you and baby so it’s important not to make decisions hastily, especially if you are stressed or overly emotional or tired.
If you are weaning your baby off breastmilk before they are one year old, make sure you have done your research on formula options and know what nutritional needs your baby has for their age. Remember that it is recommended that your baby is breastfed/bottle (formula) fed exclusively for the first six months before introducing solids and until they are one year old, breastmilk or formula should still be their primary source of nutrition.
When is the best time to wean my child?
That really depends on the needs of you and your child. There is no ‘best’ time but there is probably a ‘right’ time for you and bub, whether it’s because you are struggling to breastfeed or need to start certain medications or if you are returning to work or if your baby is getting older and it’s just ‘time’. Assess your needs and plan how you want to finish breastfeeding.
How do I make sure my child is getting the right nutrition?
If your child is under one years old, make sure you have researched the right formula for your baby as breastmilk/formula should remain their primary source of nutrition. If they are older you are probably already making sure they are getting a good variety of fruit and veggies. Although given you might not actually get much of that nutritious food into the mouth of a fussy toddler you might consider a toddler formula to make sure they are getting that extra nutrition.
How long does it take?
Weaning slowly will be easier and better for you and bub as well as helping prevent engorgement pain, but sometimes it isn’t always possible.
If you are switching to formula you may take a few weeks to find the right formula for your baby. How long it takes may depend on your baby. You might find that switching all feeds from breast to bottle at the one time is easy on your baby as they might refuse the bottle if the breast is still an option. However, other babies may not respond to change so well and gradually swapping each breastfeed out for a bottle feed over a few weeks might make the transition easier.
For older infants and toddlers, breastfeeding is more of a comfort or emotional need rather than a nutritional one so reducing breastfeeding slowly can be a lot less traumatic for them. Try starting by dropping one feed at a time and wait a few days or a week until you drop the next. It may be easier to drop the daytime feeds first as bedtime and overnight feeds are likely to be the most difficult attachment to break and provide that bedtime comfort to your little one.
How do I prevent engorgement and mastitis?
Reducing breastfeeding slowly rather than going cold turkey will help reduce the pain and discomfort of engorgement and reduce the chance of getting mastitis. Old wives’ tales to help dry up your milk include putting cold cabbage leaves in your bra. You can also consult a doctor who may provide you with medication to dry up your supply.
Some important dos and don’ts of weaning
- Plan it out and try not to make decisions on the fly.
- Don’t make decisions about weaning when you are stressed or emotional.
- Make sure your partner and other caregivers are on board with your weaning plan.
- Be aware of post-breastfeeding hormonal changes and depression.
- Don’t make decisions based on peer pressure. If you aren’t ready to stop breastfeeding yet, then don’t let someone talk you into it.
Tips to easing the transition
- Wait until you are ready. Your baby may choose to stop breastfeeding on their own but if not don’t feel you should stop just because they are turning one or someone tells you to. Wait until you are emotionally ready and comfortable with the decision.
- Remember that it may be difficult for the first few weeks as you try to settle your toddler overnight without the assistance of a breastfeed. Stick with it and it will get easier.
- Get your partner on board, especially for resettling overnight. If you try to resettle your child when they wake up they may expect a breastfeed, if your partner resettles them instead they will probably respond better.
- For toddlers, try to make the change ‘fun’. For example, when replacing a midmorning breastfeed, try giving them a cup of milk as a special ‘big kids’ drink.
- Feeling down about finishing breastfeeding is normal! Your hormones will fluctuate and you may feel sad about losing that emotional connection. If you think your fluctuating emotions are more than just weaning blues, please talk to your partner, a friend or a doctor for support.