Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of your breastfeeding journey. You’ve worked hard to provide your baby with the best nutrition and create a beautiful bond with them.
So how do you go from breastfeeding...to not breastfeeding?
Sometimes weaning is easy. For most moms, the ideal scenario is that your baby gradually decides that they are done with breastfeeding, a slow but painless process that’s stress-free for both of you.
The first thing to know is that it’s your decision! Only you can decide that is best for you and your baby.
The second thing to know? You need a plan!
Physiology of Weaning
You hear us talk A LOT at LaVie about supply and demand. It’s because it’s the backbone of breastfeeding.
It’s also the backbone of NOT breastfeeding.
The goal, whether you’re doing baby-led or mother-led weaning, is to gradually reduce the demand for breastmilk. The more gradual the process, the less likely the risk of engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis.
Your Weaning Plan
It’s one thing to know that you need to reduce demand to reduce supply and that you need to do it gradually. But what’s the best way to do that? With a plan that accounts for all aspects of weaning and that allows you plenty of time. Ideally, you should plan the wean over the course of a few weeks. There’s no mandatory time frame and it may not be a linear process, but choosing a timeline helps you plan and lets your little one and your body adjust.
Note: This plan is primarily intended for mothers who are weaning from nursing. However, it can be applied to pumping as well. Just substitute pumping sessions for nursing sessions as needed.
Create a schedule of when you nurse
It can be hard to know exactly how much you’re nursing, especially if you’re nursing on demand. Even older nurslings can nurse quite often! Over the course of a week, track the times you nurse each day. That makes it easier when you start to….
Drop one feeding at a time
The most gentle way to lead your nursling to wean is to cut one nursing session a day. Lactation consults advise waiting 3-7 days before dropping another feeding. Choose the nursing session that's least important.
Naptime, bedtime, and good-morning feedings are usually the last to go. Because these sessions are the snuggliest and most comforting for your child, they may hold onto these nursing sessions for some time. Moms who need to wean can benefit from the following to help with these sessions:
Change your routine
For eliminating daytime nursing sessions, distractions and new routines can be a big help. Yes, right now can be harder to introduce distractions because of public health conditions, but there are still options:
- Substitute storytime or music time
- Take a walk around the neighborhood
- Introduce a favorite creative, sensory, or physical activity to distract your child
If you’ve nursed your child to sleep since they were born, it can be a big adjustment to find new ways to fall asleep. If possible, enlist help your partner with bedtime and/or naptime routines. That’s when the following tips can be helpful.
Shorten nursing session
Gradually shorten how long your child feeds until they aren’t interested in that feeding any longer. Older nurslings might benefit from using a timer or counting down.
And in general, shortening nursing sessions can be very helpful when you have a child that struggling with reduced breastfeeding. Don’t forget, they may be very attached to nursing still! Shortening sessions can provide the comfort they need while introducing some limits.
It’s never a bad idea to ask for help when you need it. A lactation consultant can help you with any questions you have about weaning. Your mom friends can give you invaluable been-there-weaned-that advice. And your partner can help with any feeding and care changes that occur.
Avoid day and night weaning at the same time
Weaning is an adjustment for everyone. While it might be necessary to wean more abruptly if you can avoid day and night weaning at the same time. Pick one to start with and build on that success rather than trying to tackle it all at once.
It’s common for mamas to experience some discomfort with weaning, especially if weaning sooner rather than later. The challenge with managing weaning-related discomfort is to provide relief without increasing the demand for more milk. (Yep, we’re back to supply-and-demand.) Here are a few tips for making the process more comfortable.
While the goal is avoiding milk production, you also don’t want to have uncomfortably full breasts. This can risk clogged ducts and mastitis. Plus, you deserve to be comfortable!
Hand expressing is a great way to remove *just enough* milk without stimulating more milk production. Aim for a comfortable level of fullness in your breasts by hand expressing less frequently than you were nursing. The fullness will help slow down your milk production, as well as prevent discomfort.
If hand expressing seems too labor intensive, a silicone pump can also do the trick. Silicone breast pumps, unlike electric or manual pumps, remove milk gently and pose minimal risk to creating unwanted demand.
Epsom salts are a long-time favorite treatment for weaning moms. Combine 1 liter of hot water with 1-2 handfuls of Epsom's salts and dissolve. Soak breasts for relief from engorgement, clogged ducts, and to help dry up breastmilk.
Cabbage leaves can be used to suppress lactation. To use cabbage, disassemble a cabbage and wash leaves. Store leaves in container in the fridge. Apply leaves to breast for up to 20 minutes at a time three times a day.
Getting All the Feels: Your Emotions and Breastfeeding
Finally, weaning can be an emotional process for mamas. Especially if you have predominately nursed. While many moms are happy enough to put their pump in the closet and forget about it, weaning from nursing can be bittersweet. Just know that it’s okay to have a whole range of feelings about it. You can be both totally ready to wean AND really sad about it.
Also, know that some moms do experience post-weaning depression and anxiety when weaning. The cause? Fluctuating hormones plus the emotional stress of ending your breastfeeding relationship with your child. If you’re experiencing "increased irritability, teariness, loss of pleasure in a usually pleasurable activity, fatigue [or] trouble concentrating," it’s important to take these symptoms seriously. Communicate with your partner, your support network, and/or your medical care provider if you need help.
Weaning can feel like a long process, but it’s an important part of your breastfeeding relationship with your child. What have been effective techniques for your own weaning?