How to Naturally and Effectively Wean Off Breastfeeding
Congratulations you’ll wean!
Weaning off breastfeeding is a graduation, a sign that your child has already grown and is now ready to tackle life alone. It is inevitable, a rite of passage to independence.
If you can wean your child well without fuss and pain, you deserve a commendation! But for most mothers, this isn’t the situation. Weaning isn’t easy. So how to do it?
You might want to breastfeed your child up to his toddler years, but some choices have to be decided.
In as much as you want to be a full-time mother, you have to get back to work after a few months of maternity leave. Or perhaps your body can no longer cope with your child’s growing nutritional needs, there isn’t much milk so he must get his nourishment elsewhere.
In weaning, there are a lot of things that must be considered. But first, find the right information and support.
To Wean or Not to Wean?
Weaning can only be possible once your child is ready. Care must be taken to ensure that weaning is done on time, the right way. It must not be done earlier as it can leave a dent and affect a child’s personality and health.
Babies who are not breastfed have the highest probability to get sick later in life. Likewise, babies who have been weaned prematurely may turn out not as robust as those that are breastfed thoroughly.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of baby’s life, but the decision is still up to you.
Weaning a child before his time will result to an irritable and aggressive child. He is more likely to be withdrawn, impulsive or engage in temper tantrums. He will have less desire to bond and develop a deep connection with his parents and caregivers.
Likewise, children who are breastfed longer than one year are more intelligent and self-confident than those who are weaned prematurely. They are easier to discipline and tend to be more sociable. These children are also less prone to allergies because of their extended intake of immune boosting breast milk.
Weaning is all about timing and balance.Since it is my mission to help parents like you make the healthier choice, let me share some first-hand insights. With the right approach, weaning can be a win-win!
What You and Your Baby will Experience when You Stop Breastfeeding.
Pain and discomfort.
Your breast is accustomed to generating milk round the clock. Less feeding time for your child will mean your milk supply will accumulate. Abrupt weaning will lead to breast swelling due to excess unexpressed milk.
After some time, your breast might feel painful, hard and may be hot to touch. Breast infection due to blocked milk glands can be avoided with the right pacing of breastfeeding and timed gradual weaning.
As said, breastfeeding is best for babies, but not for long. Your child treats your breast milk as the best food, it is also the best tasting.
Abrupt stoppage of breastfeeding will make your child hungry. This is not for lack of food choices but due to the fact that he is not accustomed to the absence of his round the clock dose of mom’s milk.
That's why weaning must be done in phases along with increasing intake of solid foods.
Stress, crying and temper tantrums
Breastfeeding is the best way to calm a child. An immediate absence of mom’s comforting breasts will result in the feeling of unease. Your child will not likely understand the change, and cry inconsolably. Prolonged absence may even be traumatic.
Feelings of rejection and separation anxiety.
Mother and baby connect through breastfeeding. Removing this routine is painful. Weaning is a physical and psychological experience. Hence care must be taken to plan it correctly.
What is Baby’s Ideal Wean-ready Age?
Weaning differs from child to child but it can happen beginning at four months to one year. Some Asian and European cultures even encourage mothers to breastfeed up to toddlerhood.
I have no issues with continued breastfeeding if mother and baby can both tolerate it. Breast milk is more nutritious than any formula, but at some point, the nutritional contents of your breast milk will no longer suffice.
If you can breastfeed up to preschool, then by all means, do it. Just make sure that the baby is also eating well on his own.
Beginning at four months of age, a baby will need more iron and essential nutrients, much more than what your breast milk can provide. This is the age when you can start to introduce him to solid food through baby cereal, mashed fruits and then later, to chopped table food.
For a familiar taste, begin baby’s foray to solids by mixing your pumped breast milk with his cereal. As a rule, your child must either be breastfed or supplemented with formula milk up to his first year of life.
At his first birthday onwards, he may drink cow’s milk in a cup, in addition to eating finger foods, biscuits, pureed meat and veggies.
How long does it Take to completely Wean Baby off Breastfeeding?
Every child is different. Do not begin and end weaning in just a month. Set reasonable limits but be flexible enough. Complete and successful weaning rarely happen overnight.
To be effective, weaning must be phased out gradually. Observe your child for clues on when he is ready. Slow down the process if he is sick, appears clingy or is always hungry.
It might take weeks and even months, depending on your baby’s needs and response.
Signs When Your Baby is Ready to Wean.
Your baby might be ready to eat on his own without the usual breast milk if he shows the following signs:
- Growing curiosity to try solid food and desire to eat on his own. Chewing motions have been developed, appears to draw out lower lip when given a spoon, mastered swallowing and tongue movements
- Ability to prop himself and sit in upright position without assistance.
- Has doubled his birth weight, this happen at around five to seven months of age.
- Poop is soft but not too watery when given trial feeding of solids, has no signs of discomfort or gas pain after eating.
- Occasional refusal to breastfeed while at play, is able to feel full and not ask for milk after feeding time at the kitchen.
Proven Tips to Make Weaning Meaningful and Not so Painful
#1 Start slow, do weaning gradually.
Don’t rush. Weaning is a slow process, it takes time and patience. Abrupt cessation will stress your baby and cause you pain due to breast engorgement. Your body needs to be accustomed to producing less milk and this doesn’t happen overnight.
If your baby is used to breastfeeding every 3 hours, space it to four hours and longer. You may skip on a feeding session if he already has an ample meal of solid food.
Try to limit breastfeeding to just three or two times per day, then later just once at bedtime or early in the morning. You may also let your baby get used to bottle feeding by expressing your breast milk and letting him nurse thru the bottle.
Reduce your pumping sessions. Substitute formula on some occasions until he gets used to its taste. Do this in transition while introducing your baby to various food groups in accordance with his development stage.
#2 Let baby lead the way.
Listen and watch your baby. Beginning at five months of age, he should be ready to try out soft foods and mashed solids.
Baby-led weaning involves allowing your child to try out certain foods at his own accord. Let him experience various tastes and textures. Food must be satisfying enough, making his breastfeeding occasions shorter and less frequent as time goes.
On stressful occasions or when he is sick, allow him to turn to breastfeeding for extra comfort and added nutrition.
Talk with your baby. At this time, he is not yet a fast talker but he already understands you. Explain to him that he is growing up now. Let him know that weaning is something good and praise him.
He must understand the reason why he can’t nurse longer and let him feel that despite this change, he is loved and cherished just the same.
#3 Choose a good formula.
It is important to choose a good milk formula especially for one year old babies and below. Do not compromise with the quality.
To prepare baby’s taste buds, mix it with your breast milk during the first feeding sessions. Buy a fancy zippy cup and put baby’s warm milk here for him to sip with pleasure.
Before total weaning, experiment with various formula to assess baby’s response. A formula might be nutritious enough, but if baby doesn’t like the taste, he will not consume it. Buy formula in small packets first.
At this stage, your baby might have started to speak a word or two. Ask him the formula that tastes best. Seek also your pediatrician’s advice especially if your child has a sensitive gut or allergic condition.
#4 Change your baby’s routine.
For meal times, do not put him in his usual breastfeeding position and location. As simple as reorganizing the furniture at the bedroom or living room can make baby feel the change. Introduce baby to toys and let family members play with him.
During this time, allow baby to cuddle his security blanket or favorite toy. It can help him to adjust emotionally during this weaning stage. It would help also to introduce a new bedtime routine, like story telling.
#5 Allow dad to participate.
If possible, mom must be temporarily out of the child’s vision. Let dad comfort baby at night or during the day in between feeding time.
Shower baby with more cuddling and affection to compensate for less physical contact brought about by weaning. Go outside to walk and let baby be exposed to new surroundings and people.
#6 Let him eat with the family.
Prop him in a high chair and let him eat with the rest of the family.
Beginning at 4 to 6 months, offer him single-grain baby cereal, preferably those fortified with iron. Make it thin and runny at first. After a week or two, gradually make it thicker so that he can also spoon it on his own.
Allow him to eat with his hands, let him be messy at first. There is no harm on this, it will also help him to be confident in terms of feeding himself.
Introduce pureed vegetables and fruits at 5 to 6 months. You may begin with mashed banana, potatoes, apples or carrots.
At 9 to 12 months, let him eat what is being served at the family table, just chop or ground them a little. Some of his teeth must have already erupted by this time. You may also offer him slices of fruits, carrot sticks, graham crackers or other finger foods.
Care for Yourself: Helpful Weaning Tips for Mom’s Health
1. Go cold.
Use cold compress to reduce swelling and engorgement. The cold can even help to lower milk production. Try crushed cabbage leaves, it is natural and efficient.
Cabbage leaves can help to speed up the process of drying breast milk. Crush some leaves and leave it overnight inside a well-fitting bra.
Replace them every 24 hours until such time that your breast no longer feel too full. Warm water can stimulate milk production so shower in cool water.
Put iced gel packs or cloths immersed in ice-water underneath your breast to lessen the pain. Avoid nipple stimulation since this can signal your body to make additional milk.
2. Anticipate breast milk leaks.
For leakage, place absorbent pads inside your bra. This can come handy especially when you are going out. Have some spare at your bag as you will never know how sore and full your breast can be.
3. Reduce the pumps, massage instead.
Pump only in small amounts, to give your body some signal to taper down its milk production.
Do not stop the pumps outright as this can result to pain due to milk accumulation. Massage your breast gently to relieve clogged milk ducts and facilitate circulation. Look for soft lumps and break it by giving gentle pressure.
4. Be prepared for mood swings.
Giving up the feeling of closeness brought about by breastfeeding is hard at first. The decrease of milk production and its corresponding hormones will also give you mood swings.
You will get used to it eventually but at first, you might feel like crying. Let out what you are feeling by talking with your partner. Hug and cuddle your child as he might also share the feeling of temporary isolation.
5. Look out for signs of infection.
Watch out for fever. Observe for redness around the breast area. It can be due to mastitis, a breast infection. You may take over-the-counter pain reliever but it is best to consult first your doctor. Continue eating a well-balanced diet and drink lots of water.
It isn’t the End but is just a Beginning.
When done properly, weaning will make your child healthy and self-confident later in life. It will equip him with a sense of independence and a feeling of trust.
Yes, it is painful at first. Consider the techniques mentioned above to be able to do it right. Be patient and take your time. Ask around for support, because you need all the help that you can get.
It isn’t easy, but it can be a win-win for mom and kid when done properly. After weaning is over, take a break. You have already done your part. Congratulations! Your child is now officially growing up.