How to wean a baby from breastfeeding. Week by week process for gentle weaning. Also find troubleshooting tips and common questions.
I just finished weaning Kaitlyn from nursing. With Brayden, I was completely thrilled to wean him since nursing was such a battle to get him to eat rather than look around the room constantly. With Kaitlyn, however, I was sad. She was such a good nurser. Alas, I had to wean her when I did because my husband and I are going on vacation without our kids.
Yes, there are good things about nursing. I will have more freedom. When my husband and I want to go out to dinner, we can leave before her final nursing or be out past her final nursing. When she sleeps over at Grandma’s house, she can have her milk as soon as she gets up and I won’t have to be there at 7:30 AM sharp. If we are running errands, she can have her milk on the go instead of us stopping or coming home to nurse her. Yesterday we went to the park for lunch. I got her up and we just left–I didn’t have to nurse her first. I say these things just to make myself feel better :).
Kaitlyn weaned very easily. Here is a rundown of how we did it.
WEEK ONE: I dropped the 3rd nursing (happens at 3:30). Since she was not quite 12 months yet, she had formula instead. The first day, I fed her a 4 ounce bottle, then followed it up with nursing. I knew she wouldn’t nurse as much as usual and I wasn’t sure if she needed more than 4 ounces. I also knew this would take some of the edge off so I could more gradually decrease my milk supply. This week I was the most engorged. It pretty much took a full 7 days to get comfortable. It wasn’t as bad as when milk comes in, but not comfortable.
WEEK TWO: I waited a couple of days past me getting comfortable (from engorgement). Then I dropped the lunch time nursing (happens at 11:30). She continued to not mind in the least. In fact, after a few days of this she started to sign “milk” to me (which around here means milk in a cup, not in mommy) when it was time to nurse. We got through that, though, and she continued to nurse just fine. This week only took me about 3-4 days to physically get completely comfortable in regard to engorgement.
WEEK THREE: I dropped the evening nursing. I debated over which of the two to nurse. There are pros and cons to both. If you nurse at night, you can be more drained for sleeping. If you nurse in the morning, you can be more drained for your daily activities. Also, I have more milk in the morning than the evening. What decided it for me was that on Tuesday (the day I dropped it), I was cleaning the highway with the youth starting at 6 PM and she usually nurses at 7. I knew I would be home after her bedtime. So I dropped that nursing. This week only took me about 3 days to physically get completely comfortable in regard to engorgement. This feeding was probably the easiest for my body to drop as far as engorgement.
WEEK FOUR: I dropped the final nursing. It has only been a couple of days–I dropped it last Sunday and today is Tuesday. I am slightly uncomfortable; I assume it will take a day or two more to get more comfortable. Last night I could sleep on my belly for the first half of the night for the first time in a year and a half! For a tummy sleeper, this is exciting. Another perk to weaning. I haven’t leaked milk at all during the weaning process.
Weaning from Breast Troubleshooting
I have a friend who is weaning from breast right now and is experiencing a couple of difficulties. I thought I would share my responses to those.
While I do have pain and/or discomfort when my milk comes in, I have few problems when weaning. Not all women are so lucky, though.
- Your obvious methods for drying up milk. Cabbage, tight sports bra, etc. I wouldn’t use cabbage in excess until you are ready for milk to be gone, though.
- Pump enough to alleviate pain.
- Take it more slowly. I mentioned this in my In Action: Weaning from Breast post, but here it is again. Something I did with Kaitlyn was I would feed her 4 ounces and then follow up with nursing for the session I was dropping. I did that the first day. You could do that for a few days and take it slower. You could then slowly add ounces and decrease nursing amount. That might help your body adjust more easily. So, say you were dropping the lunchtime nursing. I would prepare 4 ounces (or whatever amount you know will leave your child wanting more). Feed that to him, then follow up with nursing. Your child will nurse, but not long enough to create a full feeding. Do that for a couple of days, then increase the prepared ounces and decrease the length of the nursing. This way, your body can slowly adjust.
Some children have an affinity for nursing, especially right before bed. Brayden sucked for comfort before I started Babywise at 9 weeks. Kaitlyn has never been a comfort nurser.
- Prevention. Try to avoid nursing becoming a soothing ritual. Avoid nursing right before bed. While this is easy to do for your first three feedings, many “top off” right before bed. If this is you, change your routine. Nurse and then do PJs and story and whatever you do. With Kaitlyn, her final nursing of the day came 45 minutes before she actually went to bed.
- Drop the favored nursing session last. By that point, he might be ready for it to go. This was the case with Brayden.
- Hold him while he drinks his milk. I hold my kids for a few months past weaning to ensure we still get that quiet cuddle time together. This is already a time of day you are used to sitting down and holding your child. With Brayden, it was the only time he would hold still. Kaitlyn loves to be cuddled and held, so she enjoys me holding her and feeding her.
- Something you might try is doing a bottle at the favored feeding for now. I did that with Brayden. After he had been weaned completely for a couple of weeks, I started the weaning from the bottle. It was all very smooth and seamless.
Sarah: I’m seeking your thoughts regarding my daughter’s post-weaning behavior. We have been Babywise-ing since she was born, so breastfeeding was not used to soothe her and we have been on a good feeding schedule. I spent about a month weaning her. I gradually reduced nursing duration as well as number of feedings per day. She is 12.5 months old. The last time I nursed her was 1.5 weeks ago. Almost immediately, she started sucking her thumb more (she used to only suck if she was hungry or tired.) I’ve even caught her pulling her hair (while thumb sucking) about five times. I offer her cow milk and water throughout the day, so she’s not thirsty.Did your kiddos’ behaviors change when they were weaned? How concerned do you think I should be about the thumb sucking and hair pulling? I’m feeling guilty that I have caused her some kind of stress or anxiety with this change.
Babywise Mom: Sarah,I don’t think there was any change in my kids’ behavior, but it does make sense. She will be sucking on something soothing less, so it makes sense that she would suck on her thumb more. See if you can find some way of offering comfort to her. She might be one who likes physical touch, and often with weaning comes less cuddle time overall throughout the day. If so, she might like to sit and cuddle. See the love languages blog label for more ideas on showing love.
Oh, another thing, remember that correlation doesn’t mean causation. She might be sucking her thumb and pulling hair for some other reason. I haven’t ever had this question before, so it obviously isn’t common. She might be sick or something, so do be on the lookout for other possible causes for the behavior.
Rachel: Question: I’m interested in weaning my strictly breastfed 9 month old baby. (She occasionally takes a sippy cup of juice or water.) My goal has always been to nurse for 1 year, and to have my child completely weaned by her first birthday, but I’m feeling a little too ‘tethered’ lately, and am anxious for some flexibility in my schedule. My baby nurses before solid foods at 8am, 12pm, and 4pm and has a nighttime feeding at 7pm before bed at 8pm. I’m curious to know if I can wean her from the 12pm and 4pm feedings for the next three months without giving up the nighttime and morning feedings. Will I be able to maintain my milk supply? Or should I just try to pump for the noon and 4pm feeding for the next three months when I do need the flexibility. (I just hate pumping though.)AND what would be the big deal if I didn’t make it to the year mark anyway?? THANK YOU for your help!
Babywise Mom: Rachel,I think it is pretty well accepted that the longer you can breastfeed, the healthier your baby should be. But you are farther than most people even get. Do what works for your family.As for if your milk supply would stay up, there is no way to know. Some women can maintain it. Those who do “extending breastfeeing” past one year often only feed 1-2 times a day from the breast. So it works for some.But not for all. So if you want to still nurse twice a day, I would be prepared to need to pump at least one time a day, possibly twice. A nice thing about that is that you could give her the breastmilk in a bottle/sippy and she would still get the benefits of breastmilk 🙂