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How to Wean Your Baby From Breastfeeding

Katlyn Joy | 5, November 2013

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Breastfeeding is best, but sometimes the nursing relationship must end and sooner rather than later. While gradual baby-led weaning may be the easiest and best, there are times when that choice isn't available.

Reasons why you may want wean your baby from the breast

For some women, there is no choice. Possible reasons for wanting to wean your baby may include:

  • A serious illness, such as cancer which requires chemotherapy.
  • An abrupt change in circumstances such as a big job or life change.
  • An illness that requires medication that will harm baby.
  • In some cases, a pregnant Mom may not want to tandem nurse when she gives birth.

If weaning is something you know you need to do, don't let anyone's comments or attitudes put more pressure or guilt on you. As a mom, you will need to make plenty of decisions for your child that you won't have unanimous support on. We can't parent by committee, no matter how sincere or strident the committee is. You have to do whatever you know is best for your child and family and you owe no one an explanation

When is the best time to wean your baby?

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and breastfeeding along with solids for the second half of the first year, sometimes you must wean sooner. Or perhaps you were engaged in a longer nursing relationship, and a sudden change in circumstances forces weaning on you both.

If your baby is 1 year of age or younger, you will need to give your baby formula from a bottle to ensure he is getting the required nutritional needs. Some babies may wean directly to a cup, but not usually before their first birthday. If your baby is 12 to 18 months, you may use formula or perhaps whole milk. It's best to confer with the child's pediatrician. It is best to just give your baby whole milk if he is 18 months or older.

You may also offer water or juice, but be careful with giving your baby juice. It must be 100 percent juice and diluted. Be sure not to offer more than a few ounces of juice per day, as it can lead to dental cavities, stomach pain or diarrhea.

Methods of weaning

If you can, it will be far best for you and baby to gradually wean. Try dropping the least favored nursing session of the day, than drop a second and so on until you have eliminated the last and favorite session--typically the nighttime one. How quickly this occurs really depends on your need and baby's reaction.

To help baby with the transition, don't hold baby in the nursing chair or spot you usually nursed in. Try to hold baby as often and as close, but maybe in different positions so you don't stir memories for baby.

Weaning can be painful

Rapid weaning is tough on you both, but it will be tough on you physically if it must be done too quickly. To help with the inevitable discomfort try these tips:

  • For engorgement, pump or hand express milk to relieve painful pressure but only as much as is required. If you pump a bottle's worth you are going to continue to get overfull as your breasts work on a supply and demand principal.
  • Take a warm shower and let the water help relieve some of that pain.
  • Ibuprofen or other pain reliever can help with the aches of weaning.
  • Do not bind your breasts.
  • Don't allow your breasts to be engorged as you can get clogged milk ducts or the painful breast infection, mastitis.
  • Use cabbage leaf compresses until the painful period of weaning is relieved.

Emotional side of weaning

Expect some tears from you both. Transitions are hard and yours may be harder because of changing hormone levels and plain old Mommy guilt. For your baby, weaning is a milestone from babyhood to childhood. Most transitions in life are a bit muddled and messy and usually not smooth and stress-free. Realize you already gave your baby an incredible start in life by sharing your milk and closeness in your bond. Now focus on other ways to build on that bond, and continue healthy nutrition for your child.


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