is the process that begins when the baby starts taking anything other than the breast, and ends at a time that is mutually desired for both mother and baby. Planning ahead when to stop breastfeeding—or trying to decide what the best age for weaning might be—can be a particularly difficult undertaking for parents in this country. Concerned relatives and friends often seem to have strong opinions about what’s best for the child and mother. Experts all recommend that mothers base the decision to wean on her and her baby's needs, and not the expectations of others.
The American Academy of Pediatrics official recommendation is that breastfeeding be the sole source of nutrition for your baby for 6 months. When you add solid foods to your baby’s diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. Breastfeeding can continue after 12 months or longer if mother and baby both desire to nurse.
Approaches to Weaning
Gradual weaning is the easiest on both mom and baby. This is done by actively eliminating one feeding every two or three days, or longer, and allowing the milk supply to decrease slowly without fullness or discomfort. It does take some planning as If the baby is close to a year old and is drinking well from a cup and eating other foods, after first consulting the baby’s doctor, the mother may be able to substitute other foods and drinks for breastfeeding, forgoing the bottle and going directly to a cup. For the younger baby, the first concern during weaning is nutrition, since breastfeeding is first and foremost a method of feeding that also provides closeness and comfort. In order to gradually wean a young baby, substitute a bottle for one daily feeding every two to three days. This can be a good time for the father to become more involved.
Partial weaning is when the mother only eliminates certain feedings during the day and continues to breastfeed at other times during the day. For example, a mother may have to return to work, but cannot or does not want to pump at work. About two weeks before returning to work, she can eliminate the late afternoon feeding first, then in two or three days eliminate the early afternoon feeding and continue until her baby is weaned from the daytime feedings and only nurses in the evening and night.
Abrupt weaning is usually the most difficult for mom and baby, but it is sometimes unavoidable. When we mean abruptly, the mother can just stop breast feeding and pump her breasts as needed, removing less milk each time until her milk is gone after two or three weeks. Another approach would be on the first day she could eliminate every third feeding, then on the second day eliminate every second and third feeding, then on the third day not breastfeed at all. Or of course she could just stop. If she does this, her breasts will become uncomfortably full and engorged, and could lead to mastitis and abscess. Encourage the mother to wear a firm support bra and use ice packs and Motrin or Tylenol as needed.
The following suggestions can help: wearing a firm bra for support–one size larger than usual may be necessary–reducing salt intake, not restricting fluids, and regularly expressing just enough milk to relieve discomfort. By gradually expressing her milk less and less often, the mother’s milk supply will slowly decrease. Binding the breasts–which is sometimes still recommended–is an outdated practice that can intensify a mother’s discomfort and cause plugged ducts.
The baby also has special needs during an abrupt weaning. The baby’s doctor should be consulted about what foods to substitute for mother’s milk, which may vary depending on the baby’s age. The baby will also need lots of extra holding and focused attention. Although many mothers feel the urge to distance themselves from their babies while weaning for fear the child will insist on nursing, what a baby needs most during weaning is reassurance that he is still loved.
Breastfeeding is more than just food for the baby; it is a source of comfort and security. The baby may feel the mother has withdrawn her love as well as her breast. If at all possible, gradual weaning is the best option.