The decision to wean should be between you and your child alone. Outside pressure should never be a reason to discontinue nursing, be it from family, friends or even medical personnel, unless there is a medical necessity. You have chosen to give your baby your breast milk and you should be the only person to make the decision to wean.
When you feel it is time to discontinue breastfeeding, it will be easier and more comfortable if you follow a few simple guidelines. The longer you have been nursing, the easier it is to stop. Babies who have already started solid foods (after 6 months of age) are also easier to wean off the breast.
Please remember, you don’t have to stop all at once. Many women find they miss breastfeeding and continue with nighttime or morning feeds only. Your body will gradually only produce milk when there is a demand.
How do you go about weaning? You should always wean gradually. Abrupt weaning is uncomfortable and can lead to plugged ducts and possible breast infection, known as mastitis.
To begin, choose a day to start weaning and eliminate one breastfeed, substituting the feeding with formula if your child is younger than 1 year old or whole milk if your child is older than 1, by bottle or cup. Continue eliminating that feeding for two to three days before dropping another.
After a few days, substitute another breastfeed, but at the opposite time of the day. For example, if on the first three days you eliminate the 7 a.m. feeding, on days four through six eliminate the 7 p.m. feeding. Then on days seven through nine, eliminate the 1 p.m. feeding, on day 10 the 1 a.m. feeding and so on. (If you work and formula is being given during the day, you don’t have to be as rigid about times.) Continue to stop feeding at the opposite ends of the day until your baby is fully weaned.
The hardest feeds to stop are typically the ones during the early morning and at bedtime. You may find that breastfeeding at these times is relaxing for you and the baby, and you may decide to continue nursing at these times for awhile. Partial weaning is an alternative for many women, who substitute formula or other liquids during the day.
If you find yourself becoming engorged during weaning, simply hand express or use a good manual pump to remove only enough milk to make you more comfortable. Over-pumping can cause you to continue making milk and put you at risk for plugged ducts.
For your comfort and health during weaning:
Allow warm water to run over your breasts in the shower.
Wear a supportive and comfortable bra.
Watch for plugged ducts (hard, painful areas in the breast) or signs of mastitis (fever, flu-like symptoms, a “hit by a truck” sensation). If you experience any of these, call your gynecologist immediately.
Cold, raw cabbage leaves inside your bra can relieve engorgement. It may look silly, but it feels great!
Be aware that you may feel emotional or maybe sad. This is due to a change in your hormones and is not unusual. However, if you feel you are depressed, contact your physician at once.
If it is necessary for you to wean suddenly, follow the comfort and health tips above and call your physician or a lactation consultant (IBCLC) if you need help.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.