By Katie Hilton
Katie Hilton is a dual qualified nurse, midwife, and health visitor and the expert adviser for MAM UK. She is also a mu’ma herself to one cheeky little man.
The Bit Nobody Tells You
Everyone always talks about how to establish your breastfeeding, but what about when the time comes to wean your baby from the breast? How do you start weaning from the breast? These are very common questions that I’m asked often by breastfeeding mums, so today I want to share my top tips with you.
Gentle Approach: Don’t offer, don’t refuse
Probably the most gentle approach is “don’t offer-don’t refuse”. This method involves not offering to feed but also not refusing your child’s desire to breastfeed. Many mums move into this naturally as their baby gets older. It tends to take longer than other methods, so it’s not one that’s likely to bring quick weaning if you’re in a hurry. On the other hand, it’s also the one that takes your baby’s needs into account the most.
Active Approach: Dropping one feed at a time
If you choose to take a more active approach, it’s generally recommended that you work on eliminating one feed for 3-7 days (slower is always better, but avoid going faster than this) before dropping the next. Some mums eliminate one breastfeed a week. This allows your milk supply to decrease slowly, without fullness and discomfort.
Choose the feed that is the least important one for your baby, then you can approach it in a couple of different ways. You can either offer a cup (I recommend the MAM Trainer Cup) instead of breastfeeding or begin shortening that particular feeding session. While you are eliminating this feed, breastfeed at the other times as usual.
Once you have eliminated the one feed, and are comfortable (no fullness at all) then you can move on to the next one you want to eliminate. Just approach it the same way, and remember to breastfeed as usual for the remaining feeds.
Don’t offer to breastfeed for the feeds that you have dropped
– but if baby is very insistent on needing to breastfeed, don’t refuse. Be prepared to slow the pace if your baby becomes fussy or clingy, gets ill, or seems to be teething. Naptime, bedtime, and first-thing-in-the-morning feeds are usually the last to go. Take your time with these (or even keep some or all of them), especially if you enjoy a bedtime snuggle as much as your baby does. It is very normal for a baby to drop all but one feeding – and hang on to that one for a few weeks or even months.
1. Distraction or substitution
Try to anticipate when your baby may want to breastfeed and plan to distract him or offer a substitution in place of breastfeeding. A favourite snack, a favourite activity, a playdate with a friend, a walk outside, playtime outside, a favourite book, etc. can all be effective with this method. You are more likely to be successful with this plan if you can use it BEFORE your baby indicates a need to breastfeed.
2. Change in routine or schedule
If your baby typically wants to breastfeed more when you are at home, try to be out and about more during the weaning process. If he seems to need to breastfeed more when you are out and he is away from all that’s familiar, try to stay close to home as much as you can while you wean. If, for example, sitting down in a certain chair cues him to breastfeed, try to avoid doing that, or anything else that may remind him of breastfeeding (some mums have to try to avoid sitting down at all in front of their baby during the weaning process!) Wearing a top that is less accessible for breastfeeding also helps some mums.
3. Shortening breastfeeding sessions
Begin gradually lessening the amount of time per feed that you allow your baby to breastfeed until that particular feed is no longer happening. For an older child, you might want to try breastfeeding to the count of ten, or while you sing a song, etc.
4. Night Weaning
Try not to tackle day and night feedings at the same time. Pick one (day or night) and work on it a while instead of trying to wean from both at once.