Breastfeeding can be a wonderful time for both you and your baby, but what about when you or your child are ready for the next phase in your lives? As a breastfeeding mother, you are probably filled with questions about the inevitable process of weaning your child. When is the right time? Will weaning upset your child? How can you avoid the painful side effects of weaning, such as engorging? With the right facts and planning, you can help make weaning a natural transition for you and your baby.
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What does weaning mean?
A fully weaned child is one who receives all of his or her nutrition from sources other than breastmilk. This means that the baby will be eating either solids or purées and will not be drinking any breastmilk, including pumped milk. Many people also use the term “weaned” to mean they no longer take a bottle at all, but for the sake of this article, we will be using the term to mean the end of breastfeeding.
Weaning can be difficult and trying, as you may feel like you are losing a very special bond with your child. However, weaning simply marks a transition into other aspects of your life and you are choosing to nurture your child in alternate ways. If your child becomes emotional at being denied nursing, you can remind them through cuddles and other activities that they are still loved.
When is the best time to start weaning?
Deciding when to wean your child from breastfeeding is a deeply personal choice that should be made in the best interest of you, your child, and your family. There is no reason to create a set deadline, and you should expect to experience periods of great success as well as several setbacks. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that women breastfeed until a year or longer, but despite what anyone can tell you, it is important that you choose a timing that feels the most natural. The most common methods of weaning are either mother led or child led.
Mother Led Weaning
- This type of weaning is definitely the harder of the two. You may have many reasons to begin the weaning process. You may be returning to work and not want to pump, you may be dealing with health concerns, or you might simply feel like you want to stop. This method is more difficult because while you might be ready to end breastfeeding, your child may not be. With this method, it is recommended that you make the weaning process as gradual and gentle as possible.
Baby Led Weaning
- Baby led weaning is much easier than the mother led alternative. This method of weaning normally begins around 6 months of age, when the child begins to show an interest in solid foods. After being allowed to experience a whole variety of flavors and textures, many children decide that it is simply more fun to eat regular food than it is to drink breast milk. Toddlers especially may start to wean themselves, as they are too
restless to sit still for very long. They may not want to relax and nurse, and instead show an interest in being active.
When is not a good time to wean?
Despite weaning being a personal choice that you should make, or your child should make, there are several instances in which weaning is not recommended.
- Weaning suddenly can cause a lot of trauma and other issues for children. Many children rely on breastfeeding as a way to cope, and use it as a comfort item. Suddenly ending that comfort may result in severe distress in the child, as if you have taken away his or her security blanket.
- If you are concerned about your child having severe allergies, you might want to consider breastfeeding for longer than you might otherwise. Some research supports this, by stating that the longer a child breastfeeds the less likely they are to be allergic to things such as milk or peanuts, or develop eczema.
- If you and your family are enduring a stressful time at home, you should consider continuing to breastfeed until the stress level has decreased. Situations in which you might be tempted to end breastfeeding include moving, changing jobs, adding a new baby, a divorce or marriage. During these times, you may be wishing you did not also have breastfeeding to deal with, but this can help ensure a peaceful transition for your child.
How to Wean
As previously stated, weaning a child can be super simple, or it can be a battle, depending on how willing the child is to give up feedings. Below are a few suggestions you can use in order to ensure a peaceful weaning.
1. Go Slow
- Move slowly when you are beginning the process of weaning. Slowly taper off on the frequency of feedings as the days, weeks, and months continue. This will also help you avoid the painful side effect of engorgement.
- If you are starting to diminish the frequency of breastfeeding, you should start with the least wanted feeding. At these times, you can instead offer solid foods, or distract the child with a fun activity. This can help you still maintain a close bond, but helps you to break free from the breastfeeding cycle.
- Do not refuse to feed your child during the weaning process. It may feel as if you are not getting anywhere, but refusing to feed the child can have major consequences. Some children may become incredibly distraught, while others may focus on the activity until they regress into only wanting to breastfeed.
4. Shorten Nursing Time
- If your child normally nurses for a period of fifteen minutes, you should instead try to nurse for only ten. After that, only five minutes. You can begin to complement breast-feeding time with a short feeding session followed by a light snack.
Weaning is a process that may be difficult for some mothers and their children to endure. Many women feel pressured into it, but please know that above all else, your comfort level is what is the most important. Breastfeeding and weaning are intimate times for you and your child, and should only be carried out in a manner that reflects what you want for your family.