No doubt, breastfeeding is incredibly beneficial for both mother and baby – that is why the experts recommend nursing until your child is at least one year old. Whatever you decide, the time will come when you need to wean your baby off the breast. This can be a very emotional period. You could experience mixed emotions - a bit of sadness mixed with happiness and excitement is expected. Many mothers are confused about whether to stop nursing suddenly or gradually – which is why we have prepared some practical guidelines that can help you stop breastfeeding without unecessary stress.
There are several methods you could use to determine the right time to wean your baby. Most common is to gradually skip a feeding session, start by replacing one feed, depending on the babies age, with solid food. If you are returning to work , it often makes sense to start by replacing a day time feed and continuing with morning and night breastfeeds. Once your child is eating solid foods and nursing only twice a day, you may decide to simply cut those nursing sessions out and stop breastfeeding cold turkey. Or you may decide to let your child show you when they’re ready to wean – this usually happens anywhere between the ages of 2 to 4 years old, as the child slowly loses interest in breastfeeding.
The gradual approach is often easier for the baby and it helps prevent engorgement and mastitis because milk production is decreased gradually.
This is very individual – it may take anywhere from two to six months, depending on how quickly your baby adjusts to the change.
If you are weaning your baby after the age of 1, start with offering a small portion of solid food right after nursing. Once your child is eating well, introduce food before breastfeeding. Slowly increase the amount of food the child is eating and reduce the time spent nursing. By cutting out one nursing session per day and waiting for your breasts to adjust, you will reduce the chance of mastitis.
Another good approach is to gradually start postponing feeding times, 15 minutes at the time. Once your child starts nursing only before bedtime, you could try offering them a beaker with water or milk instead. If this transition is hard for you, it may be a good idea to let your partner put the child to bed.
If you need to stop breastfeeding before the age of 1, you should substitute breast milk with formula. The best way to make this transition easier for your baby, is to combine these two, gradually increasing the ratio in favor of the formula, until you can completely stop nursing.
There could also be medical reasons to stop breastfeeding. Contact your physician and ask for advice on how to wean your baby.
Since breastfeeding is more than just eating for your baby – it also provides a sense of comfort, safety and closeness – try to come up with other ways to bond and offer comfort. It could be something simple, like playing together, reading a book or just spending some time cuddling.
If there are big changes in your child’s life, such as moving, you starting to work or if they’ve been ill recently, it may not be the best moment to start changing things. Weaning is a process that takes some time, so don’t rush it and be patient.
Once you stop nursing, the levels of hormones in your body need to be re-established. This can influence your mood and make you feel a bit down. Have some time for yourself, relax or spend a nice afternoon with your friends. And don’t worry – weaning only means that your child will be eating solid foods from now on, while you can still enjoy the perks of a wonderful emotional relationship you’ve built with them over time.