Different Ways to Wean Nursing

Weaning is a difficult decision for some and easy for others. As I’ve said before, breastfeeding is more so a relationship, in my opinion. So when either of those two parties (you or your child) are ready to let go of that relationship, there are certainly ways to do that.  Know that there is no pressure to stop at a certain time (the first birthday, for example) so if you and your child are still in favor of nursing.  Breastfeeding can continue past the first year or as long as mutually desired by mom and baby.

If you already have an established breast-feeding routine, I would recommend weaning gradually by slowly reducing the frequency of nursing. Going cold turkey can cause discomfort, engorgement, plugged ducts, or even mastitis. You can wean by dropping a nursing session or decreasing the duration of a nursing session. Once you feel like your breasts have adjusted, you can drop another session. If you’re pumping, just slowly try to lengthen the time between sessions and/or pump for a shorter amount of time each session. Breast-feeding works like supply and demand. So if your breasts get the signal for decreased demand, they will adjust.  If your breasts are engorged, try relieving with cold compresses, ice packs, a supportive bra, and sets, or just hand expressing to comfort level.

One of the more gentler methods is called “Don’t offer, don’t refuse,” which is exactly like it sounds.  Not offering to nurse but not refusing if your child wants to.  Many mothers naturally move to this as their child becomes an active toddler.  You can also try to avoid the “nursing chair” or other usual “nursing station” in your home as much as possible at the times when he or she would usually ask to nurse.

Another technique includes distraction or substitution.  This method is often touted by older pediatricians but does have great advantages if your child loves routine.  If you know when they will want to nurse, immediately be ready with a distraction-an outing, playtime outside, a new book or toy.  Some older pediatricians have recommended a single M&M which I’ve seen be successful but you just want to be careful with how much candy you’re giving your little one.  You can also have your partner or spouse step in to do for example, the morning routine or post nap routine, when your child usually asks to nurse, rather than you.

When it comes to weaning, I would try not to tackle day and night feeds at the same time.

As a pediatrician, I highly recommend not co sleeping.  If you are trying to wean night time feeds, taking this important step is very helpful.  You can also ask another family member to take over the night time routine.  Lastly, try to not focus the routine on a feed or nursing session.  Switch to a good bed time book or telling a story to wind down.

Also know that if you wean too quickly or your child isn’t ready, they will exhibit increased tantrums, regressive behaviors, anxiety, separation anxiety, and disrupted sleep.  Obviously, these techniques will not work if the child is extremely resistant to weaning, but know that if you stay consistent and both you and the child are on the same page, weaning can occur in a smooth manner.

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