If you are thinking about weaning, you have probably wondered which is the easiest way to do so. There are many factors to consider, so let’s break down breastfeeding weaning and the best way to go with this big transition!
My Personal Weaning Experience
When I was weaning my three children (I am still breastfeeding my fourth), I had to learn to give my body grace and trust in the process. I always assumed that the “two weeks” period of weaning would happen for each of my children like clockwork… But I was wrong!
Before weaning my first child, the thought of weaning was already taking a toll on me. I knew once I weaned, I would no longer be needed as much and my child would become more independent.
Then, by not listening to my body during my first breastfeeding journey, I dealt with mastitis, clogged ducts, and experienced a lot of anxiety.
I was a mess!
But I knew I needed to reach out to a Lactation Counselor to guide me step-by-step with weaning. After meeting with a CLC, I gently weaned my baby and was mentally prepared for it. Then, for every breastfeeding journey after my first, I knew when, how, and why I would need and/or want to wean my baby!
What is Weaning?
Breastfeeding weaning is when baby is no longer being fed breastmilk and is now receiving nutrition through other foods and drinks. Sometimes, this is a baby-led decision (meaning your child nurses less frequently or stops), and other times, this is a mom-led decision (for example, if you are ready to stop nursing or pumping). If your baby or toddler is self-weaning, this is perfectly fine! You can take their lead to start weaning.
On the other hand, you may decide to wean as a mom-led decision. If you are ready to wean or it has become a necessity, there are ways to make this transition easier.
Weaning as a pumping mama also has its pros and cons.It is completely normal to have mixed emotions about weaning, so choosing a time that you are comfortable with is important.
When Should I Start Breastfeeding Weaning?
This is a particularly personal decision and depends on your current day-to-day lifestyle. Firstly, many health organizations including WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that you breastfeed for the first 6 months of your baby’s life and then continue breastfeeding until they are at least a year old while also introducing solids. I always say that breastfeeding does not have an expiration date and you should do what is best for you and your baby. I actually encourage breastfeeding until at least two, beyond if it is possible!
Remember, weaning is a bittersweet decision and everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different. There is no right or wrong time to start weaning your baby or toddler. When you decide that it is the right time to wean, practicing gentle weaning can make the transition easier on both mama and baby.
Partial Weaning or Supplementing With Formula
If you want to start weaning but don’t want to necessarily stop breastfeeding altogether, you could consider partial weaning. This is when you move away from nursing exclusively and begin to supplement using bottle feeding with expressed milk or formula.
Breastfeeding weaning to formula or expressed/pumped milk is also a great option for moms who are going back to work but still want to nurse their baby when they are home!
Additionally, you could try offering more solids. This allows your baby to explore different foods, textures, tastes, and colors, all while making sure your child’s nutritional needs are met when starting to wean. This is the time to make these experiences memorable and exciting for baby!
There are some instances where your child will start to wean themselves after you introduce bottles or more solids, and that is perfectly okay! Baby-led weaning will eventually occur with children, but there isn’t a set time when this will happen.
Another possibility that may take place, is night time weaning. This is when your child stops receiving breast milk at night. This could be by you either slowly weaning the nursing session, or cutting out the pumping session. Hey Sleepy Baby has a tremendous guide with tips if you are interested in taking this route with night weaning.
On the other hand, some moms may feel that weaning is a necessity because they are ready to have another child or are struggling with breastfeeding. It is completely possible to continue breastfeeding while pregnant (unless your doctor recommends pausing if you are at risk for preterm labor) and use tandem feeding when your second child arrives! If you want to continue breastfeeding but are facing difficulties, I would love to help! I offer lactation services to answer your questions and share tips, advice, and guidance.
How Long Does The Weaning Process Take?
Mayo Clinic shares tons of weaning tips and one of them is that weaning can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. They also mention that weaning isn’t “all or nothing.” For example, you could still breastfeed before bed and in the morning but wean from daytime feeds.
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, it is best to wean over a longer period of time. This is easier on your baby because they have time to get used to this new transition.
Also, it’s also better for you! If you were to stop breastfeeding abruptly (or “cold turkey”), you could increase the risk of breast pain and engorgement.
One tip to prevent pain or engorgement from weaning is to use a manual pump. This one from BabyBuddha will make it simple to express milk without stimulating your breast with an electric pump. Plus, if you use the code EPMAMA10 at checkout, you will receive 10% off your purchase!
For pumping moms, it’s still important to wean over a longer period of time. Dropping the number of sessions, reducing the amount of time for each session, and/or using a manual pump are all great options to help you gradually wean from pumping.
All in all, the timeframe of weaning can vary depending on how your child is adjusting to the transition. Take it slow and be patient!
Tips To Weaning Breastfeeding
There are different approaches you can take to breastfeeding weaning, so find one that works for you! I have a post on Instagram all about weaning, but here are some of the best ideas to try:
Weaning from the Breast
- Try shortening feeds in small increments of time
- Wear more layers or less adaptable clothing to make your breasts less available for nursing
- For older children, offer other snacks instead
- Shorten each breastfeeding or pumping session
- Postpone breastfeeding or pumping sessions
- Offer other means of comfort (close cuddling, stuffed animal, blanket, etc)
- Change up your routine slightly so they don’t immediately assume it’s time to nurse
- Use fun distractions (for example, going on a walk or playing a game)
- Have other family members help with normal routines
- Try dropping a midday nursing session first, and work on night feeds last
Weaning from the Pump
- Reduce how long each pumping session is by small increments
- Drop pumping sessions one at a time (some moms like to start with the evening session)
- Increase the amount of time between sessions
- Use a manual pump to lessen the pain (as needed)
If you want a breastfeeding weaning plan that is individualized, I can help! One of the lactation services I offer is guidance on weaning. I can help you reach your weaning goals and create a plan that works for you!
The Emotional Side of Breastfeeding Weaning
Weaning can lead to a lot of mixed emotions… It doesn’t matter if it was a mandatory, mom-led, or baby-led decision! Many moms with self-weaning babies feel like they aren’t prepared for the transition yet. They are worried about losing that special bonding time with their baby.
Meanwhile, moms who are ready to wean and are looking forward to the freedom it would bring still see this transition as bitter-sweet.
Breastfeeding creates a deep bond that no mother can express as this journey will support your baby’s physical and emotional wellness. There are physical benefits, such as nutrition, protection against illness, and increased antibodies… But there are also emotional benefits like increased self-esteem, better attachment, and less stress.
Be proud of how determined you were to continue breastfeeding as it is not an easy journey. Everything, including sleepless nights, feeds every 2-3 hours, middle of the night pumping sessions, countless hours bagging and storing milk, sanitizing and cleaning your pumping parts every day, and so much more will not go unnoticed. We know all that you do/did mama!
Taking the Next Steps…
This is your opportunity to focus on finding other ways to connect and bond with your baby so you can continue to grow that close connection. And if you are feeling pressured to wean, remember that there is no set time. Do what works best for you and your baby!
If you want a community of women to help you get through this new transition, I’m here for you! I have a support group that you can join to be surrounded by other moms who have gone through or are going through the same path you are experiencing!
The end of your breastfeeding journey comes with the last bag of breastmilk you’ll use to feed them. Just remember, with that last bag of breastmilk, there is a way to honor and remember your breastfeeding experience–a breastmilk keepsake. These pieces can remind you of the challenges you overcame and are unique to you and your baby.
Making the Decision to Wean
Overall, weaning from breastfeeding is a huge transition and can be difficult for both mom and baby. Because this is such an important step, taking the time and trusting your body and baby is the best option. You can make this experience easier by creating new experiences with your baby and cherishing the time you spent breastfeeding, no matter the time frame!
Come follow me on Instagram and subscribe to the blog for more breastfeeding tips!