Moms and babies choose to wean at different times. Sometimes it is baby led, sometimes it is mom’s choice. No matter when or why it is done, the best option is to do it gradually. This makes it much easier on mom’s breasts and baby’s emotional well being.
A few reasons mom decides to wean from breastfeeding:
- Returning to work
- A new pregnancy
- Medical issues
- Baby’s age
- Engorgement issues
- Baby’s choice
Sometimes moms are told to stop breastfeeding abruptly when it may not be necessary. Mastitis is a situation where mom should definitely continue to breastfeed to help relieve the pain of a clogged duct and engorgement. If a mom is told to quit breastfeeding because of a medication, there may be other options available. Call anytime if you have a question about a medication. A great reference for concerned moms is “Medications and Mother’s Milk” by Thomas Hale. This reference gives current research and studies on medications and breastfeeding. Rarely does breastfeeding have to be stopped due to a medication. Moms should also consult her physician.
Some moms plan to nurse until the baby has begun teething. It is good to know baby’s tongue protects mom’s nipple while breastfeeding. Not all babies with teeth bite while nursing. Returning to work can be another issue. If a mom is unable to pump at work, she still has the option to nurse when she and her baby are together. If a mom gets pregnant while breastfeeding, she may choose to wean but if she prefers not to, she can discuss with her doctor to see if there is a medical reason for her to stop breastfeeding.
It’s always best if weaning is mutually agreed upon by both mom and baby. Young babies require a lot of time and attention no matter how they are fed. Preparing formula and washing bottles is also time consuming. Moms need to be very comfortable with that decision before she allows her milk to dry up. Try to do extra pumping while debating about weaning. Even if a mom chooses to wean, there will be a stock pile of breastmilk in the freezer so baby can continue to get the benefits of breastmilk.
Sometimes a mom is told to quit breastfeeding by a doctor because her baby is fussy and gassy or colicky. Continue to pump while trying to find the right formula. Baby may not tolerate formula either. Pumping helps mom easily go back to breastfeeding. It is more difficult to relactate than to do some extra pumping.
Once a final decision is made, do it gradually to lessen the amount of engorgement. Most babies nurse less frequently as they get older. Start by picking baby’s least favorite feeding to stop first. For weaning quicker, drop an extra feeding every day. There will be quite a bit of engorgement to deal with in this situation. Pump a small amount of milk to ease the discomfort, wear a good supporting bra, avoid hot water to breasts while showering and also use ice or bags of frozen corn or peas for engorgement. If weaning is done gradually, mom will have minimal discomfort with engorgement. By dropping one feeding per week, the breasts will adapt to the gradual change.
In a young baby, breastfeeding sessions can be replaced with cuddling baby while giving a bottle. If a toddler is being weaned, mom may need to replace a breastfeeding session with other distractions such as reading a book or going outside to play. If replaced by a food, make it a healthy snack. Change the child’s routine so something else is going on during the usual breastfeeding time. When the toddler asks to nurse, mom can postpone it at that time distracting the child in order to avoid that breastfeeding session. If a toddler becomes too upset over the weaning process, one or two favorite breastfeeding times could continue for a longer period then phased out.
Moms will also notice changes in her body during the weaning process. Be aware that ovulation will begin. Prolactin levels, the “feel good” hormone, will also drop. This can put a mom with previous issues of depression at risk especially if weaning is done abruptly. Discuss options of antidepressants with a doctor. Weight gain is also a side effect of weaning. Make sure to reduce your food intake comparable to your weaning schedule. Changes in the breasts will occur as well. They may go back to their pre-pregnant state or even look soft or flabby until they regain their natural fullness after several menstrual cycles. It’s not unusual for a mom to be able to express a few drops of milk for several months or even years after cessation of breastfeeding. If a significant amount of milk still can be produced, talk to a doctor about a possible hormone imbalance.
Hopefully breastfeeding has been an enjoyable experience for both mom and baby and when it comes time to wean, both mom and baby are ready for the next stage in parenting.
Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to call or email me anytime with your concerns. I am here to assist you in any way I can.