The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breast milk consumption for all babies under six months old and, if possible, continuing up to twelve months. In many areas of the world, what we call “extended breastfeeding” is considered typical breastfeeding ages. Many children drink breast milk until between three to five years old. There are times; however, it may become necessary for a mom to wean her baby from her breast milk before these ages.
Weaning Before Six Months
There may be a necessity to wean your baby before a year, or even before six months. The most important consideration should always be the health of mother and baby. If you are having medical procedures or medications done that require you to wean, always double-check the information before weaning (if you wish to continue breastfeeding). Surgeons and other specialists may not have background in breastfeeding and it is fine to check with your OBGYN or baby’s pediatrician to make sure you cannot indeed continue to safely breastfeed.
If you are seeking to wean before six months for your own reasons, take some time to consider why you want to wean. Are you having supply issues? Is breastfeeding painful? Visit a lactation consultant to investigate if changes can be made to make your breastfeeding more comfortable. If you cannot locate a nearby lactation consultant look into Breastfeeding USA or La Leche League chapters in your area.
Any time a baby is weaned before twelve months old, the breast milk removed from the diet should be replaced with infant formula. Cow’s milk should never be given to a baby under twelve months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend cow’s milk before twelve months of age due to the inability of a baby’s digestive system to tolerate cow’s milk. If you have a pumped supply you can supplement that for your regular breastfeeding session.
The term mother-led weaning refers to when you make the decision to begin weaning your baby. It is essential for both your health, your baby’s health, and emotional reasons to do this process gradually. If your baby is six months or older, begin with introducing complementary baby foods into their diet. At six months old, our babies’ bodies begin requiring zinc, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B levels that cannot be achieved by exclusively breastfeeding. However, 93% of our baby’s calories still come from breast milk until the age of twelve months.
Start with cutting out one feeding per day. Most moms find that eliminating the mid-day feeding is the most convenient (especially for working mamas). If your baby is under six months old, replace this feeding with formula. Over six months old, you can replace it with suitable baby food.
You may experience soreness and discomfort from engorgement. Do not ignore this. Blocked ducts and mastitis are very possible side effects to mother-led weaning. Express just enough breast milk with either your pump or hand expression to reduce discomfort. Do not empty the breast or pump more than necessary to alleviate pain. If you do, you will be telling your breasts to continue making the same amounts of breast milk, and your supply will not adjust.
Continue cutting one feeding per day every two to three days to allow your body to adjust to the decreased need for milk. Be sensitive to your child’s irritability during this time. You are not just removing a way for them to seek nourishment, but an emotional bonding time they have been accustomed to having.
The same as mother-led weaning, the term baby-led weaning speaks to weaning where your baby or toddler decreases feedings on their own. This often starts with feedings being shorter in length. Children then usually start feeding less frequently. Most mothers observe that their child will abruptly stop feeding one day and replace their breastfeeding with other snacks and meals.
This type of weaning leads to different challenges than mother-led weaning. While both weanings can be emotional, there is usually an underlying reason for mother-led weanings. The most common complication is decreasing your supply. With baby-led weaning, the most common complication can be the emotional aspect. Breastfeeding is not just a method of delivering food and nutrition but is also a time of bonding with your baby. If you are not prepared for your baby to wean, it can be challenging to adjust for mom.
With baby-led weaning, you will not have much of a need to change your feeding schedule since the baby will do it for you. Just ensure your baby is getting as much supplemental nutrition as they need. If you have concerns about eating or your child’s weight make an appointment with their pediatrician.
Tips To Make Weaning Easier
Offer snacks and drinks in anticipation of your child being hungry or thirsty. Don’t let them get so hungry you cannot redirect them to a method other than nursing. Change your child’s routine. Instead of going to the playground first thing in the morning, wait a bit and go shortly before their next feeding. On the way home offer them a bottle instead of nursing. Changing the routine will provide for opportunities to alter your nursing schedule and eliminate feedings. If you are having second thoughts about weaning it is ok to seek outside opinions. Talk with your doctor, a lactation consultant or even a local volunteer breastfeeding counselor about your concerns. If you are uncomfortable weaning it is ok to take some time to consider the decision before moving forward. Just as you shouldn’t feel pressured to breastfeed don’t feel pressured to wean before you are ready.
Managing Emotional Stress
If you are going through an illness or other life-changing events that are causing you to stop breastfeeding, it is essential to take time to care for yourself. You will be going through not just one but two very emotional changes in your daily life. Make sure you ask for help and support from family and friends. If you are your baby’s primary caretaker consider, if you have the resources, hiring a mother’s helper or postpartum doula to help you in the home. Reduce commitments, both outside the home and within your home, to lessen stress. Rest often and spend quality time with your family to keep your spirits up. Keep all pertinent medical appointments. Be honest and open with your significant other and care providers if you begin to feel depressed or anxious.
Mothers’ support groups can be a great resource for you during these changes. The team at Luscious Letdown have started a Facebook group to support breastfeeding mamas. Join our community of moms today!
When Breastfeeding Ends Suddently. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://www.laleche.org.uk/breastfeeding-ends-suddenly/
Weaning: When & How To Stop Breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2020, from https://www.medela.com/breastfeeding/mums-journey/weaning
Porto, A., & Drake, R. (n.d.). Cow's Milk Alternatives: Parent FAQs. Retrieved March 2, 2020, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Milk-Allergy-Foods-and-Ingredients-to-Avoid.aspx