DISCLAIMER: If you believe in and are committed to child-led weaning, this post is not for you. You don’t need it. 🙂 For those who are hearing this term for the first time, child-led weaning means the child initiates the weaning process. He chooses when he will stop. But if you are ready to wean your baby or toddler (mother-led weaning), here are some things to bear in mind to make it easier on everyone.
When I was a new mother, I thought weaning just meant moving my baby from breast milk to formula or fresh milk. But when I spoke with a dietician, she used the same term to mean moving my baby from milk to eating solids.
Ahhh! Same word, different meaning!
In this post, I am addressing weaning as in stopping breastfeeding to move on to eating solids.
Weaning – a non-event or a traumatic one?
Weaning can totally be a non-event or a traumatic one. It is affected by how it is done and the attitude of the mom, which of course affects the behaviour of the baby/toddler.
My nursing story
Once I heard that breastfeeding reduces the rate of childhood eczema, I was determined to breastfeed all the way! I had suffered from eczema in my teen years, and Henson’s sister also had eczema in her teen years. So, double whammy. I was determined to do all I could to prevent it. Breastfeeding is also said to be linked to better eyesight among children in Singapore.
Let me just say that those are just statistics. 🙂 Not all have been spared the affliction of allergy and all 7 are myopic. So…
In my circle of friends and relatives, I knew no one who breastfed their child beyond the first few months. I, myself, was nursed less than 2 months and not exclusively. But I was determined to nurse my baby for at least one year. Without any supplementation of formula. And by the grace of God, I did, 7 times!
All 7 nursed exclusively for the first 6 to 8 months, i.e. no supplementation of any other milk and food. Just breastmilk.
They would then go on to take some solids when they showed interest but the main bulk of their nutrition was from breastmilk. None had any formula and all weaned completely off the breast after one year of age, except our seventh who weaned 2 months shy of turning 3. She is privileged indeed.
Ready to wean – but how?
I advocate slow weaning. After weaning 7 babies, I have learnt that all babies wean differently but there is a common thread running through them. Slow IS better.
I do not believe in the cold turkey method. It is traumatic for both baby and mother. (And please, no rubbing chilli or anything spicy or bitter on the breasts, ok?) By the way, child-led weaning can also be traumatic when the baby decides to wean himself cold turkey. Mother can be blindsided and be in shock.
Here are 10 things that I have learnt. I pray they can help you as you wean your baby.
#1 Be committed
Please do not wean half-heartedly. It will be painful (literally and figuratively) all around. If you have decided to wean, then do it. If you are unsure, don’t do it.
And, don’t wean because “people” around you are pressuring you to either.
Personally, I do not believe in weaning before the child is one. And preferably after 2 years old. There are LOTS of benefits to extended breastfeeding.
See 7 Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Past Infancy : Fact Sheet.
It is not abnormal to do extended breastfeeding. In many non-Western cultures and societies, extended breastfeeding is the norm rather than the exception. Even the UN recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 6 months and up to 2 years old age.
#2 Plan ahead
Give yourself a date to officially end your nursing relationship and then work backwards to see when you ought to start and how slow you can go.
Sure, there may be times when you need to wean cold turkey – an emergency medical situation perhaps, or some other crisis that requires mom to be away from the nursling for an extended period of time.
But I am assuming that it safe to say that most of us would be able to plan ahead when we want to wean our child.
If one is returning to work, you have start date. If one would like to stop breastfeeding to have another child (not necessary) then you would also have a start date in mind to start trying to conceive.
Now that you have purposed in your heart that it is time to wean your baby, pray. Pray before you start, that baby will adjust quickly and easily. Pray as you are in the midst of it and pray with thanksgiving when it is done.
#4 Eliminate day feedings first
Regardless of whether the baby nurses all day long or has fixed feedings, eliminate the day feeds first. And give the baby (and your body!) 3 to 5 days to adjust.
Let me give you a sample schedule to better illustrate what I am saying. (Use it to plan out your schedule). I will assume that the baby takes a morning, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, evening and before bed feed daily.
- Monday – drop the early morning feed.
- Friday – drop the early morning, and the early afternoon feed.
- Tuesday – drop the early morning, the early afternoon, and lunch feed.
- Saturday – drop the early morning, the early afternoon, lunch, and evening feed
- Wednesday – drop the early morning, the early afternoon, lunch, evening and morning feed
- Sunday – drop the early morning, the early afternoon, lunch, evening, morning and before bed feed
Done this way, both the baby and your body will adjust better. You will no suffer the dreaded engorgement and baby would have enough time to get used to not nursing. He may still ask for it occasionally, do NOT nurse unless you want to start the process all over again. Just smile when he asks and calmly redirect him to something else.
#5 The last feed
The before-bed feeds are often the last to go because baby has the strongest attachment to them.
I would always “warn” the child that the last time he/she nurses will be on a certain day. This way, it wouldn’t be a shock to him when he asks for and does not get any nursing session from me.
For example, I would say, “Remember, Sunday is the last day for milk-milk.” And then the night before, “Remember, no more milk-milk after tonight.”
I did this with all my children except my third child. He decided on his own that he was done 2 days after he tuned one! I think I really had no more milk by then as I was already 6 months pregnant with his sister.
I only had one who fussed a bit when told that there was no milk-milk when she asked for it at bedtime. But it was more like a cry of protest than an all-out traumatic cry. And it was only for that one night.
#6 Up their calories from elsewhere
Remember that if they have been nursing a lot from you, you will need to up their calorie intake from either food or alternative sources of milk. They WILL need to replace their calories from breastmilk with something else.
#7 What to replace feeds with?
So what will you replace his milk feeds with? Formula? Fresh milk? Juice? A snack?
NOTE: Milk is NOT necessary after one year of age. And if given, should be a supplement not a main food. And remember, do NOT give fresh milk to a child younger than one. They are not able to digest it properly. Do NOT offer undiluted juice either.
Give as wide a variety of food options as possible to reduce pickiness. I have offered a small snack and/or diluted juice with my first few children. Once I realised that fruit juice, diluted or not, is in essence just sugar water (!) I stopped offering juice and only offered water and a small snack. And then I distract them with offering to read a book, play a game or as a last resort, go to the playground. 🙂
I do not like exchanging one unnecessary habit with another. So be warned that if you do decide to offer milk/juice or a snack, you will have to wean them off that in time to come
#8 For the baby who nurses to sleep
If your baby depends on the breast to sleep, be prepared that it would be more difficult comparatively for him than for a child who is not dependent on nursing to sleep. But take heart, it still can be done. Expect that he would probably will be unhappy in the beginning but children are highly adaptable creatures.
#9 Talk to your child.
They do understand. Whether they accept it graciously or not is another question 😉 But keep at it.
#10 Relieved yet sad
If done slowly weaning really should be a non-event. But even then, be prepared for mixed feelings of relief and sadness.
Even if you are the one who wanted to stop.
The nursing relationship is a beautiful one, although it can also be a demanding and tiring one. Kinda like mothering, eh?
To get your body back to yourself feels liberating but it also means that your child is detaching from you and growing up. That is always a bittersweet feeling. It is the end of one season of mothering and the start of another.
But, as Kelly Mom writes,
The word “wean” means a passage from one relationship to another – not a loss or detachment from a relationship.
There is no loss. There is a movement towards something else. Some mothers feel very sad about ending the nursing relationship and actively prolong it. I do not agree with that. Look at weaning as a passage from one relationship to another, instead. It puts things in a very positive mindset indeed.
For more reading, check out:
For more on my Breastfeeding Journey:
My Breastfeeding Journey
Dealing with Thrush