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Breastfeeding: Weaning

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What is weaning?

Weaning is the process of gradually replacing breastfeeding with other sources of nutrition. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, longer if desired by mother and baby.

A mother can choose to set her own pace for weaning, or she can follow her baby's lead. At times, weaning may become necessary. Some reasons may be expected; other reasons may be sudden or unexpected. As long you continue to nurse your baby, or pump your milk, you will produce nutritious milk that contains valuable immune properties. Any amount of time that the baby receives breast milk is a benefit to the infant.

How do I wean my baby from breastfeeding?

Weaning is best done gradually, to allow your breasts to adjust to the decreasing demand for milk and to make changes easier for both of you. If you stop breastfeeding or breast pumping "cold turkey," that can be very distressing for both mother and baby and can lead to plugged ducts or a breast infection.

To wean, follow these steps:

  1. Choose one daily breastfeeding session to begin weaning: for example, your baby's late-morning feeding. Pick a time that seems less important to your baby, so your baby will accept the change more easily.
  2. Instead of breastfeeding at that time, offer a bottle or cup instead. Do this every day, keeping the rest of your breastfeeding schedule intact.
  3. Then, after at least 2 or 3 days, do the same with another feeding time, replacing the breastfeeding with a bottle or cup.
  4. One by one, replace each breastfeeding session with a bottle or cup, always letting your baby, and you, get used to each change for a few days before making another.
  5. If your breasts feel full from skipping feedings, express a small amount of milk, just enough to relieve the pressure and discomfort. Within a few days your breasts will produce less milk and this will not be needed.
  6. Watch for the signs listed below that mean weaning may be going too quickly:

Baby's signs:

  • vomiting or diarrhea (from changing the diet too quickly)
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Mother's signs:

  • breasts feel overly full
  • swollen breasts
  • fever
  • feeling ill
  • pain or tenderness in breasts
  • warmth in breasts
  • sadness from hormone changes

How do I stop pumping?

The same principles of gradual weaning apply. For example, if you have been pumping 6 times in 24 hours, drop to 5 times in 24 hours for a day or two. Then drop to 4 times in 24 hours. Continue this process of weaning from pumping until you are no longer pumping.

How can I reduce discomfort?

You will feel uncomfortable for a few days due to the pressure of the breast milk. If your breasts feel full and tender at times, express just enough milk, by hand or with a breast pump, as needed for comfort. This will decrease the chance of plugged milk ducts or engorgement.

Wear a comfortable but supportive bra that does not restrict your circulation. Do not bind your breasts. This practice is outdated, can be very uncomfortable, and can lead to plugged milk ducts or a breast infection.

Tips for unexpected or rapid weaning:

Ice can help reduce swelling and make you more comfortable as your milk supply is decreasing. Apply ice to your breasts for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, at least 4 times each day, or as needed for comfort. Put a cloth between the ice and your skin, and avoid putting ice on your nipples.

Wash cold, raw, green cabbage leaves and crush the leaf veins to soften the leaf. Place "compresses" of these leaves inside your bra cups. Replace cabbage leaves about every 2 hours, or as they wilt, until your milk supply decreases. Often women feel relief in as little as 2 hours.

Use a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Medicine to stop milk production is no longer recommended, as it can have serious side effects.

When should I call the doctor?

Call if you have signs of breast infection:

  • fever, aching, or feeling ill
  • pain, tenderness, or warmth in breasts

What else do I need to know?

Babies who are around one year of age and eating a variety of foods may be able to wean directly to a cup; younger babies generally require bottles. Ask your doctor what kind of nourishment your baby should get in place of your milk.

Usually the last feedings to stop are the morning, naptime, and bedtime feedings. Take your time, especially if you enjoy a bedtime snuggle as much as your baby does. Be prepared to slow the pace if your baby becomes fussy or clingy, ill, or seems to be teething.

It is important to be realistic about your expectations for weaning. Babies who are allowed to wean at their own pace usually continue to nurse past their first birthday. As they learn to eat other foods and to drink from a cup, breastfeeding becomes more important for comfort than for nourishment. These children wean gradually when they are ready.

For mothers, weaning sometimes brings feelings of sadness, especially if you need to wean your baby abruptly. Even mothers who feel ready for weaning may feel a sense of loss. Support and encouragement are important during this time. Extra physical contact and affection with your baby helps to compensate for the loss of the closeness of nursing.

Questions?

This sheet is not specific to you and your child, but provides general information. If you have questions, please contact a breastfeeding consultant or your doctor.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Patient/Family Education
2525 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Last reviewed 8/2015 ©Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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