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Weaning—how to

Every baby is unique and there are no universal solutions that are perfect for everyone. In this section we will present tips and advice given during numerous sessions at breastfeeding clinics and that have helped many mothers to wean their babies.

Plan ahead to cut back/stop breastfeeding and choose a time that works for your family. If there are two of you, prepare for many sleepless nights. Discuss the process and any needs that surface—such as the need to sleep/rest during the day. If you are alone with your baby, ask for help and support from someone close. Maybe someone can babysit for a couple of hours midday so that you can sleep. Remember that many people are genuinely pleased to be able to help.

If breastfeeding was not an issue, we recommend that you start introducing other food to your baby around six months while continuing to breastfeed. When baby eats more than just breast milk, start reducing your breastfeeding sessions. It is best for both baby and mother to cut back gradually and slowly, but that’s not always an option. Sometimes breastfeeding needs to stop quickly. Below are some tips and advice for both options.

Cut back slowly

Either space out the feeding sessions or shorten your feeding sessions, but the principle is that the less baby nurses, the less milk is produced. It is common to give regular food during the day and to continue to breastfeed morning and night for a period.

Here are a few tips to make things easier: - Give baby lots of attention. Baby needs a lot of closeness and even more during this period. It’s vital that baby continues to feel secure. Give your baby extra attention during the day. For example, carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling so that he or she can be close to you often. Wear a sports bra or wrap your breasts tightly, both to alleviate swollen breasts but also to make them less accessible to your baby.

  • Talk with your baby (even if he or she is too little to understand). Not only are you conversing with your baby, but you are also talking to and convincing yourself. Some babies can get very agitated when they are not allowed access to the breast. Say that the breast wants to sleep at night. Try giving the baby a cuddle toy or blanket.

  • Prepare for the nights. Give baby a generous meal before bed so that you know that baby is not hungry if/when he or she wakes and is upset at night. Cuddle with baby instead of nursing so baby gets the closeness but not the breast. You can also try giving baby some water from a sippy cup or bottle.

  • Wrap firm, swollen breasts. When you breastfeed more seldom, your milk production decreases and some children tire of the breast. It can take between three to five days, sometimes up to two weeks, for your milk supply to cease and until then, your breasts may be firm and sensitive. You may need to hand express to relieve the pressure. You can do this in a warm shower or holding your breasts over a sink or dipping them in warm water. Express only as much as needed to relieve your discomfort. Otherwise, you just stimulate production of more milk. Wrapping your breasts firmly with a shawl, wearing a tight sports bra or a heating pad can also provide relief. Ipren (ibuprofen) is an anti-inflammatory medicine that you can take if you tolerate it. Otherwise, take Alvedon (paracetamol) and follow the instructions on the package. Consult your midwife or healthcare provider.

  • Wait until you’re certain. It is easier if you yourself are certain that the time has come to stop breastfeeding. You can more easily stand your ground, stick to your plan and be consistent with your baby (who will otherwise get confused).

  • Let the father/co-parent take care of feeding. In some families, it’s easier when the parent/partner who does not breastfeed takes care of feeding at night during this period.

Sudden weaning

There are occasions when a mother must suddenly stop breastfeeding and is unable to cut back. For example, the mother may get seriously ill or need to take medication that passes into the breast milk and is harmful for baby. There are numerous reasons why breastfeeding needs to stop suddenly. In these instances, get help and support from your healthcare provider or breastfeeding clinic since milk supply is still high and there is a risk of clogged ducts or engorgement. Occasionally, it may be necessary to take prescription medication to stop milk production.

During the period from when you stop breastfeeding until your milk production declines, you can do a few things to alleviate the situation:

  • Eat and drink as usual.
  • Wrap breasts that are swollen or wear a tight sports bra, but avoid underwire bras. These press on the milk ducts and cause engorgement.
  • If you are in pain, take pain medication. Ipren (ibuprofen) is an anti-inflammatory medicine that you can take, otherwise Alvedon (paracetamol). Follow the instructions on the package. Consult your midwife or healthcare provider.
  • Alleviate very swollen breasts with a warm shower and stroke your breasts with your fingers, moving toward the nipple so you lead the milk in a natural direction. Do this also if you have lumps in your breasts. This helps to break down the lumps.
  • Avoid hand expressing if possible since this stimulates the production of more milk.
  • Get support and help from those around you and/or your healthcare provider or breastfeeding clinic during this period.