Step by Step Guide to Weaning from Breastfeeding: When and How to

If you’ve reached the point of weaning, you may be concerned that this process could get ugly. Weaning from breastfeeding is a stage of child development that can be challenging. But first of all, congratulations on breastfeeding your child however long you were able to! Breastfeeding is a huge, rewarding accomplishment and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life and your baby will benefit from for the rest of his.

This post identifies signs that your baby is ready to wean off breastfeeding, reasons your baby may not be ready to wean and a step by step guide on how to day wean and night wean from breastfeeding. At the end of this post you’ll also find a weaning schedule that might be helpful as well. Ultimately, you decide when and how to wean your child and successful weaning is solely dependent on your resolve of that decision.

Signs Your Baby is Ready to Wean from Breastfeeding

The World Health Organization recommends all babies be exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months and continue breastfeeding until they reach two years of age or older. The organization supports extended breastfeeding, stating that breastfeeding should continue as long as mom and baby are able to. This being said, your baby may be ready to wean if:

  • He is over a year old.
  • He has all of his teeth (apart from very back molars).
  • All nutritional requirements are met by whole food and he is able to chew almost any type of food.
  • He is considered healthy, not currently fighting an illness.
  • He has other means of comforting himself. A blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, something that can replace the act of breastfeeding.
  • You are mentally ready to accept the challenge and do what you can to minimize any stress during the process.

Your baby may not be ready to wean (or weaning will be quite difficult) if you answered NO for two or more of the above or:

  • There is a stressful life change happening. (Moving, death of family member, divorce or separation of parents, etc)
  • Your baby is under one year old.
  • For any other reason that your gut instinct tells you now isn’t the right time to wean.

Once things return to normalcy after any type of interruption, you can reassess whether or not your baby is ready to wean.

Step by Step Guide to Weaning from Breastfeeding

Once you decide to start the weaning process, begin cutting nursing sessions one by one. I found that it’s best to start with day sessions. When my child would ask to breastfeed, I would simply say “Yes, in five minutes.” This isn’t a “no” answer, so children tend to take this answer best when they aren’t getting what they want. Then, most often he or she will forget by the time five minutes is up.

Aside from putting nursing sessions off, cut back on how long you provide each session as well. I begin to breastfeed by saying, “Okay, you can have nene, (as my kids called it), for five minutes.” And then, I’d let them know when they had 3 minutes left, then 2, then 1. Then gently say, “Okay times up, let’s go play now.”

Your baby may fuss (or throw a complete tantrum) to see if they can extend the session, but stand firm and give hugs and kisses. Then, direct attention to something fun or a new game or special treat. This takes patience on your part as some kids can be really upset about no longer having complete control of breastfeeding. And after all, this is what they’ve known for comfort and security all of their life!

Think how you’d feel if one day your partner or close friend interrupted your primary means of relaxing and finding comfort (like watching TV or going for a walk) and told you not only would you lose an entire session of this each day, but you also had to stop doing it when they said! That would be tough to comply with! Your approach to weaning must be gentle and loving for this reason.

How to Wean Baby off Breastfeeding at Night

Sometimes, this part of the weaning process is the most challenging and there are a lot of things that factor into how your baby will respond to night weaning. In general, if your baby has reached his second birthday, he’s more likely to take night weaning better than say a baby who just turned one. Young toddlers are more aware of your love even when you’re not there, have well established feelings of security and can accept changes to life just a little easier than younger babies who feel vulnerable and depend on your closeness. That’s not to say some two year olds won’t pitch fits over night weaning!

To wean your baby from breastfeeding at night, approach it similarly to the way you would day weaning. Reduce the time you allow your child to breastfeed, letting them know they have a certain number of minutes and then it’s time to go to sleep. Be gentle with a soft, loving voice as you break this news and always praise their acceptance with loving pats, hugs and kisses.

Night weaning can be done in just a few nights, with three to seven nights being what most moms experience. Again, you’ll need to show understanding, patience and stand your ground, being certain of your decision. Make no mistake, most babies will plead for you to change your mind. Remain calm, knowing you’ve given yourself and your body to your child for as long as you could and now, this stage of childhood must end. If for any reason this feels wrong to you, stop what you’re doing and come back to the weaning process another time.

Here’s what a breastfeeding schedule might look like…

By using this method, cutting one session every week and ending with night weaning, you should be able to completely wean your baby from breastfeeding in one to two months. Every mom and every baby is different, so your weaning process may be quicker or take longer, depending on how you choose to wean. If you need to stop breastfeeding fast, you can implement the same schedule in a condensed version over the period of one week. This may be extra stressful for your baby so consider this as you go through the process.

What Happens After Weaning from Breastfeeding?

Your milk supply will gradually decrease as you wean and should dry up in the coming days or weeks after you stop breastfeeding entirely.

You may deal with engorgement all over again after weaning, especially if you stopped breastfeeding earlier than your baby’s second birthday. Do not pump! This will only tell your body to keep the milk coming and could lead to bigger problems like mastitis. Instead, try cabbage leaves in your bra to dry up your milk supply.

If you have decided to wean because you’re expecting another baby, your weaned child may have a new-found interest in breastfeeding again once your newborn starts to breastfeed. This is normal and some moms choose to allow the recently weaned child to try breastfeeding again. In most cases, the child changes their mind or it doesn’t last very long.

You deserve a lot of praise, Mama, for making it to this point. And now, you are ready to let go just a little.

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