What you need to know about weaning
By Sara Keli
No matter how long you breastfeed for, weaning off it – that is, stopping breastfeeding and replacing it with other sources of nutrition – can be an emotional time for both mother and baby. But with the right approach for you and your baby, the process can be smooth and stress-free.
What is self-weaning?
Self-weaning is baby-led, when a baby stops breastfeeding despite the breast still being offered. This can happen at any age. Some babies will wean very early, while others may not wean until they’re toddlers or even older. The good news is that if left to breastfeed long enough, a child will eventually self-wean – so you won’t be breastfeeding an 18-year-old adult if you opt for the self-weaning approach!
Self-weaning can be a much gentler approach for your baby as they are in control of when they stop feeding. It will also be different for every child; your first baby may wean themselves at six months, while your second may be happy to feed until they are three years old.
If your baby does self-wean this can come as quite a shock to you, particularly if you were planning on breastfeeding your baby for a longer period of time.
You might have a lot of emotions about your breastfeeding journey coming to an end, or if it wasn’t something you enjoyed you might feel relieved. Both responses are completely normal and acceptable!
If you suffer from engorged breasts when baby self-weans, you should hand express a little of the milk – in the shower is a good idea – until you feel comfortable. If you empty the breast using a breast pump you will continue to feel engorged, as you are giving your body the signal to produce more milk.
It might take a few days for your breasts to stop producing as much milk, but they will eventually dry up.
Choosing to wean
Mothers choose to stop breastfeeding for any number of reasons, including:
- going back to work and not wanting to express milk
- health reasons that prevent them from continuing to breastfeed
- pregnancy and not wanting to feed two babies (note that it is perfectly safe to continue breastfeeding while you are pregnant if that’s what you want to do!)
- low milk supply
- you’ve simply had enough.
Whatever your reason, if you choose to wean, careful planning and preparation will set you up for success.
Start by mapping out a timeline for when you will have baby weaned. Deciding to wean one day and stopping breastfeeding the next doesn’t usually get you the best results.
You will usually start the process of weaning by gradually dropping feeds over a couple of weeks. Depending on the age of your baby, in place of those feeds you could offer formula or expressed breast milk for babies under 12 months old, and cow’s milk for babies older than 12 months.
Go easy and take it slowly. It’s a big change for your body and your baby, and if you can ease into it the process will be far less stressful.
Which is the right choice right for you?
The answer to that question is really one only you – and your baby – can decide. If your baby chooses to self-wean … well, you don’t really have much say in the matter! Weaning breastfeeding is such a personal decision and you need to weigh up the many factors that will help you to make your decision. Talk about it with your partner or friends who have been through it – and listen to your own intuition.