The Day has Come for Weaning…Now What?

Written by Kristen Howorko, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Congratulations! Amazing work!  So proud of all that you have endured during your breastfeeding journey.  Now, you are ready to begin a new chapter in you and your baby’s life. Whether you breastfed for 1 month or 1 year (or more!) there is a process for weaning your baby from breastfeeding or from the breast pump. While discussing the different processes for weaning your baby I will refer to feeding directly from breast as breastfeeding, and using the breast pump as pumping, however, it is all breastfeeding! 

Not all babies are the same, so here are 3 things to keep in mind during this process:

  1. Listen to your body at all times
  2. Slowly wean to avoid infection
  3. Watch your baby, and adjust accordingly 

Weaning from breastfeeding for 7months or younger:

Decide if you want to wean daytime feedings first or nighttime breastfeedings first.  Keep in mind you will not be getting more sleep, because your baby will still need to eat from the bottle.  Replace one breastfeeding with a bottle feeding.  Best practice would be to drop one breastfeeding a week and let your body adjust naturally and slowly.  However, if you need to wean quicker, you can make changes every 3-5 days if your body can handle it.  Once your body has adjusted, replace a 2nd breastfeeding with a bottle feeding, it’s best to not drop back to back breastfeedings in order to let your body adjust to the changes.  Wait another week and continue on with this process.

Weaning from breastfeeding 8-12 months:

By this time you have most likely introduced complementary foods and your body has naturally already started to slow down the milk production process.  One of the most common ways to wean an infant this age is called Don’t offer – Don’t refuse. This method is exactly as it sounds.  If your baby asks to breastfeed, you breastfeed.  If your baby is content, then no breastfeeding.  This is a child-lead weaning process that allows your baby to be the boss.  During this time, it can be helpful to find new ways to bond with your child such as snuggling or reading books.  You may need to change up the normal routine to keep your baby’s mind off of nursing.

Weaning from breast pumping:

There are three ways to wean from the breast pump. Before deciding which option is best for you, take a look at your pumping schedule or pumping routine and evaluate which option fits your lifestyle best. You can use the same method listed above and drop one pump per week, until you are no longer pumping.  When using this method it is best to spread your pumps out over equal time periods. For example:  if you are currently pumping every 3 hours (8 pumps/day) , change your routine to pump every 3.5 hours (7 pumps a day)  After a week, change your pumping schedule to every 4 hours (6 pumps a day)…. and so on.  You get the idea. 

Another way to wean from the pump is to lower the number of minutes you are pumping.  If you currently pump 5 times a day for 15 minutes, then continue pumping 5 times a day but for only 12 min.  After a week, you can pump 5 times a day, for 9 min…and so on until you are only pumping a few minutes each day.  The third option is to use a combination of both of these methods.  Use the information above to create a unique plan for you!

When to worry: 

Breast infections are no fun!  It’s best to intervene as early as possible.  Typically the infection will start with engorgement which can feel like very swollen breasts.  This can lead to plugged ducts, which is a clog in your milk ducts.  To clear the plugs, you can use the following methods:  dangle breastfeeding, warm/moist heat, or vibration. If these plugs aren’t removed quickly, it can lead to mastitis.  If your breasts are red, hot, and you feel feverish, it is important to call your doctor. 

The weaning process can be an emotional roller coaster for you or your baby.  There may be times when you feel a sense of freedom, and other moments that you may feel sad.  This is normal.  Some parents commemorate their breastfeeding journey by creating breastmilk jewelry.  Be proud of your journey.  You did it! 

Kristen Howorko is a BSN, RN, IBCLC and Owner of Milk’d Up in Denver, CO.