Gentle Weaning: What is the Process?

In this second article in our Weaning series, we will start the conversation about how to gently wean your baby and why pacing is so important in this process.  If you are wondering when you will know when to begin weaning your child, check out our last article, What is Weaning and When Should I Wean my Baby?

 

At what pace should you wean your child?

Very slowly.  The weaning process can take several months, as you want to make sure that both you and your child are adapting well to this new pattern of breastfeeding.  Drop one feeding at a time (for example, from 6 times a day to 5 times a day) and try this out for a week or two. This will give your breasts time to acclimate and hopefully not become too engorged.  This will also allow your child to get used to doing something else, or get his/her nutrition from another source at this time.

This process will most likely take a month to several months; depending on how many times your child is breastfeeding in a 24 hour period.  Remember, weaning can affect you and your child physically and emotionally, so it is best to take your time and wean very slowly.

 

What are the risks for abruptly weaning?

It is very rare that a mother would have to abruptly wean her child from breastfeeding.  The risks associated with abrupt weaning for the mother could be:

  • Breast pain
  • Engorgement
  • Mastitis
  • Breast abscess

There are also risks associated with abrupt weaning for the child.  Remember, breastfeeding is not only a source of nutrition for your child, but also a sense of comfort and bonding.  To suddenly remove this could be very confusing and scary for your child, especially if he/she is still developing his/her sense of attachment and trust.  As with all methods of parenting, it is most respectful and effective to initiate change at a slow pace.

 

What physical and emotional changes should a mother expect when weaning?

All rights reserved, Susanne Klein photographeAs you begin to drop a breastfeeding session during the weaning process, you may feel fullness in your breasts, which can become uncomfortable.  Here are a few tricks to relieve that fullness:

  • Pump or hand express, just to relieve the fullness.  Don’t pump to drain or you just defeated the whole purpose of skipping that breastfeeding session.
  • Take a hot shower, which will help you leak a little and may reduce the pressure in your breast.
  • Cabbage leaf compresses – good old green cabbage wrapped around your breasts can help to reduce fullness.
  • Sage tea – drink sparingly while gently weaning, as it can really tank a milk supply when consumed in large quantities.

 

Emotionally, your body is going to go through some hormonal changes as you begin to wean.  During the weaning process, prolactin levels begin to drop.  Prolactin not only helps to stimulate your milk supply, but it also provides a sense of relaxation and calmness.  Some mothers may even feel depression after weaning. 

 

I remember feeling a sense of loss, that I had a difficult time describing, as I was weaning my son.  It was somewhat temporary, but it definitely was there.  I just felt sad that this aspect of mothering and comforting my child was coming to an end.  Something that helped me adapt to this change was creating a different bedtime routine for the two of us.  Instead of nursing my son to sleep, we now read a story together in his rocking chair.  Then, I turned off the light and sang him a song as I rocked him into a state of sleepiness.  My son is now five years old.  At bedtime, we still read a story in his bed and then listen to a song on his IPod as I lie down next to him and snuggle.  It is my favorite time of the day!

 

Now it’s your turn to share how you paced your weaning process with your child. 

How long did it take you to wean? 

What physical and/or emotional changes did you encounter?

 

Follow up next week when we discuss techniques and resources for gentle weaning.