What is Weaning and When Should I Wean my Baby?

Weaning is a very personal and emotional topic for all breastfeeding moms.  My personal experience with weaning my two boys was not what I expected nor anticipated.  As my milk started to dwindle when my boys turned three months, I didn’t have the breastfeeding support or knowledge I needed to ramp up my supply.  At that time, I was not a lactation consultant.  Instead I was a full-time working mom, breastfeeding while with my son and pumping, 2 times a day, while at work. 

I was devastated that my milk supply was ‘failing’ me, but I did the best I could to eek it out as long as I could.  I made it to 7 months with my first son and to 8 months with my second son.  I had hoped to breastfeed until my boys were at least a year, but my body had another plan in mind.  I weaned as slowly as I could, for I didn’t want to let go of breastfeeding completely.  The emotional tie was too great for me to let go of.

 

So, what is weaning?  What does it really mean?

Some women feel that anytime the baby is sucking on something other than a breast, it is considered weaning (i.e., pacifier, bottle, complementary foods starting after 6 months).  However, in the United States, I would say that most women consider weaning to be when a mother begins to breastfeed less, with the end result being that she is no longer breastfeeding.

 

How do you know when to start weaning?  Is there a right time to wean?

This is a very personal decision – one which mom, partner, and baby need to figure out on their own.  I recommend to all of the pregnant mothers I work with to talk with their partners about what their goals are for breastfeeding, prenatally.  How long would they like to try to breastfeed for?  This is not something that should be influenced by family members, friends, in-laws, media, etc.  Everyone has an opinion about breastfeeding duration, but no one’s opinion is truly that important as the mother’s, partner’s, and the eventual baby.  Once this decision is made, this is now your minimum goal.  If you reach your goal and you and your baby want to continue, then keep going!  If you reach this goal and are ready to wean, then you can be incredibly proud of yourself that you met this wonderful goal of breastfeeding your baby. 

Sometimes, a woman’s body begins to produce less milk, as in my situation, before she and her baby are ready to wean.  This is definitely a time to seek out the help of a lactation consultant.  Knowing what I know now, there are quite a few ways that I may have been able to increase my supply, to help me meet that goal of breastfeeding my boys for a full year.  It is all about support and knowledge.

When a mother doesn’t feel pressure to wean her baby, her baby would most likely breastfeed for at least 2 years.  This is very biological.  Remember, breastfeeding is not only something that is done for the nutritional value, but also for comfort and illness protection. 

So, what is a good process for gentle weaning? 

What are some helpful techniques, which take into account the needs of you and your baby?

 

Follow up next week when we tackle these questions and more….