Breastfeeding is all-round wonderful, in other words. But eventually, you will feel you can no longer keep it up, or your child has decided to quit. How do you go about weaning? How do you make it easiest for you and your child?
Mother-led weaning: how to get your baby through it
The World Health Organization advises mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of a baby's life, and then to continue for two years alongside solid foods. A rare mom/baby pair makes it to two years. It is important to reevaluate the benefits of breastfeeding vs the reasons you want to wean before making your final decision. Yet, there's definitely simply a time when it has been enough. I had two kids, and breastfed them for around two years each. Toward the end, it was very clear that the breastfeeding stage was simply over and done with, and that it was time to move on. Here, we're discussing weaning for babies/toddlers who are already at least a year old, and who will not need to have their breast milk replaced with formula. We used the don't offer, don't refuse approach to wean. Toddlers who are really ready to wean will not ask very often, and will often gradually or quickly stop nursing altogether. With this approach, your milk supply will slowly dwindle and one day, you'll realize that your child has not nursed for a day, or a few days, or a week. Breastfeeding has come to an end.
Other moms make a more radical change. One woman I know discussed how her child (a two-year old) was simply too big to breastfeed now and would not need it any more. Then, they had a little "big girl" party to celebrate that the baby had now grown up. She never asked to nurse again. Yet another woman decided to go on holiday for a weekend and leave her one-year old with her mother. This was supposed to help him forget the breast. No matter what method you choose to wean your baby or toddler, remember that having lots of physical contact will help you keep your bond and will prevent your child from feeling lonely or abandoned.
Initiate weaning at a time when your child is healthy. Think about ways in which you can replace nursing with some other special routine. For instance, if your child used to nurse to sleep, you may like to sit with her and read a book instead. If your child seems to be overly clingy or distressed, don't be afraid to decide that it wasn't time to wean at all yet, and try again at a later date. (If, that is, you still feel comfortable with breastfeeding).
When your baby quits breastfeeding
If your baby decided to quit breastfeeding, so weaning isn't initiated by you, you may have an easier time. You will still need to make sure you get lots of hugs and kisses in to remedy the emptiness that can be left behind by quitting nursing. But you won't have to worry whether your kid is really ready to quit, and that is a huge bonus. Breast engorgement or heaviness are probably the largest issues you are going to be facing. This is more of a problem in situations where weaning from breastfeeding happens suddenly, as opposed to gradually.
Remember that breast milk works with a supply/demand system. You won't benefit if you don't relieve the fullness at all, and could develop blocked ducts, abscesses and other unpleasant things. But if you go the other way and express lots of milk every time you feel engorged, your milk supply is not going to decrease. The happy balance you can strike is to gently massage your breasts and express only a little just enough to make that horrible feeling go away.
Some women take over the counter pain killers to manage any pain that comes along with engorgement. Others start on combined oral contraceptives to help reduce their milk supply. Yet others opt to take herbs. In most cases, none of these steps will be necessary. You will notice that all your milk is gone after a while. Good luck with the weaning process! Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section below. Not quite ready to wean yet? You may like to read: How to get pregnant while breastfeeding.