Three Parts:Transitioning the BabyDrying Up the MilkUnderstanding the ProcessQuestions and Answers
Eventually, all breastfeeding mothers and babies come to the end of their nursing relationship. Ideally, the process of weaning should be gradual to allow mother and baby a chance to become accustomed to the changes that take place while weaning. However, sometimes it is necessary to stop breastfeeding quickly due to a lifestyle change or medical condition or because the baby’s mother is not available, and in these situations there is no time to ease into the transition. Caregivers who find themselves in this position need not be discouraged. Although it may be more difficult to wean a baby abruptly, there are ways to get through this time with less discomfort.
Transitioning the Baby
Decide on the appropriate food for baby. Before weaning you must ensure that your baby will have an adequate diet without breast milk, which will vary depending on its age.
- A baby under the age of one will need to transition to formula for the majority of its calories. Babies under the age of one need about fifty calories per pound of body weight every day, and because they cannot digest cow’s milk, they will need to get this nutrition from a commercial infant formula available at any grocery store. While babies older than six months can begin experimenting with solid foods like infant purees, remember «food before one is mainly for fun.» Solid foods before the age of one generally do not provide many calories and are not enough to meet your baby’s nutritional demands.
- After the age of one, you can transition your baby directly to whole cow’s milk and solid food, provided they have become adept at eating solid foods and have a varied diet. A toddler between the ages of one and two needs about 1,000 calories a day spread between three small meals and two small snacks. About half of those calories should come from fat (primarily through dairy milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.) and the other half from proteins (meat, eggs, tofu), fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Stock up on transitional foods. Babies eat every few hours, so your baby will need something immediately available to replace your breast milk.
- If you must stop breastfeeding immediately, having a variety of options available for your baby might help ease the transition.
- If your child is under one and has not had formula, consider purchasing several varieties of formula (and baby food, if he is over age 6 months). Ask your pediatrician for recommendations, but remember that formula acceptance can be trial and error for babies who have not had it before. Each type has a slightly different taste, and some can be gentler on your baby’s stomach than others or have a more or less pleasant flavor, so your baby may tolerate one better than another.
- If your baby is one or older, purchase whole cow’s milk. If you have reason to think your child may have a sensitivity or allergy to cow’s milk, you will need a milk substitute that provides enough fat, protein, and calcium for a toddler’s developmental needs. Consult your pediatrician, and discuss whether you might try goat’s milk or full fat soy milk with added calcium, both of which are available at most grocery stores.
Recruit support. A child may resist weaning and may be hesitant to accept a bottle or sippy cup from their mother, because they associate her with nursing. It helps to have other trusted adults to offer bottles or food during this transitional period.
- Ask the baby’s father or another trusted adult that the baby knows well to offer bottles or sippy cups. Many babies refuse a bottle from their mother, but will accept it from someone else since they do not associate this other person with nursing.
- If a child is accustomed to eating during the night, ask the baby’s father or other adult to take care of night time feedings for a few nights.
- Having a friend, parent, or grandparent stay with you can be helpful during this time period. Your baby may become frustrated by your presence, and there may be times when you might find it helpful to leave the room or even run an errand to give the baby a break.
Ensure that the baby is getting enough nutrition. Young babies or those who have not yet learned to drink from a bottle or sippy cup are especially vulnerable to malnutrition during the transition period.
- Watch the level on the side of the bottle or sippy cup to ensure that the baby is taking in adequate amounts during each feeding.
- If the baby cannot suck or figure out how to latch onto a bottle or sippy, you will need to try a medicine dropper or cup feeding. Cup feeding can be hard with very small infants, but it is possible with patience.
Use age-appropriate language to explain the transition. Very young babies will not understand weaning, but older babies and toddlers tend to understand words before they can speak and may be able to comprehend simple explanations of weaning.
- When the baby reaches for the breast, say «Mommy doesn’t have any milk. Let’s go get some milk,» and then proceed to take the baby immediately for a bottle or sippy cup.
- Be persistent in your explanations. If you say you don’t have milk, don’t give in and offer to suckle the baby. This will confuse the baby and prolong the process.
- Older toddlers can benefit from redirection when they ask to nurse. «Mommy doesn’t have any milk anymore. But Daddy has some milk. Go ask Daddy for milk,» can be a good distraction for a mobile toddler, who can then go find Daddy and ask for a sippy cup of milk. Toddlers who typically nurse for comfort rather than because they are hungry might need a different type of distraction. Try taking him outside or finding a toy he hasn’t played with in a while to distract him.
Be patient with the baby. Weaning is often an emotionally and physically challenging time for infants and toddlers, and they may not behave like themselves for several days.
- Remember that breastfeeding provided more than just nutrition to a baby: it also provided one-on-one cuddling time several times every day. Be sure that the baby receives extra cuddling and attention during the transition, which is crucial to a young child’s emotional and social development and feelings of safety and belonging. This will help him or her feel secure and know that the lack of breastfeeding does not mean a lack of affection or security.
- Interruptions in sleep are common, especially if the baby is used to nursing before naps or bedtime. Be persistent but patient.
- If your baby is clingy and you find your patience is growing thin, take a break. Ask a trusted friend to stay with your baby and take a shower or go out for a coffee. If you feel very overwhelmed, place the baby in a safe place like a crib and close the door. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply and calm down. It’s always ok to step away and take time for yourself.