This article is an excerpt from "The Nursing Mother's Problem Solver" by Claire Martin.
You thought it was tough to establish breastfeeding? Brace yourself for weaning! It's usually long, slow, and wearing physically and emotionally.
Gradual weaning is best for you and for your baby. Dropping only one feeding every week or so means that you'll be less susceptible to engorged breasts and possible inflammation. It's easier on the baby, too-less stressful and traumatic. Before you start, stock up on nursing pads-many women leak when they're weaning-and don't plan on wearing silk blouses or anything else that stains easily. Loose shirts and big button-front vests or cardigan sweaters are good camouflage when you're weaning.
Start by eliminating one feeding session, and then, after a week or so, dropping another one. If your baby is especially reluctant to wean, you may need to drop one feeding session in 48 hours (rather than one feed in 24 hours). It may take longer to wean, but it will be easier on both of you.
For the first cut, choose a feeding session that can be bypassed as painlessly as possible. Most babies want to hang onto the nursing sessions associated with bedtime-the day's first feeding, naptime feeding, and bedtime.
You can eliminate some feedings without completely weaning if you'd prefer not to go cold turkey just yet. You can usually keep one or two nursing sessions a day, even after cutting out the rest.
If you do want to totally wean, and your baby is under a year old, you'll need to find a brand of formula that your baby will take. If you have a friend whose baby uses formula, ask for a couple of tablespoons' worth, and see if your baby likes it. If you don't know any formula users, buy the smallest unit on the shelf-it's cheaper to buy formula in bulk, but it's a waste of powder and money if your baby doesn't like that brand.
When you begin dropping nursing sessions, replace that time with another kind of cuddling or special time. Instead of regarding weaning as something to deny your child, think of it as a time to expand your child's horizons by offering new tastes and foods and customs. Instead of hurrying the process, let it take its own pace, and the transition will be easier on you both.
There's more to breastfeeding than nutrition: It represents love, comfort, trust, attachment. Try keeping a stack of picture books near the rocker, so you can find a new use together for a favorite chair. It's a good idea to cuddle in a position that's different from the one you typically used for nursing-e.g., holding your child facing away from your chest as you read a picture book together, or balancing her on your feet or legs to play airplane.
Don't be surprised if your baby, unprompted, starts ignoring customary nursing sessions once you've begun weaning. Many babies and toddlers self-wean. Your little one may nurse twice one day, and once the next, and want to nurse twice again the day after that. She may give you her signal that she wants to nurse, but then squirm off your lap as you start to pull up your shirt.
You may notice that you're feeling discouraged, sad, or distracted during the weaning period. It's not unusual to be a little depressed. Your body is going through hormonal changes again. Weaning can be painful, physically and psychologically. After all, this is one sign that your baby is growing up and that you won't always be the center of his universe. Try collaborating on a memento of this time together by making palm prints or foot-prints-yours alongside his.
The flavor of your milk will change as you wean. It may taste salty or even a little sour.
It may take a while for your milk to dry up. It's not unusual to continue lactating for several months or more than a year after weaning.
About the Author
Claire Martin is a parenting writer at the Denver Post. Her writing has won national and regional awards, and has appeared in publications such as the St. Petersburg Times, Good Housekeeping, and Sunset magazine. She lives in Denver with her husband and two daughters, both of whom were breastfed.
From THE NURSING MOTHER'S PROBLEM SOLVER by Claire Martin. Copyright © 2000 by Claire Martin. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.