As with most things breastfeeding, much of the how, when, what and why comes down to your personal situation - however, there are certainly some basics that hold true for the masses! When it comes to weaning, there is no ideal time – some Mums will wean not long after starting out, while others will breastfeed until their children self-wean – and that can vary widely in ages again, with some children feeding well over four, and other turning away before they even hit 12 months.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies to 6 months of age, and thereafter for breastfeeding to continue alongside suitable complementary foods for up to two years and beyond - for as long as the mother and child desire.
The right time to wean
The best time to wean is the time that you and your child are ready to do so. You shouldn’t wean your baby because people tell you it’s time, or because you are having issues that you’d like to resolve but need some support - if this is the case, you can talk to your GP, or child health nurse to seek support and decide if the time is really right for you or not. There are even handy how-to videos and online support if you can’t get in to see someone!
How to wean your baby or toddler
Depending on when you wean and why, there are things you can do to make it easier on you both. If your child self-weans (this can happen at any age, for example, some toddlers decide they no longer wish to breastfeed when you fall pregnant again as it changes the taste), this is a relatively straight forward process for them – though it can be rough on you if you love doing it!
If you’ve decided you’re ready to wean, the longer you can take, the easier it will be on you both. If your child is a toddler, you can start by talking to them about it – let them know you’ll be cutting back on the breastfeeds, and you can couch this as a positive by saying they’ll now get to use a ‘big boy’ cup, for example.
Start by dropping back the number of feeds one by one, starting with the feed they are least interested in – or most easily distracted from. When it’s time to drop one they’ll notice, changing your routine can help – if they are used to crawling into to bed in the morning for a feed, set your alarm so you’re already up, with a yummy breakfast ready to distract them. Changing your clothes so they no longer allow easy access to your breasts can also help, and take care to change away from them – out of sight, out of mind! Along these lines, when dropping the night feed, you may like to have your partner settle them until they are used to the change.
You may make more milk than you need as you drop each feed, so express enough milk to keep you comfortable – though not too much, or you’ll keep producing it in response to your body’s perceived need for it. When you do drop a feed be sure to check your breasts for lumps or painful spots that may indicate a blocked duct. If these are not taken care of, it can quickly turn into mastitis.
As well as nutrition, breastfeeding is a source of comfort for many children, so take care to give lots of cuddles and love during this time – don’t be surprised if you see some tantrums and resistance as you go along, but keep up the cuddles, and replace your former feed times with a new comforting pastime (stories and a cuddle are a good choice), and you’ll all come out happily on the other side!
Need more help and advice? Blackmores has a breastfeeding consultant who can help. Ask here