Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Weaning… the emotions about it are usually complicated and many Mamas are in the dark about how to do it while minimizing problems and tears for both herself and her babe.
But have no fear, this can be done! ***The following basics can be applied to BOTH weaning from the breast and/or the pump (unless otherwise specified).***
First, let’s define a few terms:
Mama led Weaning - it is Mama’s decision to end the breastfeeding/pumping journey on her terms/timeline.
Baby led Weaning - a very slow, gradual process of weaning from the breast that begins with the introduction of solids (typically around 6 months of age) and follows the child’s cues. This process can take months to years.
Night Weaning - A Mama led process to eliminate all middle of the night feedings.
Abrupt Weaning - Just like it sounds. An abrupt and complete cessation of all nursing and/or pumping. However, if your babe is under 12 months old and seems to have abruptly weaned, what you may be experiencing is a "Nursing Strike". You can read more about this here: https://www.moblactation.com/post/nursing-strikes
Gentle Weaning - A gradual process that takes both the emotional and physical tolls of weaning into account for both mother & child.
Night Weaning - Want to continue breastfeeding but ready to cut out middle of the night feeds? Then night weaning could be a great option for you!
First of all, you need to make sure that your baby is physically and developmentally ready for this. The best ways to determine this are speaking with your pediatrician (we want to make sure they are on board with this, don't have any concerns about baby's weight gain, development, etc...) and working with an IBCLC. Most babies are not ready for this until the are AT LEAST 6 months old, but many won't be ready until later.
" You get to define what will be "successful" night weaning for you and your babe!
Remember, you get to define the terms for this! Maybe you only want to night wean from midnight to 6am, maybe you are totally fine with baby being pacifier dependent at nighttime, or maybe you don't really want to night wean but feel pressure from external sources to do so (spoiler alert: you don't have to if you don't want to!), etc... You get to define what will be "successful" night weaning for you and your babe!
Worried about how night weaning may affect your milk supply?
Read more about that here.
Don't attempt to start night weaning if you child is sick, teething, working through an obvious developmental milestones (perhaps you've seen them working really hard on learning to walk over the past few days or something similar) or you are about to return to work or take a family trip. These challenges are not the ideal time to throw a wrench into the nighttime routine.
Don't try to night wean at the same time as changing other parts of the night routine... For example, if you are considering moving them out of your bed or moving them to their own room, either delay that until you feel night weaning is successfully established or delay night weaning while you get this other night time change well established.
Have the plan of action clearly defined... Who will be comforting babe through this process at night? You? Dad? How will you do so? Pacifier? Sippy cup of water (if they are over 12 months old)? A favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc... (again, typically only recommended if they are over 12 months old)?
Below is a short video that shows my favorite book about night weaning. This book is best suited for children over 12 months old, as they can start to understand it. You can change the word "nursies" for whatever word you use with your child for breastfeeding. In our house it was "milks".
Abrupt Weaning - In most cases, this is not necessary and should be avoided. Abrupt weaning is typically very hard on both mom and child, both physically and emotionally. It causes an abrupt hormone shift for mom that can lead to lots of emotional challenges. Additionally, abrupt weaning is physically uncomfortable for the mother and increases the risk for problems like engorgement, plugged ducts, and mastitis.
If you are being told you "have to" wean because of a new medication or a medical procedure, I strongly encourage you to speak with an IBCLC. Many mothers receive incorrect information and are told they have to wean when they really do not need to at all! If you truly do have to wean due to one of these scenarios and it's not an absolute medical emergency, then it's best to put a plan in place to try to do things gradually.
If you must (or chose to) abruptly wean, here are some tips for "drying up" AKA "lactation suppression":
Minimize or attempt to completely eliminate ANY AND ALL breast stimulation. Don't let your child mess around in that area (or your partner for that matter too). It's also important to think about the less obvious things too... like even having a shower head beating down water on your breasts in the shower is a form of "stimulation", so do almost all of your shower with your back to the water. We don't want any reminders to your breasts about your milk supply... we want to ignore them so the body starts to understand that the shop is closed!
Wear a supportive but not too restricting bra. Sports bras are great for this, as long as not too tight. NO UNDERWIRE BRAS DURING THIS TIME!
Also, please don't bind your breasts. This is old school, not helpful, and puts you at an increased risk for a plugged duct/mastitis.
Lots of ice to the breasts as needed. Some women also have a lot of success with using cabbage leaves to help "dry up". Pro tip: remove leafs of cabbage, bend and fold them a little to soften any big "veins", then place in the freezer. Take directly from freezer and place inside your bra. Change out once they are no longer cold.
Peppermint in regular, larger quantities may help decrease milk supply. So if you like peppermint teas, other peppermint products, or have peppermint essential oils at home, you can try this. Disclaimer: I am definitely NOT an essential oils expert, so please dilute it with a carrier oil and do your research before applying it to your bare breasts!
Pseudoephedrine medication has been shown in research to drastically decrease milk supply, sometimes even from just one dose. SINCE I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR MIDWIFE, LET ME BE CLEAR: I AM NOT INSTRUCTING YOU TO TAKE PSEUDOEPHEDRINE... BUT, IT MAY BE WORTH RUNNING THIS BY YOUR DOC/MIDWIFE TO GET THEIR THUMBS UP, IF YOU'D LIKE TO TRY IT.
Ibuprofen or another NSAID as needed. Not just for pain management, but also for the anti-inflammatory properties. Again, since I'm not a doc/midwife, you need to run it by one of them first.
Anti-inflammatory foods; e.g. garlic, during this time would also be very helpful.
If you are incredibly uncomfortable, then only pump or hand express for a few minutes. Like literally 2-5 minutes. Just enough to take the "edge off". REMEMBER, MILK PRODUCTION IS A SUPPLY AND DEMAND MECHANISM, SO WHENEVER MILK IS REMOVED, THE BODY WILL THINK IT NEEDS TO REPLENISH IT.
I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: If your child seems to have "abruptly weaned" and is under 12 months old, chances are, this isn't weaning; this may be a nursing strike.
Want professional help from me to navigate your weaning journey? My “Mini Consultation” is designed to help with focused lactation concerns, like pumping concerns or weaning plans.
Gentle Weaning - This is typically the most kind way to wean for both mom and child. There are a few loosely structured steps to keep in mind, but as I mentioned regarding night weaning: You get to define your terms for success!
Depending on the age of your babe and what your goals are, sometimes to most gentle first step is to night wean.
Whether exclusively pumping, exclusively breastfeeding, or doing a combo of both, first get an idea of the average number of times milk is being removed from your breast per day. This may not look the same every day, (especially with with exclusively breastfeeding), so track it for a few days and take an average.
Once you have your average, decide where you would most like to drop the first feeding (and/or where you think this can be done the most easily for both you and babe). Pro Tip: Usually wake up, nap time, and bed time feeds are the last to go, since they are usually the most enjoyable for mom and babe and provide important calm and routine for these times of the day.
From here, it's best to continue dropping 1 feeding or pumping session at at time; AT LEAST 3-5 days apart. This allows ample time for both your body and your baby to adjust! (Cuts down on the risk of engorgement, plugged ducts, and mastitis too!)
You will probably need to be creative at this time time with new, fun, or distracting things for your child... especially if they begin protesting or pulling on your shirt. They may fuss for a few minutes, but sometimes you'll have to do things you wouldn't normally do like use a youtube kids video as a short term distraction. Some mamas find that in the beginning they have to avoid sitting down with their child, or certain areas of the house or furniture that the child associates with nursing, etc... Have sippy cups (if they are old enough) or bottles ready at a moment's notice, or other snacks like toddler puffs (again, if they are old enough). Other helpful things may be to schedule some other fun or distracting things around this time... like have grandma, auntie, cousins, etc... over to visit to help distract. Plan a trip to the library, a new park, etc...
Remember, you get to decide what you want to do! You may plan to wean completely, but then decide you are very happy and comfortable with only nursing at bedtime. It's totally up to you! (Personal snippet: I breastfed my daughter only at bedtime for several months before I decided to 100% wean.)
”Don’t offer, don’t refuse” - this is another popular gentle weaning approach. It works just like it sounds. Completely stop offering the breast... but also don't refuse your child when they give you the signs that they want to nurse. This is super gentle and a nice blend of both mother led and baby led weaning. However, it may be a VERY slow process. Some mothers also start with this approach for a week, a month, etc... and then switch gears to the more structure approach in steps 1-4 above.
From the pump - if you have been exclusively pumping, your process for weaning from the pump can be very similar to what is described in steps 1-4. However, you get to have more control over what time(s) of the day you want to drop the pumping sessions (since your baby isn't part of the nursing equation here).
A caveat to consider with weaning from the pump is that you can also start decreasing the number of minutes you are pumping for. You can slowly start decreasing from 15 minutes to 12 to 10, etc... This approach can be especially helpful to prevent engorgement.
One more thing...
Weaning can be very emotionally taxing on the mother, for a few reasons. One of those reasons (that I think isn't discussed nearly enough) is due to to hormone changes you go through when weaning. Many women experience post weaning depression and anxiety. This could be a whole separate blog post, but here are a couple of articles that have some good information:
Please be kind to yourselves, Mamas. ❤️