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When it’s time to wean from nursing and pumping, use these weaning tips to ease the transition
Breastfeeding has so many benefits, but at some point, the time will come when you and your baby are ready to wean. Weaning involves a lot of physical and emotional changes and can be a tricky transition to navigate, especially for working moms. Our top weaning tips: Take it slow (if you can!) and give yourself and your baby time to adjust. Not sure where to start or what to expect? Here’s our how-to guide for weaning from nursing and pumping.
How to know it’s time to wean
Just like choosing to breastfeed in general, weaning is a personal decision. You have to do what’s right for you, your baby and your family. Consider the physical and emotional benefits, as well as any challenges and constraints, and decide which side outweighs the other.
In some cases, weaning happens gradually, but in other situations, moms need or want to wean for a specific reason. Some moms wean once they’ve met their breastfeeding goal or before a certain event, such as going back to work or on a trip. Others choose to stop because it’s the best decision for their lifestyle, circumstances or health. Your baby may also have a say in when you stop—some babies self-wean over a period of time (which is different than an abrupt but temporary “nursing strike”).
How to navigate the weaning process
Milk production is based on the concept of supply and demand. When you gradually decrease how long or how often you nurse or pump, you will remove less milk and tell your body you don’t need to produce as much. When that demand goes down, your supply will decrease.
To wean, many moms will drop one nursing or pumping session every few days (or longer), giving their body time to adjust. Consider cutting out your or your baby’s least favorite session first and leaving those favorite sessions—typically the ones that come before sleep or after waking up—for last. To drop a session, you can either gradually cut back on the length of the session or shift two sessions closer and closer in time until you can merge them into one. Depending on your (and your baby’s) schedule, you may want to space out the remaining sessions accordingly.
Babies younger than one year old will need to have formula to replace breast milk. You may find that you need to gradually add small amounts of formula to breast milk to adjust to the change in taste. Children who are older than one year old can have water, cow’s milk (or milk alternative), a snack or meal.
For working moms, our weaning tips include considering your workday schedule and current pumping times. Which pumping session would you like to drop first? Where do you have some flexibility to shift pumping times? Is there a time of day when you could sneak off to pump for comfort if you need it? Map out a tentative plan for the week ahead and block off your work calendar with some alternative pumping times. As you go through the process, see how your body responds and adjust as needed.
How to help relieve pain
Your body and mind should wean slowly. Especially if you’re still nursing and pumping several times a day, stopping “cold turkey” can be risky and a recipe for clogged ducts or even mastitis.
But no matter how gradual the process, it can still be uncomfortable. During weaning, you may experience breast engorgement, aches, tingling and leaking. Applying cold compresses or cabbage leaves to your breasts, taking a pain reliever such as ibuprofen and wearing a supportive bra can help relieve pain. You can also hand express or use a silicone breast pump, like the Haakaa, to express just until you’re comfortable so you don’t cue your body to produce more milk.
To prevent clogged ducts, avoid wearing a too-tight or underwire bra, consider taking a lecithin supplement and most importantly, listen to your body. The best way to avoid or reduce pain is to take as much time as you can to wean.
How to tackle hormonal and emotional changes
No matter how you feel about going into it, weaning can throw you for a loop. The hormones! The emotions! The yucky physical feelings! Not every mom experiences negative side effects, but it helps to know that if you do, it’s normal and it’s temporary.
For many moms, breastfeeding provides a sense of purpose and a source of bonding. When you stop breastfeeding, those feelings may come into question. But rest assured, you’re still providing for and bonding with your baby. Think about the many ways you’re still doing this or find new ways to fulfill these needs. Cuddling, storytime, playtime and bottle feeding are all special times of connection.
As your hormones shift during and after weaning, you may feel a lot of different emotions: sadness, relief, a sense of loss, irritability, mood swings. These are all normal and valid reactions. There is no right or wrong way to feel. You may also experience physical side effects, such as nausea, exhaustion, headaches—symptoms that can almost resemble first-trimester pregnancy ones. Be gentle with yourself and know that these emotions and feelings will start to settle as your hormones regulate.
As you go through the weaning process, take care of your needs. Go back to the basics with regular exercise, nutritious foods, plenty of water and consistent sleep (or as much as you can get!). Talk with friends about their own experiences, and if you’re having intense or long-lasting symptoms, reach out to your doctor or to a lactation consultant for more weaning tips and advice. We know weaning can bring up a lot of questions, emotions and hormones, so don’t hesitate to request a consultation with a lactation specialist if you need help or support. You’ll find your way!