Monday, May 12, 2014

Weaning is Not on a Light Switch


Just before a baby's first birthday or shorty thereafter, a breastfeeding mom will often begin to hear this: So, how long are you going to breastfeed? When do you plan to wean? 

For some reason, a very common belief in our society is that a baby only needs to breastfeed for a year. Often, people not only believe that is all the time needed, it's believed it's the longest they should nurse. But it's time to share with society that:

Weaning is NOT on a light switch

Just because a baby has celebrated her first birthday does not mean we can now flip a switch and the baby will stop wanting her mother's milk and the mother's body will stop making it. This is a process that takes time and is VERY different for every child and mother. 

Two possible theories for why a lot of society believes breast milk expires after one year: 

- Mothers are given the "okay" to provide cow's milk at 12 months so it is assumed that the cow's milk completely replaces breast milk.

- In the United States only 27% of babies are breastfed at 12 months and only 9.4% at 18 months. [Source]

So, if at one year and beyond breastfed babies are in the minority and there is a general belief that there's a substance that replaces breast milk then it is not surprising that these beliefs exist.

It would be nice if more of society had these facts: 

- According to the World Health Organization, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding for up to two years of age and beyond. [Source]

- Weaning is the introduction of solid food or any liquid other than breast milk. It is not ending breastfeeding. [Source]

This is not at all to say that breastfeeding for over a year is right for all mothers. It is only to say, that it would be beneficial if more of society understood this as a normal. Also, the common misunderstanding  that weaning is ending breastfeeding can lead to the expectation - even by breastfeeding mothers - that weaning can happen overnight when, in reality, it is something that takes time.

Ideally, children of all ages should be weaned gently and gradually

While there are some circumstances that require abrupt weaning, it should be avoided if at all possible. Ideally, children of all ages should be weaned gently and gradually. There are different approaches to weaning and these include mother-led weaning or baby-led weaning. There is also an option of combining both of these that can include a mother taking a more active role but still listening to her baby's needs. 

It is, again, important to remember that weaning begins when you introduce solids. The amount of breast milk (or infant formula) that is given should not change for the first 12 months of life just because solids are introduced. This early period of weaning is more for fun and practice. In time, babies will gradually have more solids and other liquids and the process of weaning will take place naturally. If you are ready to introduce a primary source of fluid nutrition other than breast milk (whether you are introducing infant formula, cow's milk, soy milk, etc):

Expect it to be a slow, gradual process: It would be best if a mother did not feel engorgement while weaning. This would mean that the baby is gradually demanding less and the mother's body is naturally adapting to this changing need.

Decrease by one nursing session at a time: The time between dropping a nursing (or pumping) session is a wide range and depends on several factors. According to this period should be at the least 3-7 days. However, it can take a month or longer before mom or baby is ready to drop the next feeding session.

If you are weaning from breast milk in a bottle, put the new form of nutrition in a sippy cup: New food, new cup. This decreases confusion and frustration if a baby is expecting breast milk and receives an unexpected substance instead. (This may not work if giving infant formula in place of breast milk).

It may be emotional for mom: Most people know that breastfeeding is a form of comfort to a baby, but, it is for mom too. The release of hormones a mother gets when breastfeeding are very powerful and ending this can be a challenging transition even when a mother is ready to wean. Some mothers experience feelings of depression during this time. (Remember that it is always recommended to seek help if you are experiencing ongoing depression).

Further into the process: It is not uncommon for mothers to no longer offer the breast but they also do not refuse it. This is a gradual process where the child will eventually stop asking and breastfeeding will end. Sometimes, a mother plays a more active role in the weaning process though by suggesting alternatives to nursing such as water, cow's milk, a snack or lots of snuggle, for example. 

The above tips are only a few things to consider when beginning the weaning process. Contact your local lactation consultant if you have any questions or concerns about weaning. 

This is the first part of a series on gentle weaning at Don't Lick Your Sister. Please be sure to check back for more thoughts on weaning and my personal journey of weaning two children. Please also keep in mind that the above is in no way passing judgement to a mother who fully weaned her baby before a year or may have chosen to not breastfeed. For more information on this go to Breastfeeding: The Case for Doing What's Right for You.

Share this Post Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This Share on Google Plus Share on Tumblr

If you enjoyed this post be sure to Connect with Me so you don't miss the next post!

 photo google_zps8428f2e2.png photo bloglovin_zps732c9903.png photo pinterest_zps38a29db3.png photo twitter2_zpsc472d9f3.png

 You can also subscribe by e-mail from the main page and have posts 
delivered directly to your inbox!

 The above information is not intended to be used for medical advice and you should always consult your own healthcare team when making health decisions for yourself or your family. This post was written by Julie from her personal experiences breastfeeding. was used as a resource for some of the above information.