If things go to plan, breastfeeding ends when you and your baby are ready. There are some guidelines from the World Health Organization: exclusive breastfeeding (i.e. no other fluids or solids) for six months and then continued breastfeeding combined with solid foods for “2 years or as long as mother and baby desire”. Sometimes the baby will choose this time, by no longer accepting breastmilk, and this can be distressing for a mum if it is early in your breastfeeding journey. Sometimes breast refusal is temporary though, so when this happens, particularly if they are less than twelve months, it’s a good idea to seek help from a midwife or lactation consultant. Otherwise breastfeeding should end when you’re ready. This can be for whatever reason: maybe you’re ready to have your body back to yourself, or are looking to get pregnant again and breastfeeding is affecting your ovulation. Maybe you’re dreading breastfeeding, or it’s getting in the way of you connecting with your baby, or you simply don’t want it to be part of your parenthood journey.

Essentially, it comes down to doing what’s best for you and your baby. Start by listening to your body. It is absolutely okay to stop and use an alternative feeding method. If your baby is under 12 months, their breast feeds will need to be swapped to formula feeds from a bottle.

At this time, you may experience complex emotions. Hormones produced by your body while breastfeeding can fall away, and some parents feel episodes of anxiety or feelings of loss and disconnection. If this is you, allow time and empathy. Once time hormones will recalibrate, things will feel clearer and better.

Types of weaning

  • Baby-led weaning is when you allow your baby to wean themselves off the breast. Timing wise this will vary based on your baby's size, hunger levels or interest in solid food, but generally speaking, this could happen around the 12 month mark.
  • Mother-led weaning or gradual weaning is a process whereby you might choose to replace 1 or 2 breastfeeds per day with a bottle or solids. When you are ready, the key is to go slow. Drop feeds gradually (over days or even better, weeks) so that your supply has a chance to decrease and reduce the chance of blocked ducts or mastitis occurring. Offer meals before breast milk and try not to fully empty your breast. Gradual weaning can be difficult if your baby doesn’t welcome this adjustment. If this is the case, ask your partner, a friend or grandparent to give your baby the bottle, as if they can see and smell you, they might still opt for your breast.
  • Instant weaning (i.e. cold turkey!) is when you stop offering the breast all together. You might find this option do-able if you notice they’ve already started to wean themselves off you, and they’re showing less interest. Be mindful of your supply here. You may be tempted to pump to relieve your boobs, but this can restimulate milk production. Be patient. Your body will get the message soon enough.

How to do it

Weaning is a process of reducing breastfeeds and replacing them with a bottle or a meal (solids). Slow weaning (replacing 1 or 2 feeds per day) rather than instant/cold turkey weaning can lessen any risk of mastitis or painful/blocked ducts, so usually it’s a more comfortable process for the mother.

A baby or a toddler might find the weaning process quite distressing. Imagine if all of a sudden you were not allowed to use a spoon or a fork while eating?! Or if someone all of a sudden took your morning coffee away. It would be jarring to say the least. On the flip side, the emotional toll could trigger detachment. As breastfeeding is such an intimate way to spend time with your child, it can feel sad to lose these moments of pure connection. Extra cuddles, kisses and physical signs of affection during the wearing process may help to fill this void. As the weaning process can be just as difficult for some as the learning-to-breastfeed stage, research and conversations can be exceptionally helpful.

Read more here

If you need support with your weaning, or any breastfeeding issue, the National Breastfeeding Helpline is available 24/7 on 1800 686 268.

How long it might take

Pending whether you take the baby-led or mother-led/gradual process, the wearing process could take a few days or a few weeks or months. Usually practising a gradual approach is recommended as it can reduce the risk of mastitis or inflammation and therefore be physically more comfortable for the mother. If the hormonal shifts feel huge and challenging, perhaps think about gradually extending the process.

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