Weaning from the breast

Baby drinking out of beakerWhether you love (or loathe) breastfeeding, some day it has to end. And whether that day comes after a year or more (as the baby-health experts recommend) or earlier (for whatever reason), you may find weaning brings with it a bit of physical and emotional fall-out.

If the decision to wean from the breast is yours, you'll definitely find it easier if you:

1. Go slow. Gradually cutting out feeds over several weeks is much easier on your baby and your breasts. (Bear this in mind if you've a 'deadline' such as going back to work.) Drop the feeds one by one, starting with the one your baby seems least interested in. If your baby's on solids, that's likely to be the feed after her biggest meal of the day.

2. Have alternatives ready. If your baby's under a year old, you'll need to replace the breastfeeds you're dropping with bottles of formula. So, unless you really want to crank up the challenge, it's wise to make sure your baby will actually take a bottle before you start.

If she's over a year, you can offer her full-fat cow's milk instead, preferably in a beaker (then you won't have to wean her off the bottle habit later).

If your baby's just shy of her first birthday and you don't want to introduce formula or bottles, just make sure she's well-established on solids, including plenty of dairy products, and be careful to phase the breastfeeds out very slowly, not dropping the last feeds until after she's old enough to have cow's milk. Also try to find different ways to provide the comfort that breastfeeding gives her. 

3. Don't give up. If you're trying to wean an older baby (or toddler) off the breast and you're not able to wait for her to self-wean, you may meet with a little (or a lot of) resistance. Again, dropping the feeds slowly will help your child adjust to the new way of things, as will being calmly consistent (no 'Oh, all right then, just this once!' relapses). 

4. Treat yourself gently. Hanging up your nursing bra can send your body into a bit of a spin, especially if you stop rather abruptly. One Mumsnetter describes it as "like having two rock-solid footballs in your bra".

If your breasts are painful, try the old chilled cabbage-leaf trick again, wear a supportive bra, take a painkiller and avoid banging into anything at chest height. Try not to express to relieve the engorgement: it'll only trigger your breasts to produce more milk.

You may also find your emotions take a bit of a hormonal nosedive. This is normal, if a little heavy on tissue usage. Every time you well up because you're sad (or guilty or secretly relieved) at having given up, remind yourself that breastfeeding is only one stage of a lifetime of parenting - and there are plenty more just-as-special (and just-as-challenging) stages to come. 

Self-weaning and nursing strikes

Breastfeeding experts will tell you that, left to her own devices, your child will one day decide for herself that she's had enough of the breast milk thing. Trouble is, that day may not always coincide with your own hopes, plans or inclinations.

And that could leave you feeling a bit shaky, as this Mumsnetter confirms: "It can be very upsetting - breastfeeding is very bound up with giving love in the mother and child relationship, and a child rejecting your milk can be extremely distressing." 

If your baby's very clearly had enough of breastfeeding, though, you're probably going to have to accept it (especially if she's over 18 months).

But it's worth knowing that a younger baby can self-wean without really meaning it. This is called a 'nursing strike' and it's a kind of temporary hissy fit about breastfeeding that can be caused by anything from illness to a change of routine, or even having got a bit of a fright while feeding.

Babies who go on a nursing strike can usually be persuaded to get back to the 'breastface'. It may take some time and a fair bit of coaxing, though.

Mumsnetter tiktok suggests: "Try when your baby is sleepy, lure your baby to the breast, go somewhere quiet, keep skin to skin, try co-bathing. Don't fight, be patient. Try feeding in an unusual position: lying down, say, or standing up or twirling yourself around as you latch her on." 

And if the nursing strike continues for more than day, express milk to ensure you maintain your milk supply and don't get blocked milk ducts or mastitis.

What Mumsnetters say about weaning from the breast

  • Cold turkey isn't recommended because you'll end up engorged and susceptible to mastitis. I found it best to start with the feeds that coincided with a normal meal, replacing them with a beaker. I clung on to any feeds which resulted in a sleep! SoupDragon
  • Offer a drink from a cup. Tell her she can have a feed later – and then distract her like mad. Mears
  • Reclaim your body for yourself and enjoy it, knowing you have done the best you could for your kids. ProfessorGrammaticus


Last updated: over 1 year ago