Weaning occurs naturally for the breastfed infant when other foods are introduced. As a baby gets more and more food from sources other than the breast, milk production slows down.
For the exclusively breastfed infant, this process is so gradual in the second half of the first year, that mom may not even notice. Milk production continues if as the child is put to the breast, and the decision to totally wean is an individual one influenced by many factors.
No matter when weaning occurs, a process of slowly stopping breastfeeding is best. If a baby is younger than 1 year of age, infant formula should be substituted for breast milk. Talk to your baby’s doctor to see what formula he or she recommends.
What to Expect When Weaning
Sudden weaning causes breast discomfort. Feelings of sadness or guilt can also occur when the breastfeeding relationship ends unexpectedly. The discomfort and feelings of sadness will pass with time. It may help to talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
When weaning occurs quickly, the breasts become full and hard. Watch for signs of infection such as reddened areas in the breast, fever and flu-like symptoms. Watch for signs of a plugged milk duct, such as an area of the breast that does not soften with pumping or breastfeeding. Call your doctor if these occur.
Solutions for Weaning Difficulties
- Hand express or pump small amounts of milk if the breasts are uncomfortably full. Remove just enough milk to ease fullness, not to fully express the breasts.
- Use cold packs on the breast to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain as instructed by your doctor.
- Wear a comfortable, supportive bra.
- If possible, replace one breastfeeding session at a time to allow your milk supply to decrease slowly. Wait a few days before dropping another breastfeeding session.
- Usually the last feedings to go are the first one in the morning, and the last one at night.
- An older child can be distracted with another activity. Try offering a snack or reading a book.
- For infants, have another family member offer a bottle. Sometimes a breastfed baby will refuse a bottle from mom.
- Spend time holding your baby. Weaning does not mean less cuddle time.
- Expect some milk production to continue for a month or two after weaning.
- If you are pumping to provide breast milk for infant, gradually increase the time interval between pumping sessions. For example, instead of pumping every three to four hours, pump every four to six hours for the next few days, and then pump every six to eight hours.
- Do not pump as long. Remove just enough milk to ease fullness.
Call Your Doctor If ...
- Your breasts are hot, red swollen, tender
- You have fever, chills along with breast symptoms
These symptoms can appear very suddenly.
For additional information on this Health Topic, call the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine at 513-636-2326.