One question I am often asked is how long are you supposed to breastfeed??? Well, the answer is simple. There is no right or wrong length of time to nurse your baby. There are expert recommendations. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing to the age of 1 year and beyond. The World Health Organization recommends nursing until the age of 2 years and beyond! So, even our experts can't agree!
I happen to have my own opinion on the subject. I even made a video about it which you can check out below. The simple answer is- IT'S COMPLETELY UP TO YOU! Breastfeeding is a relationship, and it takes two for this relationship to work. So no matter who decides it's time to stop, mom or baby, then that is the right time for that specific dyad. There are many reasons a mother may want to wean, and for some, weaning when baby is still very young is the healthiest option for both involved. No matter when, or why, when you're ready to wean you'll need to know how! So, I have put this guide together for YOU momma. So when it's time for your breastfeeding journey to come to an end, you'll know how to get through it.
So, first things first, I need to say this. No matter where you are in your breastfeeding journey, weaning is a process, one that takes time. It's really important you are gentle with yourself, and your baby during this process too. It's bound to be emotional for both of you. Also you need to know that weaning can very much be two steps forward, one step back. So be patient with yourself and your little one.
I also want to say I do not recommend weaning abruptly. It will be very hard for your little one, and also hard on your body. If you find yourself in a situation where weaning abruptly is necessary, please reach out for expert lactation support to come up with a plan of action to get you through it!
#1. Take It Slow
Your body and your baby are going to need time to adjust to the physical, and hormonal changes of weaning. When you go slowly, these changes will be less drastic for you, and less traumatic for your baby. Going slowly will also prevent supply problems like engorgement, clogs, and mastitis. Your nursling, especially an older baby or toddler, will appreciate the extra time to process what's going on too. When mom is choosing to wean, your nursling is likely not ready yet. She will need time to mourn this loss, as nursing is likely still very important to her.
I recommend starting by eliminating one nursing session at a time, or pumping session if you are an EP mom. Wait a few days before eliminating a second session. Continue like this until you've eliminated all nursing sessions. If you're nursing the average 8-12 times a day, then it should take you roughly 3-5 weeks to completely wean. This may seem like a long time, but your body and baby will be better off for it!
#2. Be Emotionally Available
Some babies handle the process of weaning a little easier than others. An older infant or toddler may have an especially emotional time when weaning. They depend on it for comfort, and so when they are being told they can't nurse they likely will show some dissatisfaction in the form of melt downs or tantrums. Be there for them. Hug them through it. Let them know you are still there for them just as much, but comfort comes in the form of snuggles now. You can be firm when saying no to nursing, giving in will just be confusing for them, though it may seem like the easier option at the time. It will be very important to be patient with your nursling, and keep in mind that this is a rough transition on them. Letting them cry on their own may come off as a rejection from you, and this could be emotionally traumatic for them. Love them, hug them, and help them through it!
You can also talk about it with your nursling. Leading up to weaning, clue them in on what's going to happen. Use age appropriate explanations, and keep it simple. They may not fully understand, but it will give them an opportunity to realize something is going to change. My oldest son was weaned 3 months shy of his 3rd birthday. We talked about it for a week, and did a count down. The very last time he nursed, he knew it was the very last time. He had his opportunity to work through it, and he even got to say goodbye to his "boom booms", kissed them, hugged them, and then that was it. He, unlike his brother, was very easy to wean. (But that's a story for another day!)
#3. Not Now, Yes Later
When you are getting rid of nursing sessions, and taking away one at a time, you'll have the luxury of being able to use this phrase, "We are not going to nurse now, and YES we will nurse later.". If you can give your nursling a time reference like, after lunch, or when we get home, or after your bath. They won't understand time, but do understand their routine. Toddlers, and older infants too, are absolutely able to understand this concept. It will also be very helpful for them by turning your "no" or refusal to nurse during that time, into a "yes" for them. Instead of your nursling feeling rejected by not being allowed to nurse, they are instead just waiting. This doesn't mean it won't be met with resistance, they may still melt down, but after a couple days, they will trust that you mean what you say and it will get easier for both of you!
#4. All The Distractions!!!
When your little one is having a hard time after you've told them, "Not now, yes later.", it's important to let them feel it. Let them get out their emotions, and when they have settled down, distract them with something! This is especially great for an older infant or toddler. Do an activity together. Something that would take about the same time as your nursing session would have. Something that is connecting, bonding, and involves both of you. Read some books together, play with some toys, bake some cookies, a floor puzzle, anything that you want to do that you'll both enjoy! It will help your little one get their mind off of wanting to nurse, and still give them the connection they needed from you by nursing, without actually being at the breast.
Now, this step is optional, unless your baby is under 1 years old. Some mothers, myself included, have found it incredibly helpful to replace the time at the breast with some other physical object. This could be a bottle of milk, pacifier, lovey, or some other object your baby can attach to. When I night weaned my toddler, for example, I replaced his night time nursing sessions with bottles of milk. It took him several nights to adjust, but he did eventually adjust and it made the process much easier for us. Some people would choose not to replace nursing with another object or bottle, and that is fine too. If you find your child is really struggling with the transition, like mine was, you may want to consider it.
Soemthing REALLY important:
If your baby is under 1 years old and you are weaning, you MUST give a replacement to your breastmilk. Often this means formula, or donor breastmilk. An infant who is about 6 weeks old up to 1 year of age will need 24-30oz of milk every day, even after solids are introduced. Then, after a year old they will start to decrease how much milk they are drinking and eat more foods. The majority of their nutrition comes from milk during the first year. It will be very important to continue to give your infant milk. If you're not familiar with paced bottle feeding, check out my video below!
#6. Keep Your Breasts Comfy
Milk supply works on a process of supply and demand. Empty breasts make milk faster, full breasts make milk slower. If you're weaning slowly enough, you should (hopefully) avoid any discomfort in your breasts. However, sometimes you may find your breasts are a little uncomfortable, especially in the beginning. If this is the case DO NOT IGNORE IT! The BEST thing you can do is very minimal hand expression. You don't want to use your breast pump, as this will be very stimulating on your nipples, and the stimulation will further promote your body to make milk. So, rely on this form of hand expression in the video below, and you'll be able to move enough milk to keep your breasts comfortable without telling your body to produce more.
Sometimes you might need a little help to decrease your supply. Some women have a harder time than others with decreasing supply, especially when you're weaning a younger baby. There are some herbs and remedies you can try to help decrease your milk production. Peppermint is known for lowering milk supply. You can drink peppermint tea or use diluted peppermint essential oil, topically, on your breasts. Cabbage leaves are another popular suggestion for lowering milk supply. You can place clean cabbage leaves in your bra, and wear them, changing them every 12 hours, to decrease your supply. If you want to go the pharmaceutical route, Sudafed is a known milk supply killer. Taking some, as directed according to the package, can quickly help your supply decrease. Now of course, I have to say, talk with your health care provider before starting any of these methods to make sure it's appropriate for you.
#8. Know What to Expect After
When you are done with the process of weaning, or near the end, you may notice some discomfort, or weird twinging pains in your breasts. This is normal. When your supply is decreasing, your breasts are going through a process called Involution. Basically, your breasts are doing in reverse what they did to establish your milk supply in the first place. Everything is shrinking and disconnecting in your breasts, and those pains are there to prove it. Now, this shouldn't be truly painful, more mildly annoying than anything, and it will likely come and go. You may not even notice it, but if you do I want you to know it's normal and nothing to worry about!
I also want you to know that it's normal for your body to continue to produce little bits of milk for a long time after weaning. You could likely hand express a bit of milk for YEARS to come, especially when in the shower. Which, is pretty cool, actually.
Hopefully your journey through weaning is a smooth process, and one that doesn't cause too much disruption. Know that you are absolutely not alone in this journey, and we in the Successful Breastfeeding Community are here to support you. Weaning can be a sensitive subject for many, and some women feel judged by choosing to do so. I assure you, you'll not experience judgement in our community, only support and love! No matter when, or what your reasons are for weaning, we've got your back!!!
Virtually anyone can breastfeed! All you really need is the right knowledge, and support!
Here is some of that knowledge, and some of my best tips I share with my clients!
My Top 10 Tips!!
#1: Take a GOOD Breastfeeding Class
You have lots of options for breastfeeding classes these days. Look for a breastfeeding class
designed to set you up for successful breastfeeding by giving you research based, practical
information that you can really use after your baby is born AND will also fully incorporate your partner in the experience too! There is so much more to breastfeeding than learning how to latch your baby! Being prepared for what to fully expect is key!
If you haven't taken a class yet, sign up for our online class: Your Best Start to Breastfeeding. It's designed to give you everything you'll need for success and includes your partner in the experience too!!
#2: Be Determined!
I won't sugar coat it; breastfeeding is hard, especially in the beginning! You'll have moments when you feel like giving up. Being determined to have a Successful Breastfeeding experience will help get you through those moments, and I promise everyone has them, you're not alone! Lean on your partner for support, or reach out to the awesome breastfeeding moms in the Successful Breastfeeding Community on Facebook when you're having a hard time emotionally.
If you need expert support please don't hesitate to seek it out either. Reach out to your local lactation expert, or get support from us either in person or virtually within 24 hours!
#3: Toss Out Formula Samples
If you've created a baby registry- anywhere- be prepared to have your mailbox fill with samples- especially formula samples! When you're feeling overwhelmed and overtired, you may be tempted to supplement your baby with formula to give your body a break. Taking a break is great, I fully encourage you to hand your little one to your partner and take a breather for a while- you deserve it! However, I don't advise taking a break from feeding baby at the breast and offering formula. Formula companies are very aware that breastfeeding moms are likely to use their product when they feel tired. They are also fully aware that using their product may lead you to breastfeeding failure, and they are counting on it. After all, this is why they are sending you the samples. Early supplementation and bottle feeding is a fast track to a low supply. So when you are tired at 3 am, just know this too shall pass, and lean on your partner, or other breastfeeding support to help you get through it. That's why we created the Successful Breastfeeding Community.
#4: Nurse Early and Often!
Your baby will be born hungry! It is ideal to bring your baby to the breast within the first hour after birth. Your baby will need your high caloric, immune system boosting, early milk to help boost their blood sugar, and protect them from illness and infection. You should also expect to bring your baby to the breast often! Your baby will nurse at least 8 times every 24 hours, though often more. Don't worry about putting your baby on a feeding schedule. It's best to watch your baby for feeding cues and follow their lead!
If you feel your baby is ALWAYS nursing and you're feeling overwhelmed, check out our blog on this topic: Why is my baby ALWAYS nursing?!
#5: Leave Your Pump Alone!
Seriously, leave your pump alone! Even if you plan to go back to work. You'll have plenty of time to pump all the milk you'll need later on. For the first 4-6 weeks, unless you have to be away from your baby, do NOT use your breast pump. Allow your baby to establish your milk supply for you. Breast pumps used too early could create an oversupply of milk, which can lead to breastfeeding struggles. If you do need to go back to work wait until a week or two before you go back to start your milk stash. (I promise that's plenty of time!)
If you do plan to go back to work, check out our blog post: Top 7 Tips for Successful Breastfeeding Back at Work! We even have a class that will prepare you for your transition back to work when the time comes. You can sign up for our online Back to Work Workshop here.
#6: Skin to Skin Contact
When in doubt, use skin to skin! Skin to skin contact is like a super power. It will help you bond with your baby, and your partner can do it to bond with baby too. It will also help regulate baby's temperature, heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar! Skin to skin contact is also incredibly comforting to an overstimulated newborn. Skin to skin contact also helps promote and establish a healthy milk supply!! So, in the early weeks, use this tool as often as you need to. There are also many different forms of skin to skin contact. You don't just have to put your baby on your chest. You or your partner can use massage, bath time, and baby wearing with your little one to get in some skin to skin time too!
#7: What Goes In Must Come Out
There's not a meter on the breast to tell you how much your baby is drinking. So how do you know if your baby is getting enough milk? Simple; check baby's diaper! If your baby is pooping enough, then your baby is drinking enough. You also want to pay attention to the change in color of your baby's diapers too. Around the 5th day baby's poop will be yellow and seedy looking. Another way to tell baby is getting enough is to look at their weight loss and gain. Baby is expected to loose up to 10% of birth weight within the days after birth, and should be back to birth weight by their 2nd week. If you're every questioning how your baby is doing, please reach out for expert breastfeeding support or post in our online Successful Breastfeeding Community. Don't wait to get expert support, early intervention can be key to preventing or fixing any struggles you may face.
#8: Mindful Birthing
The way you birth matters when it comes to breastfeeding. Certain interventions during labor can create some roadblocks for breastfeeding. For example, IV fluids can make your breasts puffy and harder for baby to latch. Using an epidural can make baby sleepier after birth and less able to engage at the breast. Having a cesarean can make getting into a comfortable nursing position difficult. None of these interventions mean that you won't be able to breastfeed. I do recommend establishing yourself with expert breastfeeding support prenatally so you already know someone you trust to contact after baby arrives!
#9: Avoid Pacifiers
Did you know that pacifiers were invented to replace the suckling babies were NOT getting from bottle feeding? Babies need to nurse often, and breastfeeding is so much more than just food. A baby's need to suckle is just as important as food. It takes about 6 weeks for your milk supply to fully establish, and it's best to let your baby come to the breast as often as they need during that time. If you introduce a pacifier early on you're likely to miss some of your baby's feeding cues, and your milk supply may take longer to establish if baby is comfort suckling on a pacifier instead of the breast.
#10: Create a Breastfeeding Plan
Birth plans are very popular now. Breastfeeding and postpartum planning should be just as popular too! There are many things you'll need to prepare for that you may not have expected to encounter. Not just right after baby is born, but for the first few weeks home too. The Successful Breastfeeding Best Start to Breastfeeding online class will give you all the info you need to feel fully prepared, and help you create a plan too. Get your class, the plan and MORE now by clicking the button below!!
Also, check out our blog post that covers everything you'll NEED for breastfeeding, and also the things you don't need too.
Very often mothers are being asked to supplement their babies either in the hospital after birth, or by their pediatrician in the early weeks. It is no surprise to me that doctors prefer a mother to supplement their baby with a bottle, in a fashion that will allow them to chart an exact amount of what a baby is eating. I wish there was a meter on the breast that told you exactly how much your baby was drinking, alas there is not so we work with what Mother Nature has given us. Thankfully, Mother Nature has actually given us a lot to work with, and there are quite a few ways to know that your baby is getting plenty of milk, but that is a whole other post!
There are many different reasons your doctor may suggest supplementing your baby. Did you know that supplementing with infant formula is not the only option? You can, and it is preferable to, supplement your baby with your own expressed breastmilk! Did you also know that you do not need a bottle to supplement? That is right! There are other methods other than a bottle to supplement your baby. I am not saying that you should not bottle feed your baby, and I am not concerned about nipple confusion. I am concerned however about baby preferring the ease of a bottle over the work required to nurse at the breast. When given a bottle, the bottle has control of the milk flow, whereas at the breast baby is in the lead. I always recommend waiting until baby is at least six weeks old to introduce a bottle, and when you do to use a paced method of feeding.
In the case that you and your doctor decide that supplementing is best course of action for your situation, I always advise that you get in contact with your professional breastfeeding support person. She can help you navigate the process of supplementation and maintaining your milk supply- especially if your reason for supplementation is that your baby isn’t able to nurse. When you find yourself needing to offer your baby expressed milk, there needs to be a balance between how much and often baby is given the milk and how often you are stimulating your breasts to ensure you will have an adequate milk supply for your baby when they are nursing exclusively at the breast again, if that is your goal.
There are different methods you can use to express your breastmilk for your baby. The first, obvious method is an electric breast pump. It is important if you are using a breast pump to ensure that it is fitting you properly. The flange, or breast shield, is not a one size fits all piece of equipment. You may need to change the size you are using, and sometimes even need different sizes for each breast depending on your anatomy. If you are not using the proper size breast shield pumping will not be as effective as it could be and you may damage your nipples. Ouch! The other method for milk removal is hand expression. Hand expression is highly effective, and preferred during the first 24-48 hours after giving birth. This is especially so if you had IV fluids during your birth as the fluids can cause excess swelling in your breast tissue that can interfere with using an electric breast pump. Hand expression is fast, easy, and more conducive to milk collection when you are producing colostrum.
During the first few days your body will produce colostrum, which is measured in drops. Trying to collect colostrum in a pump doesn’t work, as the colostrum drops will dry to the pump parts before it has a chance to collect into the attached bottle. This is extremely discouraging to a mom who may already be fearful that she will not produce enough milk for her baby. When using hand expression, you can collect your milk in the same vessel you plan to use to feed your baby. You can use a spoon, or a small cup with a rounded edge like the one in the picture. It is very easy to fill up a spoon with drops of milk. It would take no time at all! All you need to do then is bring the milk to your baby’s lips and allow baby to lap up the milk like a kitten- yes your baby will do this! You can also use a syringe to extract the milk from the spoon or cup and slowly drip the milk into baby’s mouth, sometimes even while they suckle on your pinky. This method is favored by doctors so they can measure the amount in milliliters (ml), though you could also test to see how many ml of liquid your spoon holds, and track that way too!
Your baby’s belly is extremely tiny in those early days. At birth your baby’s tummy is about the size of cherry and can hold about a teaspoon of milk per feeding, that’s only about 5 ml! Your baby’s stomach will slowly increase over the first weeks until eventually reaching maximum capacity which is average 3.5oz per feeding. The amount of milk your baby should be eating depends on their age and their weight until baby is over 10lbs. Once baby is 10lbs you can expect baby to drink 25-32oz in a 24 hour period, and it will not increase after that. Always check in with your breastfeeding expert and your pediatrician to know exactly how much milk your baby should be drinking.
It is important to make sure to always offer the breast to your baby first before offering a supplement. This will ensure adequate stimulation at the breast, and allow baby to have their suckling needs met. After a nursing session, offer the supplement to your baby and be sure to express breast milk every time a supplement is given. Your milk supply works on a process of supply and demand. So, if baby is drinking the supplement, it will take time away from the breast, so you need to make up that time by either hand expressing or pumping your milk. Your breastfeeding professional can assist you with this process. If your baby is not latching at the breast, or you are separated from your baby, it is imperative you seek professional breastfeeding support so that you can create a plan of action to establish your milk supply and make sure your baby’s feeding needs are being met.
My hope for all of my clients, and every mom, is that breastfeeding goes well from the start and no intervention is ever needed. When intervention is needed, I am confident however that with the right support virtually anyone can have the breastfeeding relationship they desire, however long they desire it to be. I wish you all healthy pregnancies and easy breastfeeding!
Your Successful Breastfeeding Expert Kelly
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE