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!!!
So, Here’s The Problem.
Child care providers have it rough. Especially infant caregivers.
You have to bend over backwards to gain the trust of the families who are touring your facility for the care of their new baby. New mothers are emotional about going back to work and being away from their babies. They come to you with 1000 questions, concerns, and many also will break down and cry. Breastfeeding mothers have even more to worry about.
How many times has a mom expressed to you the anxiety she is feeling about being a working and pumping mom? This breastfeeding mom may fear her baby will reject her for the bottle, or not want to take the bottle at all. (And I’m sure you’ve seen that happen before.) This last fear produces the most anxiety and emotion for her.
What about when she is a couple weeks in, pumping isn’t going as well as she hoped? She is now concerned about her milk supply- it’s decreasing. She has come to you, her caregiver, to ask you to start supplementing her baby with formula- with tears in her eyes.
What do you say? How do you reassure her?
She obviously is in need of support, and you may not know where to refer her. Now, this mother is weaning, and has given up continuing breastfeeding.
For her, this is devastating, and for you it’s frustrating.
It seems there may be nothing you can do, so you accept her fate.
The benefits of breastfeeding are widely known, and breastfeeding rates are increasing. For you, this means more moms are choosing to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work. Supporting breastfeeding moms and breastfed babes is your new reality as a caregiver. However, like the breastfeeding mom above, few of them will make it past the first few weeks. Going back to work is hard, and there are many obstacles a mother may face. Working moms are high risk for early weaning. Statistics show that 80% of working breastfeeding mothers will quit breastfeeding within a month of returning to work. This is a grim outlook for your moms to have.
Improvements for breastfeeding moms are being made in the workplace, however there is one component being overlooked- YOU- her childcare provider.
How many working families can you think of who started out breastfeeding, and then switched to formula?
Sometimes the switch is sudden, and sometimes more gradual. Working mothers switching over to formula may seem normal, and frequently happens. Infact 80% of working moms who start breastfeeding will switch to formula in about a month!!!
This doesn’t have to be normal, and shouldn’t be.
So here’s the question:
How do you gain this moms trust, and remove some of the anxiety and emotion with her breastfed baby in your care?
That’s a big question. Thankfully one with a simple answer.
What if I told you can take simple action to make your life as an infant caregiver easier?
You can make it easier to gain mom's trust, learn how to support her and guide her questions, which will lead your working breastfeeding moms meet their goals!!!
Child Care Centers across the country are taking the leap and learning how to support their working breastfeeding moms.
YOU CAN TOO!!!!
And Now, The Solution.
Here’s how it works. Here’s how you can do it too.
I’d like to tell you the story of The Green Garden Childhood Development Center. They have taken initiative to increase their appeal, while raising the bar for the families in their care. They easily earn the trust of their breastfeeding moms, and remove much of the frustrations that come with supporting them. Green Garden’s founder, Erica Tank, takes pride in standing out as a facility with exceptional care. She is committed to providing a healthy and natural environment for the children. In fact Green Garden’s centers are the first and only to be 100% organic in the state of Michigan. This isn’t the only first for them. Green Garden is also the very first childcare to take steps to becoming a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility ™. The working breastfeeding mothers who come to their facility will have access to some serious benefits, exclusive only to a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility. It is obvious why Green Garden is the most popular child care facility in their area, with an extensive waiting list.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Tank, and got some great insights into how this program is expanding her child care business.
“I see the benefit for this program all around - for my staff, our families and of course the babies.”
- Erica Tank
The Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiver Program was inspired by real working breastfeeding mothers, and the challenges they face. These mothers are excited about this program. Working moms see the value the Breastfeeding Supportive Program adds to their childcare providers, and when asked, they ALL said they would choose a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Childcare over any other.
The program combines caregiving methods and feeding practices to offer support and peace of mind to breastfeeding moms. Caregivers are trained in what is known as the Baby Led Feeding Practices; which includes understanding paced bottle feeding, infant hunger and satiety cues, truly knowing exactly how much milk is appropriate for a baby to drink, and so, so much more.
“Before this program we really didn’t know how to support our breastfeeding moms. It is important to me that our teachers understand breastfeeding supportive feeding practices and also that they understand the importance breastfeeding has for mom and also baby.” - Erica Tank
Research shows us, and what many breastfeeding mothers can attest to, is babies are unintentionally being overfed by their caregivers.
This alone puts extra pressure on the working mother to provide more milk than her baby actually needs, and more milk than she is producing. The extra pressure from her baby’s providers and the obstacles of pumping at work combined eventually leads to weaning, and the mother is left feeling like she failed.
Erica recognized this in her own facility and, frustrated, decided to take action.
“We’ve seen countless moms come in for a tour very anxious about going back to work, and nervous they won’t meet their breastfeeding goals. Time and time again we see them give up within about a month of going back to work because it’s too hard for them to keep up with pumping, and their baby is eating too much at day care. Mom isn’t able to match her supply to what baby is drinking, and our caregivers were asking mom for more milk, when admittedly, they just weren’t recognizing the baby’s cues.” - Erica Tank
One of Green Garden’s core values is to establish relationships with the families they support from the moment they come through their doors. Since taking the Breastfeeding Supportive Training Erica’s staff has been able to further establish trust with the breastfeeding mothers interested in the facility, and offer them peace of mind.
“Having the certification gives us the extra edge and shows our commitment to breastfeeding families and really sets our program apart. This certification shows our families that we put in the work, and we know how to support you. We are always looking to be innovative, and we already do many unique things at our facility, and this fits in perfectly with our mission to offer the highest quality for the families in our care. This certification further proves how much we care.” - Erica Tank
The Baby Led Feeding Practices Training has an extra benefit for caregivers and the babies too!
“Rather than just rush through bottle feeding, our teachers have slowed down with the paced bottle feeding, and this has greatly strengthened the bond between the babies and teachers. I’ve seen them become more and more comfortable with the children and the children become even happier in our environment and the parents really value this.” -Erica Tank
The families at Green Garden are already benefiting from the small changes the Green Garden staff has made after the Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiver Program. Now Erica, and her staff, have the skills and knowledge to properly care for a breastfed baby. They have the power to melt away the anxiety and empower the breastfeeding moms with the skills they need to be successful from the start.
“Not only is our staff able to provide peace of mind that her baby will be in the best care, as a certified facility we will be able to give her support with the Return to Work planning through Successful Breastfeeding.”- Erica Tank
Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facilities have exclusive access to the Back to Work online workshop. This highly valuable service is included with the Breastfeeding Supportive Facility Program and available to families enrolled at certified centers- FOR FREE! Just one more way to attract prospective families. Having the luxury to offer this to your families is incredibly impressive, and has them eager to enroll.
“Caregivers play an important role in the breastfeeding relationship when it comes to day to day support. We spend the majority of waking hours with these babies and it’s incredibly important we support the breastfeeding families, especially. I love that the training has given us the information we need to pick up on potential red flags of weaning and direct mom to research based resources and community support.
We all gained so much. The Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiving Practices and other skills makes all the difference when it comes to making sure babies are not being overfed. I am so excited to be bringing this level of care to our families and setting our breastfeeding moms up for success at work.”
- Erica Tank
This program has so much to offer you, your families, your babies, your community.
Take initiative like The Green Garden Childhood Development Center. Enhance your skills and make your childcare irresistible to new moms.
Sign up for your training today, and take the step to be a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility.
Your families deserve it, and you deserve the recognition.
It will be easy. Baby will latch just fine. You’re a natural. Don’t worry. Millions of mother’s breastfeed. It can’t be that hard, right?
Those were all common phrases spoken to myself, in third person, prior to the arrival of my first kiddo. Yup that’s right, I told MYSELF all of those absolutely ridiculous things. I believed them. My affirmations were my truths until SHE came, three weeks early I might add.
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE