While my first child self-weaned early on, simply refusing to nurse once she decided she was done, my 18-month old son is still a breastfeeding fiend. In fact, he refers to me exclusively as “Boob.” (Who says mothers get no glory?)
As I anticipate somewhat of an epic weaning struggle, I’ve been poking around for tips on making the process as pain-free as possible—for both of us. But it turns out, when it comes to the delicate relationship between breast, parent and baby, there’s no magical one-size-fits-all approach. Here are some of my favorite options. Whichever method you decide on will depend on your goals, your parenting style and your kid’s temperament.
If you want to wean quickly
Some moms prefer to wean quickly, almost overnight. Speeding through this transition offers the benefit of not confusing a child by saying nursing is allowed sometimes (daytime only, for example, or before going to sleep), but no longer all the time. However, this quick fix comes with potential pitfalls, as some moms experience depression due to a rapid shift in hormone levels or physical discomfort when stopping nursing suddenly. If you decide to go this route, you can continue to pump to let your body adjust gradually.
Here are some quick-weaning methods that moms swear by:
- Take a solo weekend trip, while your partner handles the first few days and nights of weaning.
- Use oversized Band-Aids, like this mom, to cover your nipples, and simply explain that Mama’s boobs have boo-boos, and are not making milk anymore. (After several checks and days of no access, babies seem to accept that mama is still there, and still loves them the same, but her breasts are no longer their personal milk-making machines).
- Dab a little aloe juice, from a fresh aloe leaf, on nipples to give off a bitter taste, encouraging the child to self-wean, essentially.
If you don’t mind drawing out the process
If not pressed for time, many moms prefer taking a more mellow, long-term approach to weaning, stretching it out over several weeks or months—even up to half a year. Those who prefer this process recommend the following tips:
- Begin by cutting out the shortest feed, and move gradually toward eliminating other feeds, one by one.
- Avoid nursing cues, such as a regular nursing chair, or nursing a child to sleep, and gradually implementing new routines in the place of nursing, like having a partner handle bedtime, or offering a cup of milk or snack.
- A tip from the Ask Dr. Sears website: “Don’t offer, but don’t refuse” the breast, thereby letting the child dictate when they truly feel they need to nurse, and when they don’t anymore.
- Wear tops which more fully cover up your chest area, making your breasts less easily accessible and visible (easier in colder months, but still a great tip when it’s warm out).
- Help a toddler understand when nursing is still part of his daily routine, and when it’s not, with an activity chart outlining your regular schedule such as mealtimes, walks or classes, naps, bath and bedtime.
- Distract, distract, distract. If you know your babe likes to nurse when he gets cranky or hungry, or after a fall, anticipate this and jump in with a funky Band-Aid, a special snack, or a favorite lullaby. This is a good time to chose a whole bunch of exciting books to enjoy together at the library, go on new adventures, or try extra-fun“big kid” activities, like making bread or Play-Doh, or finger painting, for example.
Whether you wean your child quickly or slowly, three things seem to help little ones take this big step in stride: offering lots of hugs and snuggle time; providing a special “big kid” cup or bottle at times when you would normally nurse; and reading books together about this major milestone, which makes the process easier for them to understand and accept. Some good bets include Mama’s Milk is All Gone, Nursies When the Sun Shines (for night weaning), A Time to Wean—a sweet, original story about a cat and her kitten, explaining how all animals grow up and stop needing mother’s milk—and Loving Comfort, about a toddler whose mother’s milk is all gone but her snuggles and lullabies and even heartbeat continue to provide the same loving comfort to him. One mom even wrote about making her own personalized photo storybook for her son when she started the weaning process—a nice idea if you’re the creative type.
Adds Ask Dr Sears, “Life is a series of weanings for a child: weaning from your womb, your breast, your bed, and your home.” When I think about it that way, I begin to feel okay with my son calling me “Boob” just a little while longer.
About the author
Lorraine is a writer, polyglot and cheese lover who grew up in Morocco (where there is not much cheese). She blogs at MixPlayEat.com.