How To Wean From Breastfeeding/Pumping
Many time families contact me when they are ready to wean from breastfeeding or pumping and would like some guidance. So, let’s talk about the weaning process!
First – the deets on what to expect when weaning:
1. It may take longer than you think! Whether you are doing baby-led weaning or you are gently nudging the process along, it often takes longer than most parents realize – and that’s okay!
2. My friend – the emotions that come up when weaning can be INTENSE. Even if you are 100% ready to wean, you might be surprised by the conflicting emotions that come up as you are going through the weaning process.
3. Your milk will dry up through the process, but for some parents, they can “leak” milk for a long time after fully weaning. Sometimes for a year! So, it’s common to be able to express a drop or two long after weaning. Too bad it can’t be considered a cool party trick.
4. Involution happens – that’s a fancy word that means your girls will temporarily get smaller and sag a little more. Usually it’s temporary and after a while, your girls will regain some of their fullness.
5. If Aunt Flo (your period) hasn’t yet returned, most likely, it will after you wean. Fun times.
People wean for a variety of reasons, and you usually know if you are ready!
Now that we have talked about what to expect when weaning, let’s talk about how to go about it.
Unless there is a medical emergency that requires you to wean immediately, weaning should be done gradually.
This is not only easier on your baby emotionally, but also physically, as it gives more time for your baby’s body to adjust to the formula you will be using.
It is also easier on you, as abrupt weaning can cause issues like severe engorgement, plugged duct, mastitis, etc. Going at a slower pace gives your body more time to adapt.
Let’s talk about the steps:
Ideally, you will want to eliminate and replace one feeding at a time. Generally, I recommend starting with the feeding where you feel you “produce” the least amount of milk AND that feeding to which your baby is the least emotionally attached.
Depending on how old your baby is, be sure to offer a replacement food – formula – if your baby is under 1 year old or their favorite snack – if they are over one year old.
Your baby will also be looking for more than food! Remember breastfeeding to your baby is about connecting, cuddling, etc. So while providing them with that replacement food, also replace the connection that they are looking for by activities such as cuddling on the couch while reading a book, etc.
Now that we’ve talked about how to support your baby when eliminating this first feeding, let’s talk about how to support YOU.
When you skip a feeding, depending on how abundant your supply is and the age of your baby, you might experience engorgement.
Now, engorgement is what is going to tell your body to stop making milk, so it’s not a bad thing. But EXCESSIVE engorgement can be problematic. It’s all about finding a balance between being comfortable while drying up your milk supply.
If your breasts are full but have some “give”, like the tip of your nose, you’re still good. But if they start to get very very firm, as firm as your forehead, then we will want to manage that.
In this scenario, ice packs will be your “breast” friend. You can also try anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric. Many of the families I work with also find Cabo Creme to be helpful for managing engorgement.
If you really uncomfortable, you can hand express or pump just enough to feel tolerable, but the goal is to minimize stimulation of the breast as much as possible.
After eliminating the first feeding, give your body (and your baby!) 3-7 days to adjust, depending on the severity of the engorgement and how your baby is handling not breastfeeding at that feeding emotionally.
Once your breasts have adjusted and you are no longer getting significantly engorged, and once your baby is accepting weaning from that feeding session, then move on to the second feeding to eliminate, using the same rules and steps above.
Rinse and repeat until you have weaned from all feedings!
What about weaning from pumping?
Just like weaning from the breast, weaning from the pump is best done gradually.
Here are three strategies to try when weaning from pumping:
- Gradually increase the time in between pumping sessions. For example, if you have been pumping every three hours, try going every 3.5 hours for a few days. If your breasts feel okay, then start going every 4 hours, and repeat that pattern.
- Choose the pumping sessions that you get the least amount of milk from, and eliminate it completely. Wait a few days for your body to respond, and if you feel okay, then drop another pumping session.
- Gradually shorten the length of your pumping sessions. For example, if you have been pumping for 15 minutes, cut it down to 10 minutes for a few days, then 7 minutes, and so forth. Some parents choose one of these strategies while others do a mix. It all depends on your situation and supply.
Some parents choose one of these strategies while others do a mix. It all depends on your situation and supply.
Let’s Talk More About The Emotions While Weaning
For some families, when feeding their baby doesn’t go as planned, it can create a lot of conflicting emotions.
Some parents experience guilt. Some parents experience sadness. Even if they are feeling relief about their decision to wean. Even when they know it’s best for them.
Because even when weaning is the best decision for you and allows you to enjoy breastfeeding your baby, there can still be some strong negative emotions involved.
If you are in this situation, please know that it’s normal to have these conflicting emotions, just like it is whenever you realize the best plan for you isn’t the one you originally intended.
Need support with weaning? I offer in person and virtual weaning consults. You don’t have to go through this alone!