Weaning – When and How?

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Is there a “right” time and is there a “right” way to wean? Sara Chana Silverstein, a New York based, international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), classical homeopath, herbalist, lecturer, author, wife and mother of seven children (yes, she really is superwoman!), wrote an article for us that tackles those questions.

Weaning-Is now is the right time?
By Sara Chana Silverstein, IBCLC, RH (AHG)

So, you feel it is time to wean your baby and you are wondering what the best way to approach weaning is.  A lot depends on the age of your child; babies under the age of six months will usually transition quite easily to the bottle, while older babies will tend to protest.  As a babies age, they begin to realize that their relationship with the breast is more than just nutritive; this is when things become a little tricky. Babies are smart, and if they are gaining weight and feeling satisfied, they will most likely protest when their mother tries to offer them a bottle; especially if they see their mom standing there with breasts filled with milk.  Before we go into a few methods of weaning, let’s review a few things first.
A baby can nurse from a mother successfully up until four years of age—I understand that this is not the ‘norm’ in our modern society, but the woman’s body will produce healthful milk filled with vitamins and nutrients until the baby is age four.  If you decide to wean early, it is important to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. “Is this what I feel is intuitively correct, or are others influencing me?”
  2. “Has my baby stopped gaining the weight that she was gaining before?”
  3. “Am I taking a medication my doctors has told me I cannot continue breastfeeding with?”(Dr. Thomas Hale has a book that discusses which medications are safe while you are breastfeeding and unfortunately most doctors do not know this information).

Let’s also discuss some of the common reasons that women rely on when they wean prematurely and unnecessarily:

  • Pregnancy- You do not have to wean if you become pregnant.
    Most woman can breastfeed after they become pregnant.  If your body is still producing milk, you can nurse all the way through your pregnancy.  Your body can safely produce milk for the baby and also leave enough nutrients for the growing fetus.  While some women’s first sign of pregnancy is either decreased milk supply or intense nipple pain—that is not caused by yeast infection, if you do not have either one of these challenges, then you can continue breastfeeding without complications.  However, I do suggest that women stop breastfeeding by the seventh month of the pregnancy, in order to give the older infant a chance to find other comforts, and to avoid jealousy with the new baby.  In general, I personally do not think that tandem nursing is the best choice.  I feel that the dynamic and intimate relationship you have with a baby is a special time that helps the child develop properly and builds self-confidence.  In contrast, I have found in my practice that the older infant tends to use the breastfeeding manipulatively and uses the breast as a way of getting attention from the mother, which allows for increased jealousy toward the new baby!
  • Baby has teeth-If your baby has teeth you do not have to wean.
    Most babies will learn very quickly how to nurse with their new teeth, without hurting their mothers.  If your baby is biting you and using you as a teething ring, the best way to handle this problem is to look into your baby’s eyes, when she bites you, and say firmly, ”No biting”.  Next, put your baby down safely—on a blanket on the floor, or in a baby seat—and walk out of the room for a moment.  Then walk back into the room, pick up the baby and while looking into the baby’s eyes state that biting hurts you; then continue nursing the baby.  Babies are very smart and will learn quickly that biting you while nursing is not part of your relationship. Unfortunately, the usual pattern of events and reactions are: when baby bites mom, mom screams in pain, which draws a shocked look on a baby’s face—a look of confusion, which mother attempts to sooth with a kiss.  However, mom’s loving approach only reinforces the bad behavior, rather than shut it down.  Consider too that a mom’s scream can be accompanied by a funny or oddly contorted face, which often makes a baby laugh, and which now establishes the pattern of: yell, funny face, laugh and kiss—which baby looks forward to repeating!  Therefore, the best way to stop the biting from becoming a habit is to stop the behavior quickly after the first bite.  And know that kissing your baby after a bite is inappropriate, and only reinforces the wrong message.
  • You are going back to work- If you are going back to work you do not need to wean.
    In this case, the first mistaken thought is that the breast-pump must replace the breast if mom is going to be free for the work-place.  And since many women are not successful with pumping milk from their breasts, they feel that if they are going back to work full-time, they have to quit nursing altogether.  [It is important to note that one reason why women do not pump well, even though they often have an ample supply of breast milk, is because there are only a few flange sizes available for breast pumps, and often women cannot find the proper flange size that fits their particular shaped breasts.]  However, if a woman has established her breastfeeding properly, and the baby is thriving on the breast; she does not have to quit nursing if she cannot pump successfully for work, or at work.  When it is time to go back to work, you can still continue breastfeeding in the mornings before work, when you come home from work, and during the night.  Even if you do not pump during your working hours, your body will still produce enough milk during the time you have provided for nursing your baby.  And if you want to, you can nurse exclusively on the weekends, because the breast does not ‘store’ milk from feed to feed, rather it is made immediately as the baby compresses the breast.  Fresh milk is produced as the baby is suckling, so you can still produce milk on your days off.

Given the possibilities for continued breastfeeding, it is important to speak with a qualified lactation consultant, to help find other potential solutions to your problem; besides the weaning option.

But if you really feel you must wean, let’s go over a few rules, because you will need to cut down slowly, since you are producing more milk than you think.

Weaning Rules

  • Cut down to two feeds a day.
  • When you are down to two feeds a day, use ice and cabbage to reduce the swelling in your breasts.
  • Ice your breasts six times a day for ten minutes intervals.
  • Wear cabbage in your bra throughout the day.  Using green cabbage, crunch and break the leaves in your hand, and place them against your skin, inside of your bra.  Wear the leaves until the smell of cabbage gets to you.
  • Don’t just take away breastfeeding suddenly.  Change is difficult for most people, including your baby.  Make sure to speak with your infant, no matter how old the baby is, explaining the process that you and she are going through.  All of us would like clear explanations of the changes in our lives.
  • After you have reduced the nursing to one feed a day, put an herb or oil on the nipple area that changes the taste of the milk, preferably to one that the baby will not like. This is not cruel.  In this way, the child makes a decision, on her own, to stop that final daily nursing session.  If a child is well loved and taken care of, then it is best for the child to make that final choice, rather than have mom take it away from her.  This is a universal method that is employed in many cultures. Some suggested nipple applications are olive oil with a little black pepper or aloe vera.

Weaning your baby is often difficult for both the mother and the baby.  Sometimes weaning is the best choice for the mother, sometimes it is the best choice for the baby.  Just make sure you are weaning for the right reason; instead of weaning from misinformation.

Other articles by Sara:

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Sara Chana Silverstein
is a Brooklyn-based, international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), classical homeopath, herbalist, businesswoman, wife and mother of seven children. She has helped over 5,000 babies breastfeed and treats chronic ear infections, and other childhood ailments. She is a highly sought-after public speaker, presenting an array of topics in an intelligent, compelling, funny, provocative, and exciting way.

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6 Comments

  1. Yes, it’s such a personal decision and also varies from baby to baby. My first child went made a natural progression to wake-up and bedtime nursings only at 10 months and we weaned easily at 12 months. My second, however, was nursing constantly still at 9 months so I started giving him some formula during the day in addition – I was wiped out and had a young toddler too! The relief made me a better mom.
    My third never loved nursing. As soon as he discovered people food, he said “oh, you’ve been holding out on me!” and never nursed much after six months. That actually made me sad, since I knew he was my last one.
    Three totally different kids, totally different scenarios. Moms should just trust in themselves and their babies. Thanks for the info!

  2. Thank you so much for the information. I am nursing my 4th baby and no one ever told me that milk is produced as the baby starts to nurse, so I always thought I don’t have enough.

  3. I learned a lot from this article.
    Sara Chana has a way of making things seem simple and giving me lots of confidence.
    Thanks.

  4. Very interesting!

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