There are different types of weaning. They are as follows: natural or baby-led weaning, abrupt weaning, mother-led or planned weaning, and partial weaning, and weaning from the pump.
Baby-led weaning: At one year of age the mother simply encourages her child in his or her natural growth toward independence and offers mutually acceptable alternatives to nursings as opportunities arise. The age that this type of weaning occurs will vary from child to child, as will the reasons for the child continuing or discontinuing nursings.
Abrupt weaning: The sudden discontinuation of all breast-feedings.
Mother-led weaning: This is when the mother decides to stop breast-feeding before receiving cues from her baby that he or she is ready to stop.
Partial weaning: This is where a mother eliminates a certain nursing or nursings just as she would for total weaning, but continues to breastfeed for the rest of the feedings.
It is rare for a baby under one year of age to naturally self-wean. If a baby is suddenly refusing to breastfeed before one year passes, other issues should be considered such as low milk supply or simply normal developmental stages where it's common for babies to show less interest in nursing. See "Breast Refusal and Nursing Strike" for more information on sudden breast refusal.
In 1997 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended breastfeeding for a minimum of one year or longer if mutually desired by mother and baby. There are many benefits to extended breastfeeding, when that option is possible.
Abrupt weaning is sometimes unavoidable, but should only be done when there are no other possible options. Abrupt weaning results in engorgement, which could lead to a breast infection. Hormone levels drop quickly, and can result in depression. A mother with a history of depression should be very careful when making decisions about abrupt weaning. When medical reasons necessitate weaning, abrupt weaning can usually be avoided by pumping and slowly reducing supply through weaning. Being prescribed a medication that is considered unsafe while breastfeeding might require pumping and dumping or exploring options of changing medications. If only one breast has to stop production, consider the possibility of continuing to nurse on the other.
If there are no alternatives and you must wean quickly, eliminate every other nursing the first day, expressing just enough milk from the breasts to feel comfortable. The next day you can eliminate the rest of the nursings, continuing to express for comfort. Expressing for comfort will not prevent the milk supply from decreasing. It can, however, help prevent infection and improve comfort. Expression can be done by hand or with a pump for a few minutes. Apply ice packs, wear a firm bra (it may be necessary to wear a bra one size bigger than you have been wearing), and try applying cold cabbage-leaf compresses. It is important that you do not bind your breasts, as this can cause mastitis and will not help decrease your milk supply. For other effective treatments, talk with your doctor and/or a lactation consultant.
Mother-led weaning is chosen for many different reasons. It is important to know that fussiness or demands for attention from baby will usually increase, at least temporarily, when this type of weaning takes place. It is ideal to approach the weaning with flexibility and sensitivity to baby's needs. Try to wean as gradually as possible, over several weeks. A good place to begin is with the nursing that the baby seems least interested in. Eliminating one feeding daily, no more often than every three or four days, allows your milk supply to decrease slowly, without too much discomfort. Gradual weaning also allows the immunity levels in your milk to increase as the overall milk supply decreases, giving baby a last boost of protection against infections.
When baby is younger than nine months, weaning primarily involves substituting bottles for the breastfeedings. If baby is 9 to 12 months and is drinking well from a cup and eating other foods, you may be able to skip bottles entirely.
Changing routines and anticipating nursings by offering substitutions and distractions help. Change your normal patterns so baby won't be reminded to nurse as often. For example, if you normally nurse in bed in the morning, get up instead, get dressed and offer breakfast. Substitutions could include playing with a special toy, reading a book or taking a walk. If you have a favorite nursing chair, stay out of it. If your baby can understand, talk to her and say something about saving up the milk until nap time or bedtime. Be creative. You can say "at home, not at park." Dad may have to get involved in a different bedtime routine.
Another technique is "Don't offer, don't refuse," nursing only when baby is really adamant about it. Offer regular meals, snacks and drinks to minimize hunger and thirst. You can shorten the length of feedings. You could say, "That's enough now," and gently remove the breast from his mouth.
Be sensitive to your baby's needs. Do not attempt to wean while working on other behaviors such as sleeping through the night. If her behaviors show some signs of regression--for example, stuttering, night waking, increased clinginess, new or increased fear of separation, or biting--then slow the weaning process down.
When considering partial weaning, plan to keep the feedings you and your baby most enjoy, eliminating the least favorite feedings first.
Weaning is sometimes recommended when it is not necessary, such as when your baby is getting teeth; mom is returning to work; mom gets sick, must take certain medications or must have a diagnostic test; or mom pregnant. In such situations it can be helpful to talk with a lactation consultant to discuss your options, or verify whether weaning is indeed the best option at that time.
Your breasts will continue to produce a small amount of milk for some time. It's not unusual to be able to express drops of milk for several months or even years after you've stopped breastfeeding.
Weaning from the pump: As with weaning from the breast, this is best done slowly. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Drop one pumping session at a time. Try dropping one session every three to five days. Let comfort be your guide. If you get too uncomfortable this way, you can decrease the amount of time (or volume) you pump each day until you've dropped an entire session.
- Decrease pumping time for every pumping session at once. Start by reducing the time by two minutes every other day.
- Gradually increase the length of time between pumping sessions.