Not all women experience pain during the weaning process, especially if they follow the baby’s lead and wean the baby gradually. However, some women do experience discomfort during the weaning process, whether they are weaning from the breast or from pumping. Discovering effective ways to reduce pain while weaning can help breastfeeding mothers accomplish their goal with greater ease. Thankfully there are simple steps that nursing mothers can take to help make the weaning process a little smoother.
Beginning the Process
1Start slowly. Begin the weaning process in a gradual, slow manner. Any abrupt cessation of breastfeeding will confuse your body and cause pain (or worse) from engorgement. If you abruptly stop nursing, your body is less likely to handle the transition smoothly, and you are more likely to experience pain.
- Your body has prepared itself to meet your baby’s nutritional needs based on how often your baby nurses. Your body has not been prepared to stop producing milk at a quick rate. It needs time to realize that the milk is no longer needed.
- Painful side effects of stopping abruptly include engorgement, mastitis, and plugged ducts.
- If you wean gradually, it will take as long for your milk to dry up as it does to wean, which means anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. If you stop breastfeeding suddenly, the length of time for your milk to dry up depends on how much milk you are producing at the time. If you are producing a lot of milk, it can still take several weeks or months.
2Watch your baby for signs of weaning. Your baby will most likely let you know when he or she is ready to wean, such as an interest in solid food and a loss of interest in nursing. However, babies should not be taken completely off of mother’s milk or formula until at least 12 months, and they should not drink cow’s milk until this age as well.
- You can follow the philosophy of baby-lead weaning, which means allowing the baby to eat table food whenever he or she starts reaching for food. Your baby will gradually eat more food than breast milk over the next few months.
- Follow your intuition with regards to your baby’s readiness for weaning. Remember that you are the mother and no one can know your baby better than you. Listen to your baby.
- Remember that every baby is different. Every mother is different too. Learn from the experiences of others but don’t take them as gospel if you feel differently. Your own experiences are your best guide.
- At around five to six months, babies may want other foods despite not having teeth. You can tell they are ready for food by increased fussiness, ability to sit up without much help, watching you eat with interest, and chewing motions.
- Some people think that you have to start weaning when the baby starts teething, but this is not true. It is okay to keep breast feeding your baby even when he starts teething. Just keep in mind that some babies will bite when they are nursing after they develop teeth, but gently telling your baby this is not okay should be enough to make him stop.
3Introduce food. To get to the point where food is the main source of nutrition, you should begin slowly. Baby’s digestive system is still developing, and he or she will need either breastmilk or formula until about 12 months. Start at around four months with baby cereal and progress to table food.
- When introducing an exclusively breastfed baby to food for the first time, express some breastmilk and mix it into a single-grain baby cereal. This will make it more appetizing and easier for the baby to chew. Food should be introduced at around six months.
- Between four and eight months, you can introduce pureed fruits, veggies, and meats.
- At nine to 12 months, you can offer non-pureed finger foods such as rice, teething biscuits, and ground meat.
4Start to cut out feedings. If your baby nurses every three hours, at around nine months you can start nursing every four to five hours. Or you can simply skip over baby’s least favorite feeding (or the most difficult feeding) and see if your baby notices. If not, keep skipping it.
- A few days or weeks later, skip another nursing and see if your baby notices. If your baby continues to adapt to the skipped feedings, you can continue this trend up until the last feeding.
- You may want to keep the early morning and bedtime feedings until the very end. For one thing, you have more milk in the morning after a long night without nursing, so keeping this feeding will prevent engorgement. And the evening feeding is probably part of a comforting bedtime routine, as well as a way to help baby feel full and sleep better. The evening feeding is usually the last one to go.
- Cut out middle of the night feedings by having your partner or someone else comfort the baby.
5Substitute formula for breastmilk. If you are trying to wean before your baby is 12 months old, you need to replace breastmilk with formula. Substituting breastmilk with formula one feeding at a time for several weeks each will eventually wean both you and the baby.
- Experiment by switching out the breast for the bottle. If you usually offer the breast each time the baby wants to feed, try offering the bottle first and see what happens.
- Alternatively, if you nurse the baby to sleep, when they are just starting to fall asleep, slip the breast out of their mouth and slip in the bottle’s nipple. This may help your baby get used to the taste and the bottle nipple without even realizing it.
- If your baby won’t take a bottle, try different things, like having someone else (like dad) try, offering the bottle when the baby is tired, or use a sippy cup instead.
- If your baby is over 12 months, you can substitute breastmilk with whole cow’s milk.
6Reduce pumping sessions slowly. If you are mostly or exclusively pumping, you still need to wean off of pumping and take your time doing so. The same principles of weaning from the breast apply: reduce the number of pumping sessions per day. The first step is to reduce to two pumpings a day, preferably 12 hours apart.
- Wait a few days between dropping pumpings.
- Once you are down to two pumping sessions per day, reduce the length of each pumping session.
- Then reduce it to one pumping per day, staying here for a few days.
- Reduce the duration of this last pumping session.
- Once you are only getting two or three ounces from a pumping session, you can stop pumping altogether.
- All the same steps apply to weaning from pumping if you feel engorged, blocked ducts, or general pain.
Practicing Self Care
1Use cold compresses to reduce engorgement. Cold compresses, like a gel ice pack or cold wash cloth, can restrict blood vessels in the breasts, leading to lowered milk production. Cold compresses can also reduce pain and raise your comfort level.
- There are bras on the market that come with gel packs you can freeze and slip inside a pocket over your breast.
- If you don’t want to spend money, just get a washcloth wet with ice-cold water and slip it between your breast and the bra cup. Replace the cloth often or freeze it first, as body heat makes cloths warm up very quickly.
2Avoid pumping and nipple stimulation. Both activities can make your body think the baby is sucking and that you need to produce more milk. This of course defeats the purpose of drying up your milk.
- However, if you are truly engorged, it’s not safe to leave the milk there as it can block ducts. Instead, hand express or pump out just enough milk to relieve the pain. Be careful to only pump this small amount, and your body will still decrease its milk supply.
- A warm shower can assist in hand expressing the milk, but you should not use this as a solution often, as it can increase milk supply.
- Place some nursing pads against your nipples if leakage becomes a problem, which it can if you become engorged. Many women are embarrassed when leakage presents itself through their clothing. The pads are an effective way to promote absorption.
3Try cabbage compresses. Cabbage leaves have been used for centuries to help hasten the drying up process of breastmilk. To create a place for cabbage compresses to remain stationary, wear a well-fitting bra even during sleep. Too small or too large of a bra will be uncomfortable.
- Cabbage leaves release enzymes that encourage the drying up process, so be sure to crush the leaves by folding or rolling them with a rolling pin before applying to your breasts; this releases the enzymes.
- Place one large, cool cabbage leaf into each cup of your bra and keep replacing them when they are wilted for 24 to 48 hours.
- Avoid bras that contain underwire.
- If the cabbage leaves don’t work after a few days, stop using them and find another method for reducing pain and drying up milk, like cold compresses.
4Massage the breasts. Start a massage routine immediately if you feel lumps in your breasts. If this occurs, it probably signifies that a plugged milk duct is present. Begin paying extra attention to the area and increase massage time to it. The point is to break the plug up with massage.
- Warm showers can be beneficial in helping massage work more effectively, but they are not recommended, as warm water can increase milk production.
- Place warm compresses, like a warm wash cloth, on the breast before massaging and a cold compress, like a cold pack or cold wash cloth, after massaging.
- Watch for the development of any sore, red areas, or a fever. This can indicate mastitis.
- Seek medical attention if the massage efforts fail to unplug a duct within a day or so. If the symptoms worsen or if fever takes place, it is possible that the plugged duct has progressed to a condition known as mastitis. If you suspect that this is the case, contact your healthcare provider immediately, as mastitis can have serious complications if not treated quickly and properly.
5Ask for pain relief advice. Speak to your healthcare provider about the use of ibuprofen as a pain reducer if pain becomes too great to bear and no home remedies are working.
- A medication called paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, can also offer relief.
6Be aware of mood swings. Keep in mind that the hormonal changes of reducing milk supply can affect your moods. Weaning is a psychological experience as well as physical. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling.
- Don’t be ashamed of wanting to cry during weaning. You will probably feel a bit sad, and tears are a way to help you grieve the end of this season of closeness with your baby.
7Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Continue to eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated. Promoting good health is always an effective way to help the body function better.
- Remain taking your pre-natal vitamins to ensure proper nutrition to the body as it tries to adjust to the changes occurring.
- Try to get a full night’s rest each night. The body is going through serious changes and it could use some help from you. Sleep is one of the best ways for the body to regenerate and heal itself.
8Speak to a health professional. Speak to someone who specializes in the subject of breastfeeding, such as a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants can be found in the maternity wing of hospitals and sometimes at pediatric offices, as well as independently in the community. Ask around or look on the internet to find one.
- Ask questions about your individual situation so that you can apply their valuable advice in the most accurate way possible.
- Many centers offer educational seminars, meetings, or classes for breastfeeding mothers wishing to learn more about the weaning process. These professionals can often be your best resource for finding real life tips from those who have experience with breastfeeding and weaning.
9Talk to experienced mothers. If you encounter other weaning problems that you aren’t finding answers to, talk to other moms. Find out what their weaning process was like. You may be surprised to hear some of the tips that others have to offer. Many times, other moms can be an excellent source of information for nursing, weaning, and other parenting tips.
- Write down what they say and refer to their tips throughout your own weaning process.
Anticipating Your Baby’s Needs
1Comfort your baby. Keep in mind that your baby may be having some difficulty adjusting to the change. Not only did she lose her mother’s breasts, she lost her comfort time with her mom. Find alternative ways to comfort and reassure your baby that do not involve the breast.
- Spend more time cuddling and showing affection, like extra hugs and kisses. This helps the baby get used to the reduced physical contact of weaning.
- Spend more time one-on-one.
- Ignore stimulants like TV, phone apps and communications, reading, pretty much anything that would divide your attention.
- Work extra cuddling into your routine so that you don’t forget to do it, and so that you can have a specified time frame for ignoring your phone.
2Distract your baby. Use distraction methods to prevent your baby from craving your breasts. Distraction can be accomplished easily and in many different ways. Anything that averts your baby’s attention from the breast is a successful distraction tactic.
- During a time that you would usually nurse, get your baby involved in a fun game or outing to help them forget about it.
- Avoid sitting in spots that you usually nurse in.
- Switch up the daily routine so that you aren’t doing things in the same order as when you were breastfeeding.
- Rearrange the furniture in the room where you usually nurse to help the baby stop associating the room with nursing.
- Get your partner involved in games and other activities to keep baby distracted during a feeding time, such as having your partner take the baby on an outing without you.
- Don’t discourage the baby from forming an attachment to a blanket or stuffed animal, as this assists in the emotional adjustment of the weaning process.
3Remain patient with your baby. Babies and toddlers can be fussy and irritable during the weaning process because they are reacting to change. This time will pass, and you and your baby will move on to another chapter in your lives before you know it, and staying patient while both you and they make the transition is important.
- Play with your baby or toddler, as this is their most important method of learning and experimenting, as well as communicating.
- When your baby gets into a crying jag while you are weaning and it’s not time to nurse, you can do things like take a personal timeout by placing baby in the crib or letting your partner take over for a few minutes, take a walk with the stroller, or quietly sing and pat the baby.
Will cabbage leaves help dry up milk while you are still releasing milk?
No. Cabbage leaves don’t reduce the amount of milk your body produces, but they can help relieve the discomfort in your breasts.
Can I drink caffeinated beverages like Lipton tea during weaning?
Yes, in moderation. Just as when you were pregnant and nursing, drinking only a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea will not affect the baby. Just restrict yourself to two or three cups per day until you are no longer giving your baby milk, as large quantities of caffeine are not recommended.
I started the weaning process abruptly and my mind and body could not take it so I want to try a more gradual approach, but I started the weaning process three days ago. is it still possible for me to do a more gradual approach, since my breasts are really engorged?
I quit for a week and went back several times. Cutting down the number of feedings and the length of time at each session and offering milk in a cup and distractions has helped.
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- La Leche League is a breastfeeding support organization, and their website is a detailed and essential resource for any new breastfeeding mom, from newborn stage all the way through nursing. You can find them online and search for a group that meets near your home.
- Don’t try to wean a baby at a time when they are sick or likely to get sick. Nursing during an illness is one of the best ways to keep the baby hydrated and heal more quickly.
- If there is another big change going on in a baby’s life, such as a tooth erupting, another baby on the way, or moving to a new home, delay weaning until after the baby has adjusted to this change in order to reduce stress.
- You want to wear a tight-fitting bra during weaning to help support you, but do not bind your breasts because it can cause mastitis and clogged milk ducts.
- Seek professional assistance if during the course of weaning depression becomes prolonged and intense.
- Avoid spending extra time in the shower as the warm water can stimulate milk production.
- Get medical attention if signs of mastitis become apparent. Mastitis requires proper treatment and should never be ignored. Antibiotics are the general course of treatment. Mastitis symptoms include:
- fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- red skin, shaped liked a wedge or in a wedged pattern
- swelling in the breast
- breast tenderness
- feelings of illness / loss of energy
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