Q&A on Weaning

September 20, 2019

I thought about waiting to share this post after receiving feedback on the topic of weaning from Stephanie Nguyen, friend and owner of Modern Milk (an Arizona pregnancy care center). I was the person who asked one of the questions below about early morning waking and if weaning off breastfeeding could change that schedule. Based off this answer, I’ve decided it’s not the right time for us personally…yet, I wanted to provide you with some answers as this question often comes up from followers.

Stephanie Nguyen has been such a great resource for me and to other expecting and new moms in the community; offering educational classes, lactation consultation, and so much more. If you haven’t read the other post we did together, Stephanie and I talk about How to Increase your Breastmilk Supply, where she offers tips and tricks when you notice a decrease.

So, how to begin when thinking about weaning?

First, are you and/or your baby ready? “The process begins when nursing isn’t working for either you or baby. You may notice that baby is uninterested in nursing, not getting much milk or refusing to nurse. Personally, you may notice a desire to be done nursing or pumping, a decreased milk supply or it just isn’t working with your work or family life anymore. Babies don’t self-wean before 12 months. If baby is refusing to nurse prior to 12 months (and you aren’t ready to stop), wait it out. It could be a nursing strike and most babies will get back to the boob in a few days. If not, consider seeing an IBCLC to get to the root of the problem. If you baby is older than 12 months, they may or may not self-wean. Ever baby is different, and you never know when they will. If breastfeeding is working for you both and you want to keep going, see what happens. My first self -weaned at 17 months, my oldest would still be nursing in Kindergarten if I had let her. Every baby is different, so follow your gut on this one.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

When do you know that it is the right time?

“Sometimes there isn’t a right time and one of you may be ready to be done and one of you isn’t. When this happens, it’s normal for you or baby (or both) to feel sad about not nursing anymore.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

How to not feel guilty about stopping and the what are the hormonal effects?

I’m not sure any mom has truly figured out how NOT to have mom guilt! Breastfeeding is all wrapped in a guilt laden package. Guilt for not doing it, guilt for doing it too long, guilt for weaning, etc. The bottom line is you know what’s best for you and your baby! Know that any breastmilk that your baby has received has been an amazing gift that you were able to offer them. Feel proud in what the two of you have accomplished. I think that part of the guilt is also a sadness that this special time with your baby is coming to an end and that they are growing up way too fast! Consider taking some nursing photos to help you remember the “good old days!”. – Stephanie Nguyen.

“As far as the hormonal effects, if your period hasn’t returned, weaning brings on more estrogen and can bring back this old friend. Many women find that they struggle to cycle/ovulation when breastfeeding and that weaning is the only way to start conceiving again.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

When you feel ready, what is the most effective way to start?

“Come up with a weaning plan and do it gradually over time and be consistent. Don’t wean your baby during times of change (teething, weaning from paci, new sibling, moving, etc.) Try to plan for a time that will work for you and baby’s schedule. I usually recommend cutting out one feeding every 5-7 days. For example, if your baby is nursing 5x/day and eating solids, maybe start by cutting out the feeding that baby is less interested in. For me, that was the first morning feeding. We stopped doing that and did breakfast right away. Then once baby gets used to not having that feeding, work on cutting out one of the other feedings. It may be helpful to come up with a soothing/comforting substitute for nursing (such as a special drink a sippy cup, snuggling and reading, a special song, stuffed animal, etc.)” – Stephanie Nguyen.

Other ways to comfort? 

  • Special lovie
  • New bedtime routine with books, song, rocking, snuggling
  • For older babies, a special drink that they can now have (my daughter was 2.5 when I weaned so I would let her have some watered-down hot chocolate or juice like her big sister).
  • Be caring and sympathetic to your little ones needs at this time and be prepared for them to be a bit clingier or want mama

How do you stop producing?

“The less you nurse and pump, the less milk you make. It’s that simple. Cut back on feedings/pumping sessions gradually over time so you don’t feel too full or engorged. There are also herbal drops and supplements that can help dry up milk as well. We carry a product called Lactation Calm and Sage and Peppermint have also been known to decrease milk supply.” – Stephanie Nguyuen.

How to not have it be painful when weaning?

“Weaning over a few weeks to a month time span can really help. If you find yourself uncomfortably engorged in-between feedings, you can use a pump or hand express just enough to feel relief. Don’t do a full emptying of the breasts because that will just perpetuate the milk production.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

My baby wakes up at 530am and nurses, then goes back to sleep until 7am or so. Will weaning mess up this schedule?

Probably! This is one of those scenarios where you have to consider what is working and what isn’t. If this is working for your sleep schedule, consider leaving this feeding and maybe cutting out others. You don’t have to wean ALL feedings.

For example, my first daughter around 14 months was just nursing in the morning and before bedtime. It worked for us and we both enjoyed it, so I let rise until she was done. My second was a terrible sleeper and I nursed her for a very long time because nursing was my easy way to get her to sleep. Pick your battles 🙂

If you do decide to wean, then you may find yourself offering a bottle at 5:30, doing some sleep training at that time, or getting up for the day at 5:30am.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

What milk do you transition your baby to?

I reached out to Megan McNamee of Feeding Littles to help us answer this question.

“This is actually a complicated question! You basically have three options: cow’s milk, an alternative milk or no milk (just water). Every family will make a different decision on this, and there are pros and cons to each.

Traditionally, many families switch to cow’s milk because it is high in fat and calories and helps fill nutritional gaps when your toddler switches off of breast milk. It is also a good source of calcium. Some families choose goat’s milk because it has similar nutritional properties but can be easy to digest. Since some children cannot digest or tolerate cow’s milk protein, others look for alternative milks. We like unsweetened alternatives that are higher in calories and fat such as hemp milk, pea protein milk (Ripple) or a protein nut milk.

If you choose to not serve milk or if your child won’t drink it, you can still meet your child’s nutritional needs through food and serve only water. If your family eats dairy foods, offering 2-3 servings of cheese or yogurt can replace milk in the diet as long as your child is also eating enough calories to sustain growth. If dairy isn’t an option, seek out high calcium foods like leafy greens, whole soy products, and almond butter. Many toddlers don’t prefer these foods, so parents oftentimes utilize dairy alternatives like almond or coconut yogurt to help meet their child’s calcium needs.” –  Megan McNamee

Megan, MPH, RDN, co-owner of Feeding Littles is known for teaching new parents about Baby Led Weaning and another women in the Arizona community who has been an amazing resource for our family. Megan and Judy of Feeding Littles offers a milk and weaning eBook in their infant and toddler online courses that both Stephanie Nguyen and Amey Clark reviewed and approved. This eBook offers tips and a complete guide with a milk comparison chart. If you have interest in learning more about the infant/toddler/weaning eBooks, feel free to use code LOLA2019 for $10 off the courses.

How often should baby be eating when weaned? 

“It depends on how old your baby is. If they are under 1 years old, milk is still the primary source of nutrients for baby, so make sure that the nursing is replaced with bottles of breastmilk or formula. If baby is over 1 years old, they should be eating around 3 meals per day plus snacks and some type of milk (whatever you choose).” – Stephanie Nguyen.

What weaning a 2-year old or older?

“That is up to you, mama! 2-year olds can comprehend a lot and they will learn quickly from what you teach them. If you are content with letting your baby nurse on their terms, than go for it! If this isn’t working for you, you can decide when you are going to nurse and be clear with your child on this. If it’s not time to nurse, you can tell them and let them know when they will be able to nurse.  “It’s not time to nurse right now, but we can nurse when we get home before nap, ok?” The key is being consistent. You can also expect that if they are sick, teething, sad, going through a tough transition that they may want to nurse more for comfort.” – Stephanie Nguyen.

I hope some of this information was helpful to those of you considering the weaning process. I wish I could give more personal information as Vivienne weaned to whole milk at 11 months, as my supply naturally decreased from working full-time and pumping. Once I feel 100% ready to wean Alice, I’ll weigh into this topic a little more from a personal experience.

Thank you to Stephanie and Megan for the details/expert opinion on weaning.

xoxo, Lola