Preparing for weaning from the breast

In the jungle, a mammal weans from mother’s milk to safe, clean water and food he or she can chew. So humans can wean directly from breast to cup and fork or we can choose to wean a baby from breast to bottle first. So, if weaning is your decision, it's best for you and your baby to do it gradually, and with love. For babies under one year, who are weaning to infant formula, a gradual weaning process will take about one month. This transition period is slow, but prevents discomfort and hopefully any breast infection from breast milk not being emptied from your breasts. Each time that you take a breastfeeding away (wean), you must take care of your breasts until they are comfortable with missing the deleted breastfeeding. It will take your breasts about five days to be comfortable as you remove each breastfeeding. Follow either of the following suggestions for breast care as you wean.

Using ice compresses for each removal of a feeding

At the same time that you are removing a breastfeeding and substituting a bottle of formula, place two to three large ice bags or large bags of frozen peas over and around each breast including your armpits for a fifteen-minute period. Use a layer of clothing under the ice to protect your sensitive breast skin from the cold. Hold bags in place with your arms and repeat as often as you like. Each day, repeat the use of the ice for a 15-minute period while baby is fed the formula bottle. Continue until your breasts are comfortable with skipping a breastfeeding. It could take your breasts up to five days to tolerate not being nursed. Then remove another breastfeeding, substitute another bottle of formula and apply ice bags/frozen peas to your breasts. Repeat in five-day cycles until all the breastfeedings are replaced with formula feedings.

Applying cabbage leaf compresses for each removal of a feeding

Breast milk can also be weaned from your breasts by use of a remedy of applying raw chilled green cabbage leaf compresses to your breasts. Core the cabbage, pull the leaves off in whole pieces and rinse the leaves under cool water. Place the rinsed leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to chill. Apply the cabbage leaf compresses to your breasts at the same time that you are removing a breastfeeding and substituting a bottle of formula. Use enough fresh raw chilled green cabbage leaves to cover your entire breasts and armpits. Hold leaves in place with your bra. If the ridges of the cabbage leaves are hard, gently roll a soup can over the ridges to soften before use. Wear the leaves continuously for two hours then discard. Repeat each day until your breasts are comfortable with not being nursed—usually three to five days. Then remove another breastfeeding, substitute another bottle of formula and apply the cabbage leaf compresses for two hours. Continue until all the breastfeedings are replaced with formula bottles. Discontinue the use of cabbage leaf compress if you notice any rash on your breasts while using. The cabbage leaf compresses help to reduce bodily swelling and you may notice an increase in your urine output while using.

Part-time breastfeeding/partial weaning

Partial weaning, or part-time breastfeeding, is possible. If you choose to keep certain breastfeedings and replace other breastfeedings with formula bottles, you will need to follow a strict plan. Your breasts will need the same signal every day for when to make breast milk and when not to make breast milk. Remember breastfeeding works on the principle of demand and supply. Wean the feedings that you wish to remove carefully and slowly. Continue the breastfeedings that you wish to keep, nursing the baby (or pumping your breasts) at the same feedings each and every day. Demand (emptying) stimulates supply (volume). If you are returning to work and feel that you will be unable to pump your breasts at work and maintain your breast milk volume, then you may wean the work feedings away and continue to breastfeed all the other feedings at home. Your baby will receive formula bottles from the day care provider and you will not pump at work. Request that your day care provider to not feed your baby for two hours before your pick up time so that you can begin breastfeeding as soon as you arrive and pick baby up after work. On your days off from work, you should do your best to follow the same schedule of breastfeedings and formula bottles. Your breasts will receive the same signal every day and maintain your breast milk at the times when you are able to breastfeed. Remember to keep well hydrated while breastfeeding.

During complete or partial weaning, you need to be aware of any signs of a breast infection (mastitis). These could include fever or flu-like symptoms, red spots or streaks on your breasts. Call your OB/GYN or physician if concerned.

Weaning to cup

Weaning to a baby cup avoids baby learning to bottle feed and then needing to be weaned from the bottle. Babies are able to drink from cups from birth—small baby cups are available for use in nurseries to avoid nipple confusion if formula supplements are needed during the early days of breastfeeding. Teaching your baby to feed from the cup is fun. Never pour the liquid into your baby's mouth; let baby feed him/herself. While practicing, try expressed breast milk or water (it’s less messy). You just present the liquid to the baby's lips and let baby do the rest. Babies have two techniques: either sipping or lapping the liquid. Experiment with different baby cups when teaching your baby to cup feed—many retailers have cups for use with babies from three months of age.

Weaning is a process

Sudden weaning is very traumatic to both mother and baby. We only recommend this if mom has a medical reason to do so. Baby can switch to bottles right away but we still recommend the mom then weans herself slowly by exclusive pumping if possible. Taking your time with weaning will decrease the stress and loss of the closeness of the breastfeeding experience.

Your baby will thrive on breast milk, formula or a combination of both until six months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that solid foods begin at six months. Their website has recommendations on the introduction of solids. Around six months your baby may be "ready" for solids. Baby will start to teethe or have teeth, signal his/her readiness by watching you intently as you eat and he or she should have the ability to actually grab for your spoon while you are eating.

Discuss introducing solids with your baby's physician. Although babies with food sensitivities do take their time, babies wean gradually to solid food from six to 12 months. Remember: To maintain your breast milk volume, always breastfeed first, then offer the solids to baby. Solids can be offered immediately following breastfeeding or between breastfeedings. Celebrate any success!