7 Expert Tips To Make Weaning Easier — For You & Your Baby

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Like most aspects of child-rearing, breastfeeding can be a very complicated and personal journey from start to finish. Latching doesn't always come easily, and the same can be said for weaning, so patience is a necessity — patience with yourself, your baby, and the process you're trying to figure out together.
Although it's frustrating, the best thing you can do is basically trust the process, says Jennifer Thomas, MD, IBCLC, a pediatrician and member of the executive board on breastfeeding for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The whole system is set up to shut down," Dr. Thomas says. So, even though it feels like you're going to be pumping in perpetuity, eventually it will come to a close.
You're also not alone in this, and you have a loving partner: your baby. "Breastfeeding is a learned process, so you have to be a dynamic duo — mom and baby," says Courtney Juliano, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Health System. And just because it's not going as smoothly as you thought it would doesn't mean it's not going well, Dr. Juliano says. Breastfeeding isn't necessarily an innate ability that humans have, so sometimes you need some help. The same can be said for knowing when it's time to stop, and somehow making that happen. Ahead are some tips from doctors to keep in mind when you're ready to wean.
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Knock out the in-between feedings first.
When you're weaning it's best to get rid of the "low-hanging fruit" first, Dr. Thomas says. "Babies love to nurse first thing in the morning, and right before they go down to bed," she says. So for most people, it's easiest to cut the mid-morning or mid-afternoon sessions first, and keep the morning and evening ones, she says. "Do that for a few days till your body adjusts to the fact that there's no milk removal [at those times]," she says. Dr. Thomas says if you're strategic about stopping those in-between feedings first, then it might be easier to knock out the tentpole feedings when it's time.

And be ready for your milk supply to decrease once you remove a session. For example, Dr. Juliano says that she was doing a morning and night feed with her baby, and then pumping during the middle of the day in order to have enough milk for the other feeds. Depending on the age of your child, and their diet outside of breastmilk, this may not be necessary at all. "When I completely cut out the middle-of-the-day feed, my milk supply decreased significantly."
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Breasts kind of have a mind of their own.
Once you've made the decision to try to wean, you have to remember that "the breast is like its own human being," says Lauren Levine, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center. What that means is that your breasts will accommodate and make milk according to how much they think you're taking out of — even if you're not trying to make more milk, she says. In a way, it's a cycle: You want to stop breastfeeding, but it hurts to not remove milk, so you pump, but then you keep producing and it becomes harder to wean. "People refer to it as 'supply and demand,' but it's really 'demand and supply,'" Dr. Thomas says.

If you find that you absolutely have to pump a little for relief that's okay, but don't totally empty out each time, Dr. Thomas says. "Pump until you're comfortable, so you’re not increasing milk supply, and not so much that you’re foiling your weaning process," she says. You could also try massaging your breasts instead of pumping, Dr. Juliano says. The good news is that eventually, the pain will become less severe, so these breaks will become less necessary, she says.
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Medication isn't always a reason to stop breastfeeding.
Sometimes, people are told they need to stop breastfeeding because they're on a specific medication, Dr. Thomas says. "Most often this is a mistake, because very few drugs require moms to wean," she says. While it's important to take medications according to your doctor's instructions, it's also worthwhile to double check with your doctor to make sure you were both given the right information, she says.

Dr. Thomas recommends searching a database called LactMed, which is run by the National Library of Medicine and has a thorough list of medications and how they might interfere with breastfeeding. The point is, it's worth it to at least ask.
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You might have more breastmilk than you think.
Another common reason why people stop breastfeeding is because they assume they're not making enough milk, Dr. Levine says. "The sad thing is, it's usually not a supply issue to begin with," she says. In reality, your baby might be taking in much more milk than you think, she says.

If you're pumping, and have a great breast pump, you might think that your baby is getting a certain number of ounces each feed, but your pump is not a perfect surrogate for how much you're actually making, Dr. Juliano says. Babies are way more efficient than pumps, and they can usually get more milk out of a breast than a pump can, she says. So, for better or worse, you might be producing more milk than you think.
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It's okay if this all makes you really emotional.
Choosing to stop breastfeeding is a complex emotional decision, Dr. Thomas says. "There's a tremendous amount of guilt associated, and a sense of loss." To some, stopping breastfeeding is like the end of a relationship, or it can feel like your baby is no longer a baby, she says. Or in certain cases, babies decide they're done before you are, Dr. Juliano says.

It can be comforting to remember that even though it's difficult, there's also a physiological reason why you feel so intensely during the weaning phase, Dr. Juliano says. "The sensation of breastfeeding involves lots of hormonal changes," she says. "There will be changes, highs and lows, and moods, similar to the postpartum period, that people don't expect."
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You may want to schedule your snuggling.
Nursing provides two important benefits for your baby: one is comfort, and one is nutrition, Dr. Juliano says. That means, even though they may be eating lots of food, babies are into breastfeeding for the comfort and bonding, too. When you start to take away feedings, that also means there's less snuggling and talking to your baby, Dr. Thomas says. This might be tough, but find some extra time to give your baby the love and attention they normally get during feeding, she says. If the bedtime feeding is the last to go, why not keep the same bedtime routine — maybe sitting in a special chair, holding your baby and reading stories — at the same time every night. "That way, the only change is that there's no transfer of milk," she says.
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Don't mess around with plugged ducts.
Plugged ducts are a normal complication while breastfeeding, and particularly during weaning, Dr. Thomas says. "If one duct isn't drained fully, it gets larger and larger to the point where you can't remove milk," she says. Occasionally, there might be a visible, thick substance blocking the nipple opening. If you don't relieve it, bacteria can sit there and become inflamed or infected, so you shouldn't just ignore it, Dr. Juliano says.

The only way to relieve this is to keep feeding and emptying, Dr. Juliano says. Even though it hurts, or you get to the point of an infection, keep emptying. "Don't just leave it because it hurts," she says.

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