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Toddler Tips

Weaning At One

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 6, November-December 2006, pp. 268-271

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My baby is nine months old and I'd like to stop breastfeeding at around the one-year mark. What's the best way to make this transition for my child and me?

Mother's Response

It is kindest on your baby if you begin weaning by eliminating "non-essential" nursing. Many mothers offer the breast as an easy option in all types of situations where the baby might be willing to accept some other activity or form of comfort. Those early morning snuggles when you'd rather stay in bed than get up and prepare a meal, those times on the phone when nursing keeps a little one temporarily quiet, rainy afternoons when going out for a walk seems too much like hard work -- eliminating these may be easy ways to cut down on nursing frequency without distressing your child. You might start by taking note for a few days of all the times you nurse your baby and whether any fall into this category.

Try to work out what it is your child needs. Is he/she hungry? Offer other food. Tired? Take a walk or a drive in the car if it will help your child drop off to sleep. Does he/she need your focused attention or extra cuddling? Give them. It usually works better if you can anticipate these needs and replace the nursing before your child starts to look for the breast. Avoiding the request is easier on both of you than refusal.

Instead of breastfeeding, encourage other people your baby knows and trusts to offer food, comfort, or entertainment. You might go out for a while or take a walk or a bath while your baby is contented to be with the other person. Sometimes a baby needs to discover that falling asleep or being soothed is possible in other ways than at the breast. It also might help to wear clothes that make nursing less convenient.

Taking your time will be easier on both your body and your baby. As your milk supply dwindles, your breast may be less attractive as a source of food, and (depending on the baby) even as a source of comfort. If you can be flexible about your goals, it will be easier on both of you. Weaning, like other parts of parenting, is rarely a linear activity with constant forward progress. Try not to expect too much of yourself or your baby.

I am wondering why you have set yourself this time limit. If you feel you must wean, you can and will. Mothers all over the world find ways to wean their babies. The more determined they are, the more likely the solution will become apparent. You certainly should not feel trapped by your breastfeeding relationship. Having said that, many mothers go through a frustrating period, and they may think weaning is the solution, but once they are over it continued breastfeeding becomes easier and more attractive. Finding someone who will give you unbiased support may be helpful in deciding what you really want. Weaning can be hard work: a weaned child still needs lots of love and attention that you'll have to provide in other ways.

Eileen Harrison
Rennes Brittany France

Mother's Response

If your baby takes solids, you've already begun the weaning process. You've seen how the milk produced by your breasts has made your baby's body grow and how the act of breastfeeding has helped your relationship to grow and to provide your child with comfort and closeness that we humans need to thrive. These needs will not end during the weaning process (ideally, it will be more of a process than an event). It seems that you're already thinking in terms of months and a gradual weaning.

Gradual weaning has many advantages over an abrupt weaning, which can place you at risk for plugged ducts and breast infections. Some mothers find that their babies are more accepting of shorter feedings at first rather than eliminating feedings that their babies request or expect. If you've been feeding on demand up until this point, begin to set limits that are determined by you, taking into account your baby's needs for other kinds of nourishment, attention, and affection.

Your baby may still have a strong need to suck, and this need can be met with a thumb, a pacifier, or a bottle. Consult your doctor about what to substitute for your milk as you wean. Some babies are able to go from breast to cup rather than bottle.

You may find that once you're down to a couple of feedings a day, or once a frequent nurser accepts some limits, you might not want to wean completely, which is fine, too. There is much value in continuing to nurse past infancy if you and your baby would like to.

Freyja May
Fort Collins CO USA

Mother's Response

Drawing lines in the sand is counter-productive: you may not know how you'll feel three months from now when your baby is 12 months old. And does "12 months" mean baby's first birthday, or is it 12 months plus two days, or plus two weeks? If your baby is ill or teething around her first birthday, you may decide that it isn't a good idea to wean on that particular day. If not then, when? You may be surprised to find that you don't feel like weaning, or perhaps that you aren't ready when your baby is 12 months old.

Mothers who decide to nurse for a predetermined length of time have sometimes been shocked by a baby who self-weans before their planned date. Like many of the best things in life, duration of breastfeeding is best decided one day at a time. If a mother wakes up one morning and really knows that she doesn't want to continue, her local LLL Leader will support her to achieve a gentle, respectful weaning. Until that day arrives, there's no point in creating tension, anticipation, and stress by drawing arbitrary "stop lines."

I encourage you to enjoy your baby and the precious nursing relationship now, and not fret about what might happen one day in the future. Three months is a very long time in a baby's life, and in the mother-baby relationship. It's impossible to second guess what either of you might be feeling then. Planning to wean before it is necessary may get in the way of mothering. Try to enjoy today, and don't worry about tomorrow.

Antonia Robinson
London Great Britain

Mother's Response

Weaning is an important part of the breastfeeding relationship. With some time and effort, the process can be a pleasant time for both you and your child.

Eliminating one daily feeding no more often than every two or three days allows your milk supply to decrease slowly with little or no fullness and discomfort. Actively weaning before your baby is ready can be hard work. Taking things gradually means you can slow down the pace if needed. You also have the freedom to allow your baby to become more comfortable with substitutes for nursing, such as alternative ways to go to sleep, and other forms of attention. You have time to try different strategies for cutting out feedings and to work out what works best for you both. It would be a good idea to talk to your health care provider about what to replace your milk with, as human milk is an important source of nutrition for a baby under a year.

Abrupt weaning can be physically and emotionally traumatic and is never a good idea. Substituting lots of "other mothering" can help your baby come through the weaning process with his confidence and trust in you still intact. Knowing your baby as you do, you are in the best position to know what sort of attention is best to substitute for nursing.

Whether you choose to use a bottle or beaker/sippy cup to replace breastfeeding will depend on your individual circumstances, including how fast you plan to wean and your baby's need to suck. Using a beaker/sippy cup is a good option with a baby over six months of age. Breastfed babies are often very good at moderating their own intake of foods and fluid, and not taking more then they need. It is also worth knowing that a healthy baby is more likely to take food and drink that is available than go hungry or thirsty.

If you are feeling pressured into weaning before you are ready, you might like to know that you can continue to nurse your baby for as long as you are both happy and enjoying breastfeeding, taking weaning as slowly as you wish. There are benefits to continuing to nurse over a year, and even small amounts of human milk are beneficial. Sometimes mothers find that eliminating a particular feed can be a big relief, and they continue to enjoy nursing at other times.

Karen Butler
Coventry Great Britain

Mother's Response

One year can be a good time for a mother-led weaning. While the benefits of breastfeeding continue until the relationship ends, mothers have their own reasons for wanting to wean. At one year old, a child is busy doing other things (learning to walk, starting to talk, exploring the world more intensely and for longer at a time) that make it easier for a mother to offer substitutes for nursing.

Nursing takes care of a wide variety of needs, and the most effective way to lead babies to weaning is to guess accurately what the current most pressing needs are, whether it's hunger, thirst, reconnection, safety, engagement, entertainment, skin-to-skin contact, a quiet moment, hugs, play, eye contact, or re-energizing.

Offer a wide variety of textures and tastes (especially of foods that can be carried around), as well as a selection of beverages. Expect to be ready with lots of cuddles, love, and at-the-baby's-level play and connection. Your goal is to meet all her needs just as they arise. This cuts off the possible struggles to "get what she wants" -- nursing -- while keeping her in balance most of the time.

This kind of intensely attentive parenting is energy consuming and requires a parent who is carefully aware of her own needs. You need to make sure you stay hydrated, fed, and rested enough to be able to stay in touch with your baby's needs in a way that feels loving and balanced, rather than frazzled and touched-out. Use your support system through this time to help with housework, grocery shopping, and even the childcare, in order to stay well while being open and available to your child.

Linda Clement
Victoria BC Canada

Mother's Response

You have given your baby an excellent start by breastfeeding him; he will benefit from this throughout his entire life. You don't mention why you wish to stop breastfeeding at precisely one year. I have seen some babies who will wean easily at this age while others still have a strong need to nurse. If it is essential that you wean at this time, your baby may cope more easily if weaning is done very gradually, cutting out no more than one feeding each week. A longer period between cutting out feeds can help a baby who is finding it hard to adjust. Your baby will need extra time with you for cuddles and doing interesting things on a one-to-one basis to make up for the lack of time spent breastfeeding.

During the time your baby is weaning, stay alert for any changes in behavior. If he becomes clingy, angry, aggressive, uptight, or wakeful, then maybe weaning is going too quickly for him. Slowing the process or perhaps abandoning it for a week or two may give your child time to adjust more easily. You could then start again when he is ready. Watching and observing will help you decide how weaning is affecting him so as to make adjustments accordingly. I hope you find a way that works well for both of you.

Jill Unwin
Berks Great Britain

Mother's Response

Many mothers aim for the one-year mark to wean their baby. The timetable for weaning may change as you near that one-year mark. It may work for you and your child to stop breastfeeding at a year or this decision may change. It is great that you are aiming for one year of breastfeeding!

The feedings during the day might be easier to stop. Give your child a healthy snack, go outside for a walk, or use other distractions. Stopping one feeding every week to three weeks (or longer) may help your body adjust to weaning. The feedings in the morning or at night seem to be a bit trickier for some babies to give up. Lots of extra hugs and rocking will help. When stopping the nighttime feeding, a sippy cup with water and sometimes having dad rock the baby might help. Take this all one day at a time.

Annette Leibovitz
Buffalo Grove IL USA

Mother's Response

Most mothers avoid their usual nursing spots when weaning, even moving the furniture around so that the usual comfortable recliner or couch is no longer readily available. Sometimes, a slight change in schedule so that your child gets to experience something new and special at bath time, bedtime, or naptime may help with the weaning process. Once the least-needed feeding has been eliminated, move on to the next least-needed feeding.

You may notice your breasts getting fuller than normal as your baby takes less from you. This is normal. If you feel you need to, express just enough to ease your discomfort.

You may also find that once you've eliminated most feedings, you and your baby will enjoy the remaining daily nursing sessions. Allow yourself the option of changing your mind.

Shannon Rittenhouse
Sterling VA USA

Mother's Response

My first two children began to refuse the breast and stopped nursing at about nine months of age. At the time, I thought this was completely their decision and I was pleased that they had weaned naturally. With hindsight and since learning more through La Leche League, I realize this was actually very early. However, if this is the outcome you desire, here is the sequence of events that I believe led to weaning.

From about five months of age, I started to offer milk in a baby beaker/sippy cup because I was mindful of the fact I would be returning to part-time work when they were about seven months old. I wanted to be sure they would drink when I was away. Both of them liked the cup and soon began to drink from it happily. I also introduced food soon after, which they enjoyed in quite large amounts. With their nutritive needs satisfied, they began to prefer the cup over the breast as it didn't take as long and gave them more time to play and explore.

It also helped that my children were "easy" babies who met their own sucking needs from their thumbs and could fall asleep on their own. According to the book MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, there is a window of opportunity for weaning between nine and 12 months as babies are easily distracted and interested in new things at this age. I think weaning will also depend on your little one's personality. I don't think most high need babies would prefer a cup to a breast.

Also, if your child depends on breastfeeding to fall asleep, the book The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley has a program to help you teach your child to gradually fall asleep on his own.

Philippa Pearson-Glaze
Stourbridge Great Britain

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