How do you know if you’re ready to wean your child off the breast? Johannesburg-based Lactation Consultant Laura Sayce says most of the time you will just know when you’re ready, and some of the signs include nursing aversion, which is when you feel frustrated and irritable when your baby latches. “But if you’re considering weaning and cry every time you think about it – maybe you’re not ready,” she says.
If you’ve been breastfeeding for a minimum of nine to 18 months, the emotional bond that you’ve built with your baby will make it hard to commit to wean her off the breast. She explains that this is not an easy decision to make, “because breastfeeding also becomes an amazing parenting tool and can fix nearly anything, like congested sinuses and bumped knees, by soothing an unhappy baby with the breast,” she says. “Some moms enjoy the ease of putting a baby or toddler to sleep on the breast and don’t want the ‘hassle’ of teaching their baby new techniques,” she adds.
If fear is holding you back from making a decision, family psychologist Christelle du Plessis explains that there is nothing to worry about. “Weaning your child off the breast doesn’t mean the end of your intimate bond, it just means that nourishing and nurturing her will now happen in different ways,” she says. The timing is also very important, so weaning your baby when there are major changes happening is not ideal. This is a sensitive time for both of you, so take your time.
When your baby won’t let go
Laura reassures that it’s normal for your child to show some resistance to weaning, because she will associate breastfeeding with comfort and security – not just milk. “Many babies also use the breast to go to sleep. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s the way nature intended babies to go to sleep,” she says. Our experts reiterate that both you and your child should be ready to wean, and it should not be done simply because society and your family say you should.
Expert weaning tips
When you and your baby are both ready, keep these tips from Christelle in mind for a smoother transition.
- Make it an event! Take your child with you to buy a few new cups and let her know it’s because she’s a big girl now. Explain that breast milk is only for babies and she is no longer a baby.
- Start by skipping a feed every few days and offering the cup.
- Be patient, and remember that you now have a big girl who needs to know that you believe in her.
- Reduce breastfeeding time to about five minutes only.
- Keep her stimulated by reading a story or play a game with her instead.
- Once you start this process, don’t give up! If you do, it will just confuse your child as it will send mixed messages.
- Read your child a story and make sure that she understands that it’s time for sleep, and give her lots of cuddles before sleep.
- When she wakes at night, consider holding your baby without feeding her.
- If she fusses, allow her five sucks and reduce it each time.
- Explain to her that she is now a big girl and that your milk is going away.
- Give as many cuddles as you can without breastfeeding.
- Don’t pressure your baby – she’ll notice that you desperately want her to wean and will cling to the breast even more.
Just the two of us
Conversations among moms reveal that there’s no average age for weaning off the breast and that uncomfortable stares are no reason to stop breastfeeding. “Children left to self-wean usually do so when they are between two and a half and three years old. This is ideal as you know that your child is ready. Weaning is often done at around 12 months in Western societies, but this is usually due to external reasons,” concludes Samantha.
Ultimately, it’s about making a decision that will benefit both you and your baby.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.