Whether you’re weaning your child off breastmilk, or just transitioning to a bottle, there’s no doubt that breastmilk is ideal for growing babies. It’s packed with the right balance of vitamins, minerals and illness-fighting substances that help protect your baby from potential illness. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age. It’s also advised that you continue with breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby are happy to continue.
Some reasons why moms stop breastfeeding
Studies have found that many mothers stop breastfeeding within the first six months. According to the Journal, Pediatrics, some of the main reasons include:
- The perception that their babies aren’t getting enough milk at each feed.
- Mothers reported that their babies lost interest in breastfeeding and stopped taking to the breast.
- For many moms, breastfeeding is painful – especially first-time moms. who report having mastitis, chaffed or cracked nipples or little ones who bite.
- There was also the perception that breastmilk alone wasn’t satisfying their babies.
- Returning to work, low milk supply, or just not enjoying the experience were other reasons.
If you have to turn to the bottle or formula feeding, there are many useful tips to remember to ease the process for both you and your baby.
For working moms
If you’re planning to go back to work after maternity leave, and you have some flexibility, it’s generally possible to work a half day and continue breastfeeding. If you work a full day, it’s still possible to give your little one breastmilk if you’re able to express milk and store it – for your child’s nanny or caregivers at creche to give to her at feed times.
Alternatively, if you’re still planning to breastfeed, from about 10 months you could also manage to only give breast milk, solids and an occasional alternative drink for thirst. Childcare expert, Sister Lillian maintains that sleeping patterns at night might change, with more feeds required at night to make up for those missed in the day, as well as to ensure a little more time together – babies thrive on this as it makes up for not being together during the day.
How to wean your baby
If your baby is younger than six months, Sister Lillian says it’s advisable to take a slow, gradual approach to weaning as the value of breastmilk is still nutritionally significant for however long you manage to continue. Also, if you take your time to wean your baby, there’s less chance you’ll need to take medication to dry up your milk. If, for whatever reason, you need to wean your baby off the breast quickly, see your GP for a prescription.
Weaning your older baby
When you start to wean your little one off the breast, make sure to offer extra love and attention, says Sister Lillian. If your child picks up that you desperately want to wean, she might cling more to the breast, so when she wants to feed it works better to simply distract her with an interesting activity and keep her happily busy until that need passes.
As the sucking reflex is still very important at this age, Sister Lillian suggests a combined approach of a feeding cup and bottle while weaning. “Offer your baby a feeding cup in the daytime, but before a nap or at night the bottle would be better,” she explains.
TOP TIP: Just remember that weaning is usually much more difficult during times of change or stress in the family, so pick a calm time to start.
Top tips to slow down milk production if you plan to bottle feed:
- Steer clear of hot baths as this can stimulate milk production.
- Wear a firm, but comfortable, bra.
- Express a little milk if your breasts become painfully full, but avoid expressing enough to stimulate renewed supply if you want to stop breastfeeding altogether.
Your step-by-step weaning guide
When you first start to transition from breast to bottle, take care to hold your baby close and give her lots of extra emotional support, because feeding is an incredibly nurturing experience, says Sister Lillian. When you first introduce your baby to a bottle and formula, don’t stick too rigidly to a schedule as many babies do better on smaller amounts of formula milk more frequently.
Regardless of when you decide to wean your baby, the good news is you can use this guide at any age. However, it is primarily designed for babies between three and six months of age. If you’d like to use it later, simply adapt quantities for older or younger babies:
Stop one breastfeed before your baby is quite ready to, but after the worst hunger is satiated. Get your partner to offer 50ml, half-strength formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing) after a break of about 15 minutes.
Repeat day 1
Stop one breastfeed just after the worst hunger has passed, but sooner than on the first two days. Your partner or caregiver should now offer 50ml, two-thirds strength formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing) after a 10-minute break.
Repeat as day 3, but once in the morning and once again in the afternoon.
Repeat day 4
Stop two feeds, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, soon after your baby has settled down to a regular feeding rhythm at the breast. Someone else should now offer 75ml, three-quarter strength formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing).
Same as day 6, but do this for three feeds during the course of the day.
Replace an entire feed with full-strength formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing). Mid-morning or mid-afternoon are good times. Make up the amount according to the instructions on the container, remembering that your baby may prefer slightly less or slightly more in volume.
By now you may be able to offer the feeds yourself. Replace two feeds with formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing). Top up three feeds with 75ml formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing) after offering the breast, until the worst hunger has passed.
Replace two feeds and top up four feeds.
Replace three feeds and top up every other feed, according to the method you’re now following.
Replace four feeds and top up every other feed.
Replace five feeds and top up all others.
Replace all feeds with formula (or expressed breastmilk if you are expressing).
Of course, if you want to keep breastfeeding partially, you can do so at night and for the early morning and before-bed feeds. You should then only go as far as day 12 of the weaning programme.
Sister Lillian’s top tips to stop night feeds
- Always wear nightclothes that don’t allow easy access to your breasts.
- Increase frequency of day feeds.
- Try patting your toddler to sleep when she calls you at night.
- Turn your back if she goes straight for your breasts.
- If you want to go cold turkey, you should consider moving out for two to three nights – harsh, but sometimes the only possibility if you’re desperate.
- Keep refusing feeds for two hours and comforting your toddler in other ways such as rocking and patting, to help break habitual drinking.
- If you realise, as you apply these tips, that this isn’t quite right for you or your child, cease all previous efforts and do nothing for two weeks to lessen any pre-existing stress.
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