How to Start Weaning

How to Start Weaning

The right time to wean your little one is a personal decision, and there should be no shame in that game.

By Sarah Wexler

Maybe you’re headed back to work and pumping in the closet between meetings just isn’t working for you. Maybe breastfeeding is painful or not what you thought it would be. Maybe your baby is now a year, which is old enough to drink cow’s milk (even while holding their own cup!). No matter how long you’ve fed your little one breastmilk, when you know you’re ready to stop, congratulate yourself on all the great antibodies you passed onto your baby and call it a day. This is a guilt-free zone–whatever decision you make is the right one. It’s also not all or nothing: since your milk supply is well established by now, you can nurse just once or twice a day and maintain your milk supply in most cases, if you want to keep a before-bed nursing ritual, for example.

Whether you’re switching your baby to formula or to cow’s milk (at a year, they can switch to whole milk to replace breastmilk or formula). Either way, you’ll want to wean gradually, because a cold turkey stop can be upsetting for the baby and lead to painful engorgement, plugged ducts, or mastitis for your breasts.

Create new routines: Sometimes babies adjust to no longer breastfeeding just fine, and other times they rail against it. You can make the transition easier by having a partner do bedtime if that’s normally when you’d nurse or to create new routines that don’t trigger the “but we usually nurse now!” pathways.

How to wean: Start by dropping one afternoon feeding (that’s when you tend to produce less milk anyway). If you’re feeling okay after a week, you’re ready to drop one more feeding–just don’t do the one right before or after the one you dropped the week before, or it can be too long of a stretch. If all is well a week after that, drop another feeding, and so on until you’re not doing any. If you’re exclusively pumping, you can do the same schedule and also pump for a shorter amount of time when you do pump.

Watch for infection and minimize pain: As for your breasts, expect some tenderness and discomfort. The main thing to watch out for is mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue that often requires antibiotics–call your doctor if you have redness, swelling, and tenderness of the breast, fever, or other flu-like symptoms. For run-of-the-mill weaning discomfort, you may want to take the edge off by pumping a tiny amount to relieve the pressure (just don’t do a long session, which triggers making more milk), massaging them in a hot shower, taking Advil, or slipping a frozen nursing pad into your bra. And though it sounds like old-fashioned witchery, many moms still recommend making cold compresses out of cabbage leaves. You’ll smell like an old farm, but it might help with soreness and swelling. Talk with your doctor about also taking a medication like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to dry up your supply more quickly.

Great job on passing on those antibodies, skin-to-skin bonding time, and great nutrition to your baby—you’re ready to transition to the freedom and independence that comes next.