A step-by-step guide to weaning

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July 2, 2019

Weaning. It can be bittersweet for some moms and an absolute relief for others. For me, it was a relief. I tallied 15 plugged ducts over the course of 12 months of breastfeeding. I was thrilled to be done.

For others, it can be a sad experience as you lose that bonding time with your child. And for some, it’s not a choice at all - whether you’re going back to work, your supply runs out or, it hurts to even type it, you lose your child.

What is weaning?

Weaning is when you wind down your breast milk and replace breastfeeding sessions with other food for your baby, whether it’s formula, cow’s milk (after a year of age), or solids.

Related: A brief overview of weaning and related FAQs

It is best to wean gradually when possible. Some mothers, especially those who have suffered from postpartum depression (which can hit at any time), are more susceptible to experiencing depression and other hormonal swings while weaning.

How to wean gradually

  • Make a plan. Think about your baby’s habits. Choose a daily breastfeeding session that is one of the less interesting ones to your baby. You’ll know it by the fact that they regularly get distracted or feed for a shorter amount of time during this feed.
    • If you want to make yourself a weaning kit, consider stocking up on fresh cabbage, ibuprofen and sage tea.
      • Fresh cabbage leaves can help reduce engorgement - keep the cabbage in the fridge and when wearing the leaves, change them when they become limp/warm.

      • Ibuprofen can help with pain and inflammation.

      • Sage tea can help reduce your milk supply.

      • If you’re considering going back on birth control pills, those containing estrogen can also assist in reducing milk supply.






  • Start experimenting with dropping feeds. Make sure there’s at least 2-3 days between dropped sessions so you give your body time to adjust.

  • Be kind to yourself and your baby. If your body or your baby is needing to nurse, you can (in theory) pause your weaning plan.
    • Drink when you’re thirsty. Cutting your own fluid supply will not help decrease your milk supply.

    • Express some milk by hand if engorgement becomes painful. Note that one of the common recommendations for mastitis and plugged ducts is a warm shower or warm compresses - this is not a good recommendation when weaning, as warmth helps stimulate milk production. Stick with cold compresses.




A week-by-week review

Here’s what I did over the course of 7 weeks. Weaning is different for everyone, but hopefully my experience can give you an idea of what you might expect.

Before

I started to track the feeding times so I had a frame of reference. I was exclusively breastfeeding since our son never learned how to take a bottle, so that makes things better but also harder. This helped me pinpoint the feeds he cared less about. We were doing roughly 6 feeds - around 1 am, 4 am, 7 am, 11 am, 2 pm, 5 pm.

Week 1

We dropped the 2 pm feed first because it was the one I struggled the most with getting him to focus during. He’d just constantly roll away from the boppy and leave me sitting there with my tits hanging out. During the 2 pm feed, we attempted to give him formula and had mixed results.

Week 2

The second week in, we dropped one of the night time feeds. We also upped his solids and made sure to get him on a more consistent meal schedule. But we had a hard time with this.

Week 3

The third week in, he was sleeping better and eating more solids but mostly rejecting formula. We got the go-ahead from our pediatrician to introduce cow’s milk (whole milk) two weeks before his 1-year birthday and it made a great difference. We were down to just the 3-4 am feed, 7 am feed, 11 am feed and 5 pm feed.

Week 4

Four weeks in, it was time to drop that 11 am feed. I was plagued with plugged ducts throughout this process, meaning we probably should have done it even more gradually, but I had a goal of finishing breastfeeding by a certain day. From this point on, we gave him cow’s milk and set a morning snack time around 10 am, lunch around noon, afternoon snack time around 2 pm schedule. We also always gave him solids about 30 minutes before bedtime early on to try to get him used to not being fed to sleep.

Week 5

At the five week point, we naturally dropped the 3 am feed and I was THRILLED. Our baby finally slept through the night after we pumped him up with more solids and cow’s milk during the day.

Week 6

Six weeks into our weaning process, I decided to drop the 5 pm feed instead of the 7 am feed first. My breasts were always very full in the morning (around 4 am is peak breast milk production time and 4 pm is when it’s typically lowest). That worked for us.

Week 7

Last week, we finally dropped the 7 am feed. I made heavy use of cabbage leaves. It felt very, very weird.

After

It took about 9 days for me to finally have my milk feel like it stopped. Those 9 days were rough. Two plugged ducts, lots of cabbage leaves, lots of electric toothbrushing on my breasts (both sides). I had overwhelming nausea 48 hours after the last feed along with cramps. Never expected those side effects!

Now, a few weeks out from weaning, it’s almost like I’m finally getting my body back and restoring some bit of normalcy in my life.

What are some of the side effects?

Just like how your hormones were swinging during pregnancy and after giving birth, the changes in prolactin levels (the hormone that stimulates milk production) can wreak havoc.

It can take several weeks for your milk supply to decrease. Some may feel it dry up over a few days, some may have milk still being created months afterwards. Every mother has a different experience.

All of these are normal side effects of weaning:

  • Plugged ducts

  • Sore breasts

  • Depression/mood swings

  • Acne

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Cramps

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches









The biggest warning signs that aren’t normal are fever, swollen/red/hot breasts or foul discharge from the breasts.

If any of these side effects persist for more than two weeks after dropping the last feed, make sure you talk with your doctor. If you have questions or comments, log in and post them below.

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