When you started breastfeeding you may have had a certain plan in mind, as to how long you would breastfeed, Maybe that timeline changed, or maybe you are right on track with what you thought. It’s ok either way.
While it is desired that you continue breastfeeding, exclusively until 6 months of age and then in conjunction with solids foods, is encouraged beyond your baby’s first birthday. (1) That may not have been how things worked out. Know you have done the best you can in your current situation. Especially if deciding to stop breastfeeding has come under difficult circumstances. Life throw’s curve balls. The following information is to help you wean so you and your baby can remain healthy through the process.
The best scenario is for weaning to be gradual and baby-led. This takes into account baby’s readiness and if it is gradual, less concern for you in regard to plugged ducts and breast infections from engorgement. A milk supply that hasn’t had a chance to diminish, creates engorgement and the need, if not breastfeeding, to pump or use methods to alleviate breast engorgement. We don’t always get to have the best case scenario.
You will need to take care of this engorgement discomfort to avoid developing plugged ducts, mastitis or an abscess. It usually takes 2-3 days of not breastfeeding at roughly the same time every day to drop that feeding. Essentially, giving your body the consistent message–I don’t need to make milk at this time. If you were to go faster than that–abrupt weaning–you are going to have to do a lot more work to keep yourself comfortable. Keep pumping for comfort if you have to wean more quickly. You do not want to develop plugged ducts, a breast infection or mastitis and certainly not an breast abscess to make things even more difficult for yourself.
If you wean your baby from breastmilk prior to their 1st birthday , you will need to give iron-fortified baby formula. Cow’s milk and other milk’s based on plant foods, like rice, almond, soy, etc. are NOT a substitute for baby formula. (1) Ask your healthcare provider what they recommend if you have questions. These milks do not have the proper calorie density, protein quality and can contain an imbalance of other nutrients your baby needs to grow and thrive. When your baby is 1 year old, whole cow’s milk is recommended to provide enough fat and calories unless your doctor/healthcare provider gives you different information.
Realize your feelings about weaning, whether baby led or a different reason, may surprise you. Even if you had a plan of when you wanted to wean, or you were going to let baby be your guide. Sometimes life circumstances change “the plan”. The length of time you wanted to breastfeed may be different than what is happening in your real life. Please know that having mixed feelings about weaning is very normal. Just like you might with any other change you experience in your life. Change is loss (desired or not) and we need to grieve our losses.
Whatever amount of time you’ve been able to breastfeed your baby, your baby has benefited. It doesn’t matter if it was a few days to a year plus, you have provided optimal nutrition to your baby for that period of time. Life can throw us lots of curves with parenting. Remember you are doing the best you can. And that can be enough.
Kleinman, RE, Greer, FR, Pediatric Nutrition, 7th edition, Elk Grove Village, IL, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014, pp 48, 135.