When it comes to raising children, there are no easy transitions. Each new stage comes with ups and downs and unexpected twists.
But with the right strategies, bumpy rides can be made smoother. It’s a concept that’s definitely true when weaning a nursing child, says Ashley Pritchett, a registered nurse and lactation consultant at Tidelands Health.
Every mother who delivers a child at Tidelands Health can benefit from the support and expertise of board-certified lactation consultants such as Pritchett, which is one of the reasons why Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital has earned the prestigious Baby-Friendly designation, an initiative created by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to promote breastfeeding and mother-baby bonding.
Have a plan
Pritchett says one of the most important parts of weaning is to go into the process with a specific plan in mind.
“Probably the most gentle strategy is the ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ method,” Pritchett says. “It means that you don’t offer to nurse, but you also don’t refuse your child’s demand to nurse.”
Pritchett says many moms naturally progress into this method as a child gets older. However, it tends to take longer than other strategies, and some moms may find that a quicker weaning is necessary.
“Most lactation consultants will advocate for a more natural progression and end of nursing, but if breastfeeding is becoming an unenjoyable experience for either the mom or the child, it’s time to wean,” says Pritchett. “If you choose to take a more active approach to weaning, it’s generally recommended that you work on eliminating one feeding three to seven days before dropping the next. Slower is always better, but you want to avoid going any faster than that.”
Moms who follow this method often start eliminating one feeding a week. This allows the milk supply to decrease slowly without breast engorgement and discomfort. Pritchett recommends moms start by eliminating a child’s least-favorite feeding.
Other weaning strategies include progressively increasing the time between nursing sessions and shortening the duration of each session.
'No right or wrong way to feel'
Regardless of the chosen method, it’s important that both mom and child are ready to wean, Pritchett says. Children will often naturally exhibit signs they’re ready, such as a growing disinterest in the breast or restlessness during nursing.
Moms, on the other hand, may need to consciously prepare themselves for the physical and emotional changes that come with weaning.
“Mothers can expect to feel a variety of emotions, from sadness and grief to relief and happiness,” says Pritchett. “Every woman is different, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about breastfeeding and weaning.”
As for physical changes, a mother’s breast will have some fullness when weaning, but the slower she goes, the less pain she will have.
“Some changes are to be expected, but there’s nothing special you have to do to stop breastfeeding,” says Pritchett. “However, if you’re having trouble with the transition, a board-certified lactation consultant can help with the process.”