6 Tips for Gentle Weaning

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a La Leche League conference with guest speaker Kittie Frantz. She was a wonderful speaker; highly informative, humorous, and included a great deal of audience participation….she even roped in an audience member to demonstrate “laid-back breastfeeding” with her 3 week old baby. It was amazing to witness! I admit I was a bit skeptical about the concept of laid-back breastfeeding, but after watching some video clips and seeing it in person, I am excited to try it with my next baby! 🙂

While my head was spinning with tons of breastfeeding information upon leaving the conference, the part that stuck with me most was about weaning. It seems as though there is an abundance of information and support available for the early initiation stage of breastfeeding (thankfully!). Although there is far less information readily available on how to wean your child, especially if you want to do so gently. I really liked how Kittie Frantz described weaning as a gradual process. She strongly emphasized the importance (physically and emotionally) of it being a gradual process for both mama and baby. I have condensed the information she presented at the conference into 6 Tips for Gentle Weaning:

At the conference...can you see me? 🙂

1. Introduction of Solids – Did you know that the introduction of solids is when weaning actually begins? I know when I heard that at a La Leche League meeting for the first time, I was quite intrigued. After all it made perfect sense! Of course baby getting calories/nutrients from a source other than mama’s milk would initiate the weaning process. However, I was surprised that in all the mainstream literature I had read about *how* to introduce solids, none of it stated the direct correlation between introducing solid foods and weaning. Knowing this might change when or how you introduce solids? One common recommendation to minimize the weaning effect is to avoid solids foods replacing a nursing session by nursing your baby immediately before offering them food. In other words think of breastmilk as the main course and the food as the dessert.

2. Don’t Offer/Don’t Refuse – At what age you choose to implement a “don’t offer/don’t refuse” breastfeeding policy is highly individualized. What it means is that you don’t offer the breast to your child, but you don’t refuse if they ask to nurse. With my own children, I have generally started implementing this technique around one year of age.

3. Eliminate your least favorite feeding time – Such a simple recommendation that I think is brilliant, especially during the stage of breastfeeding when the mother is feeling worn out. For example maybe it’s the 3:00am nursing session that you find exhausting? Or the late afternoon, hour long nurse-a-thon to get baby down for a nap? If you could eliminate that single nursing session, perhaps you would enjoy breastfeeding more as well as feel like you could continue on for longer. If you can identify one nursing session that is especially difficult for you and eliminate it, perhaps a rocky breastfeeding relationship can be restored or salvaged? Sometimes we just get frustrated with breastfeeding and want to quit! However this approach of eliminating one undesirable feeding session, may help resolve those feelings. So how exactly do you eliminate a nursing session?

4. Change Routine – How you change your routine will depend on your own unique situation. Sometimes in order to change routine, a change in caregiver is needed. A baby/child may not accept a change in their nursing routine if mama is the one offering the alternative, but will more readily accept change from dad, a sibling, grandma, etc. For example I have recently eliminated our nap time nursing session with my 19 month old. Through a little experimentation I happily discovered that if my oldest son offers my youngest son a sippy cup of water and lays next to him in the bed, he will fall asleep at nap time without nursing. Car rides, babywearing, and stroller rides are other ways to get a baby down for a nap without nursing. Another example from the workshop was in regard to eliminating the morning nursing session. The suggestion was to greet your child right when they wake up with enthusiasm about what you’re making them for breakfast. Serve breakfast right upon waking and make it a delicious and fun meal for them. Be creative and resourceful in figuring out a new routine for your little one.

5. Use Distractions – This goes beyond the don’t offer/don’t refuse stage, in that you are actually refusing, but not with a flat out NO! Instead use distraction to prevent or delay a nursing session. You can distract with toys, food, change of scenery, or activity. Most babies and young children are actually fairly easy to distract so use it to your advantage! Sometimes when my son asks to nurse by signing “milk”, I will tickle him and jokingly say “you put that away”. It then becomes a game between us and he is no longer truly asking to nurse despite signing “milk”. Rather he is simply enjoying our interaction. If you have tried distracting and your child is persistent with asking to nurse, then maybe they really need to nurse in that moment? The beauty is that there are no “rules” when it comes to weaning; let your mothering instinct guide the process and trust that all babies eventually do wean!

6. Play with Your Child– One excellent point the speaker made was that nursing is a very special time with mama. If it is really the only time baby gets mama’s full attention, of course they are going to hang onto it dearly. I know this is especially easy to let happen with your youngest child when you have multiple children. You are constantly moving around and doing stuff to care for your family, that the only time you really stop is to nurse your wee one. The recommendation is to engage frequently throughout the day with your nursling, but not to nurse…to PLAY! Have fun together and offer them your affection on a regular basis. It can help maintain that close connection formed during breastfeeding but allow it to be expressed in new ways. 🙂

“Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience; You are raising a human being.” Kittie Frantz.


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One Response to “6 Tips for Gentle Weaning”

  1. Just nursed my two year old to sleep. The act of nursing releases soporiphic hormones in your baby. It’s no mistake that breastfeeding sends little ones off to sleep so easily. I don’t want to create bad sleeping habits It’s easy to think this when so many people insist it will. But your son won’t need you to nurse him to sleep forever. One day he will be too big and will want his alone time at night. I imagine that many mothers miss those cuddles at the breast they had when their children were younger. It’s difficult to go with our intuition when surrounded by so much advice that contradicts it. Your breastfeeding relationship is about you and your son. Do what makes both of you happy :).