Let's just get this out of the way first before things get awkward: breastfeeding is ultimately between a mother and her child. Although fathers play a pivotal role in raising and caring for their child, since it's the mother's body actually providing the sustenance, deciding when and how to wean should be mostly up to her and your child. Weaning is often a hard subject to approach for nursing moms, but when the time comes, there are several ways dads can and should help with weaning, because they may need some extra support.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then continuing (along with complimentary solid food) for the first two years of your child's life or beyond. Though this may seem like a long time to some (especially if you're not the one physically breastfeeding) two years is actually shorter than the average child nurses in most other countries around the world, according to La Leche League.
There are no "rules" about how or when to wean, and each family must decide for themselves what works for them, but generally speaking, doing it gradually is best. And when the time comes for your child to wean, your spouse's support and acceptance will be crucial.
1. Don't Pressure
Although father's aren't the ones to breastfeed their children, it doesn't diminish the importance of their role in providing, loving, teaching and even nourishing your kids. But pressuring a mom to give up nursing sooner than she or your baby is ready will only cause unnecessary conflict between the two of you. As with all issues in parenting and relationships, approaching it with understanding and empathy will go over much better than approaching it with demands and pressure.
2. Know The Benefits Of Breastfeeding
Scientists and experts are continually discovering added benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, and there are many already established benefits that are hard to dispute. Things like decreased risk of breast cancer (the longer the mother breastfeeds, the smaller the risk, according to La Leche League), decreased risk of ovarian cancer according to the ovarian cancer research org and much, much more. The benefits for children are even more impressive, and the same a toddler receives the same benefits that a newborn would, according to Fit Pregnancy.
3. Be The Distraction
When it does come time to wean, no matter the age of your child, a great way dads can get involved is through the art of distraction. They can take over during the times your child would have been nursing, providing distraction, fun, or a meal, allowing them to focus on something other than breastfeeding.
4. Take Over At Night
Maybe you're starting out by dropping a night feeding or two, in which case dads can come to the rescue in the middle of the night through creating new sleep associations. Dr. Sears recommends that, when you're trying to night-wean, dads wear their babies instead of having mothers nurse them to sleep. This still provides the comfort their used to, but without having to breastfeed. If your child is older, simply switching the bedtime routine up, or going in to help them go back to sleep instead of mom will be a huge help.
5. Provide Emotional Support And Be Patient
Most experts recommend taking weaning slowly. According to Aha Parening, thinking of it as a process instead of an event will help prepare you. No matter how long you wait to wean, it can be an emotional time for a nursing mom. It's a sign that her baby is getting older and that a special time is slowly coming to an end. Simply saying that you understand that it's not easy, or that you're here for both her and your child can mean the world to her.