Maybe you need to go back to work and prefer not to pump. Or maybe you’re just absolutely, positively done with nursing, thank you very much. If you’re trying to cut down on the number of breastfeeding sessions you have with your baby on a daily basis, it’s absolutely doable from a physiological perspective. But psychologically speaking, can your baby tell when you’re weaning them? They’re a lot smarter than you think.
If you begin to wean your baby, he’s definitely going to realize that he doesn’t have that all-exclusive pass to your breasts like he used to. "Babies thrive on routine and weaning is often a big change to that routine," Andrea Tran, RN, IBCLC, a registered nurse and lactation consultant, tells Romper. "They will definitely notice when they are not being breastfed at the usual times."
But weaning doesn’t always have to be an all-or-nothing deal, especially if you are looking to create a more seamless transition to solids. If you’re just looking to cut back a bit on some of those feedings, a slow and steady weaning process might be better for both you and baby, La Leche League reported. After all, if you forego all feedings and skip straight to a bottle, your breasts might become super engorged and you could run the risk of not just pain, but possible mastitis or even a breast abscess, too.
If your child has already started solids (or if you’ve started supplementing with a bottle), you can help your baby wean safely. “The best way to wean without ruining the relationship with your child is to take it slowly, cutting out one daily nursing session every few days,” Nicole McKinney, founder of NursingtheBaby.com, tells Romper. Since your body produces milk on a supply and demand basis, your breasts will adapt accordingly, Kids Health reported. And ultimately that means less pain and frustration for the both of you.
So, first things first. Skipping a nursing session means that you’re going to have to replace that meal with another one. Try giving your baby solid food or a bottle before the time when she normally breastfeeds. This will ensure that her tummy is full, and that she stays on a feeding schedule.
But if your baby is wise to what you’re doing, you’re going to have to distract her. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with a ballistic baby swatting at your boobs and sobbing. “If you think your baby will want to nurse soon, find a fun activity to distract her,” says McKinney. This is the time to break out the blocks to keep her from realizing that she wanted to hunker down and nurse. Plus, if the two of you have a special spot where you like to breastfeed, (like your bed or a rocking chair), avoid that area when it’s getting close to the time when your baby would normally breastfeed. Says McKinney: “You have to get rid of any visual cues that she might have that it’s time to nurse.” You can also enlist your partner's help in distracting your little one.
And if your child is older, she might even complain about not being able to breastfeed as freely as before. "Determine when are allowable times to nurse and tell your child, 'We only nurse when it's time for bed,'" advises Tran. "It's important to be consistent with these parameters, though."
Weaning your baby might take some time for both of you to adjust to in more ways than one. So if it’s possible, take it slowly, and help your child by giving her lots of encouraging cuddles as you enter this new (and non-nursing) chapter of life together.
Andrea Tran, RN, IBCLC, a registered nurse and lactation consultant
Nicole McKinney, founder of NursingtheBaby.com