Ah, weaning. Whether you're excited for the process or sort of, kind of dreading it all, it's inevitably going to happen. Despite how many fellow mamas want to chime in (and likely will, if given the chance!), the entire process of breastfeeding is filled with personal decisions. While the "right" time to wean is different for different families, the professional, breastfeeding gurus do have wisdom and suggestions when it comes to the timeline and logistics. But, can you wean in three days if you wanted to? While it's certainly possible, experts advise against it for some very valid reasons.
As many experts will tell you right off the bat, the weaning process is one that should be taken slow and steady. In an article from Pediatrics, "The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant." While your baby will begin needing other foods to fulfill certain nutritional needs, like zinc, iron, vitamin B, and vitamin D, they will still rely on breast milk for the bulk of their caloric intake. In other words, the weaning process should be looked at in terms of weeks (or even months) rather than days, and much of it depends on how much milk you're currently producing. "Variables to consider are how big your supply is. A normal or over supply has higher risk than someone with low supply," Tera Hamann, registered nurse and lactation consultant, tells Romper.
"The best way for mom and baby is to do it slow and steady, dropping a daily feeding every one to three weeks," advises Hamann. "Weaning quickly is possible, but it increases the risks of clogged ducts, mastitis, and pain." There are risks and negative impacts for the child as well; they may be more likely to get sick, become upset or angry, and refuse the bottle, according to Verywell Family.
Angie Natero, also a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant, echos Hamann's points. Aside from physical complications for mom there are other potential downfalls to a rapid weaning schedule. "There would be very few instances in which it would be appropriate to wean a infant in three days. This is both for the safety and well being of the mom and the infant. Weaning should ideally be gradual and more natural when possible. If it’s done too quickly it can be emotionally stressful for the dyad," Natero tells Romper.
Of course, there can be unforeseen circumstances that arise that may necessitate a hastened or abrupt wean. Some of these potential scenarios include beginning a new medication, a serious illness causing hospitalization or emergency surgery, separation from the child, or a high-risk pregnancy. Though it's not ideal, moms can cope with an abrupt wean in a few different ways, but they should "be careful to watch for signs of mastitis; pain, redness, swelling, fever, chills, flu-like symptoms," cautions Hamann.
The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital has a few pointers to help moms prevent unpleasant side effects from stopping breastfeeding quickly. To prevent engorgement, use a breast pump to remove just enough milk to provide comfort, and gradually reduce how many times you pump daily. Some discomfort, unfortunately, may be inevitable. "Ice packs, cold cabbage leaves, and ibuprofen can help with the discomforts," Hamann tells Romper.
Danielle Downs Spradlin, certified lactation consultant, has an additional suggestion for a quick wean. "When parents want to discontinue feeding a child at breast, they may do a "weaning vacation" where the child goes to stay with another adult for one to three days to discontinue the behavior of breastfeeding. Then the child is reunited with the previously nursing parent, but the breast is not offered or made available," Spradlin explains to Romper. "It won't necessarily be easy, but it does work for some families." Hamann has an additional tip for weaning mamas: "There is research that supports that a single dose of Sudafed can help decrease supply." However, even with medications and herbs, it can take weeks or even months for your supply to dry up completely
Experts agree that, in the absence of a situation that demands a quick weaning schedule, a gradual approach to weaning is best. By discontinuing breastfeeding slowly, mama and baby have a chance to slowly adjust to the change, both physically and emotionally. If you're considering trying to speed the process up, enlisting professional help is always your best bet. "In the rare instance a mom needs to wean this abruptly I’d recommend that she work one on one with her healthcare provider and a IBCLC for a individualized plan for her unique situation," Natero tells Romper.