- Don’t offer – don’t refuse
- Dropping one feeding at a time
- Distraction or substitution
- Change in routine or schedule
- Shortening nursing sessions
- Night weaning
- Other ideas for older nursings
- Additional Information
Don’t offer, don’t refuse
Probably the most gentle active approach is “don’t offer-don’t refuse”. This method involves not offering to nurse but also not refusing your child’s expressed desire to nurse. Many moms move into this naturally as their child gets older. It tends to take longer than other methods, so it’s not one that’s likely to bring a quick weaning if you’re in a hurry. On the other hand, it’s also the one that takes your child’s needs into account the most.
Dropping one feeding at a time
If you choose to take a more active approach, it’s generally recommended that you work on eliminating one feeding for 3-7 days (slower is always better, but avoid going faster than this) before dropping the next. Some moms eliminate one nursing a week. This allows your milk supply to decrease slowly, without fullness and discomfort.
Choose the feeding that is the least important one for your baby, then you can approach it in a couple of different ways. You can either offer a sippy cup (or snack/distraction) instead of nursing, or begin shortening that particular nursing session. While you are eliminating this feeding, nurse at the other times as usual.
Once you have eliminated the one feeding, and are comfortable (no fullness at all) then you can move on to the next one you want to eliminate. Just approach it the same way, and remember to nurse as usual for the remaining feedings.
Don’t offer to nurse for the feeding(s) that you have dropped – but if baby is very insistent on needing to nurse, don’t refuse. Be prepared to slow the pace if your baby becomes fussy or clingy, gets ill, or seems to be teething. Naptime, bedtime, and first-thing-in-the-morning feedings are usually the last to go. Take your time with these (or even keep some or all of them), especially if you enjoy a bedtime snuggle as much as your baby does. It is very normal for a baby to drop all but one feeding – and hang on to that one for a few weeks or even months.
Following are some additional weaning techniques…
Distraction or substitution
Try to anticipate when your child may want to nurse and plan to distract him or offer a substitution in place of nursing. A favorite snack, a favorite pastime, a playdate with a friend, an outing, a walk outside, playtime outside, a favorite book, etc. can all be effective with this method. You are more likely to be successful with this plan if you can employ it BEFORE your child indicates a need to nurse.
Change in routine or schedule
If your child typically wants to nurse more when you are at home, try to be out and about more during the weaning process. If he seems to need to nurse more when you are out and he is away from all that’s familiar, try to stay close to home as much as you can while you wean. If sitting down in a certain chair cues him to nurse, try to avoid doing that, or anything else that may remind him of nursing (some moms have to try to avoid sitting down at all in front of their nurslings during the weaning process!) Wearing a shirt that is less accessible for nursing also helps some moms.
When your child asks to nurse, say “Not now, later.” Sometimes later never comes as he gets too busy with everything else. He also learns that he can wait a while.
Shortening nursing sessions
Begin gradually lessening the amount of time per feeding that you allow your child to nurse until that particular feeding is no longer present. For an older child, you might try nursing to the count of ten, or while you sing a song, etc.
Try not to tackle day and night feedings at the same time. Pick one (day or night) and work on it a while instead of trying to wean from both at once. For more information see Night Weaning and Nighttime Parenting.
Other ideas for older nurslings
Some older nurslings who are close to weaning are willing to trade nursing for a much-wanted toy or outing. One mom made a weaning necklace with her 4 year old.
Some moms have weaning parties after their older nurslings wean.
Weaning by Anne Smith, IBCLC
Weaning Your Breast-fed Baby from University Hospitals of Cleveland
Weaning FAQs from La Leche League