Breastfeeding is a beautiful journey. An emotional and stressful one at the same time. Motherhood is full of ironies and the biggest one is related to breastfeeding. Initially babies don’t wish to latch and breastfeed and finally when they start feeding, it’s time to wean off.
Many mothers ask me, what is the right age to stop breastfeeding? To all those mommies, there is no right time and no right age. You need to decide, what is best for you and your baby. This article is for those mommies who have some practical problems like sore nipples, health issues, no milk production or are determined to stop breastfeeding because they can’t continue it any longer. For everyone else, please enjoy this beautiful journey as long as you can. Please continue breastfeeding for at least 6 months and after that gradually introduce solids to fulfil nutrition and calorie requirements. WHO and UNICEF recommend to continue breastfeeding till 2 yrs of age for health benefits.
I reiterate again, that breastfeeding gives lots of health benefits to your lil one. So continue it as long as you can but if you have decided to stop breastfeeding, make changes gradually. Do it in phases. Gradually lower the number of feeds in a day. I started from 5 feeds at 1.5 years of age to just 1 feed at bedtime at 1.7 years of age. This phase was easy. But it didn’t stop after that. I observed a reverse cycle whereby my son wanted to feed more frequently in spite of me producing nothing. I knew that my milk supply has drained out and my son is attached to me for just emotional reasons. He wanted to be latched on throughout the night. His top feeds also reduced drastically and all he wanted was my milk, which wasn’t coming. That was the toughest phase. I saw my son starving and I was panicking.
It continued for a week and then I stopped denying him BF. I offered him whenever he wanted and started the weaning journey all over again. I had read somewhere that after 1.5 years of age children enter a new cognitive phase and make some strong associations. The failure can be attributed to this fact. So this time, I decided to turn it into a strength and keep it at core while planning complete weaning. This time, it was more structured and well planned out.
- Phasing: The feeds had gone upto 6 times a day. But his tummy wasn’t full. So I offered food sometime after BF session. I eliminated the easiest feeds first. The bed time feeds are the toughest and the day time are the easiest. This time, I decided to go slow. Once I eliminated a feed, I waited for a week before eliminating another feed.
- Offer a variety of food and experiences: Engage your kid with a variety of food. Change his surroundings. Take him to the park, strap him to the stroller and walk around the corridor, roam around in a car or try anything else to feed him. This worked for me big time. Kids get distracted by the surroundings and get engrossed in exploring new places. That’s the best way I found to feed him and not remind him of ‘mumma dudu’. In fact every evening, I took him to the ATM just to feed him dinner. You got to try different things and see what works best for you.
- Keep your kid well fed always: I say that because kids become cranky and uncontrollable on being hungry. ‘Hanger’ if you know is toughest to handle. So don’t let the kids reach that phase. Give him small meals. If not full, at least they shouldn’t be hungry.
- Develop his fascination for some transitional object: If your child doesn’t have a favourite toy, blanket or anything which he would want to cuddle to sleep, develop one. Something he can cuddle onto and sleep. My son had a rattle which he loved a lot. I used to give it in his hands while feeding and allow him to doze off. Give it everytime so that it becomes a habit. And finally when you are not feeding him, he can fall back on his favourite toy to sleep.
- Nursing to sleep: It is really tough to get over this. By all means, this was the toughest phase. My son wanted to feed to doze off to sleep. So before it was his time to sleep, I would cuddle him and rock him. Sing out rhymes on top of my voice and hand him over to my hubby. He would sing, dance and rock him to sleep while I would cry in the adjacent room for losing that bond with him. Yes, that’s how a mother’s heart is. It is worried to wean off the baby and at the same time it aches really bad when it sees it really happening.
- Take Help: Most of the times, kids wail at the sight of mom. So before bed time, it is better to ask for help. Handover the responsibility of putting the kid to sleep to dad, grandparents, sister, brother, friend or house help. You need to take someone’s help for a smoother transition. Lucky are those who can do it by themselves but my experience says that the very sight of mom made him more anxious to feed.
- Be patient: That’s the key. Your hubby, parents and relatives will give up easily and make you feel guilty for doing this to your baby. They will always say, “De do yar! Give it once and he will be fine tomorrow.” Trust me that tomorrow never comes. Always remember that a mom knows what is best for her baby. Stand firm on your decision and be patient. The phasing will be slow but it will be get over soon. The more you rush, the more anxiety you add to your child and he might just end up taking a U-turn.
Weaning is a very emotionally and physically taxing journey for all mothers. Please decide to eliminate the last feed when you have support at home. The support should be available day in and day out. He/She should be close to the baby and should understand his gestures and unsaid words.
In addition to the above points, I have also tried applying the red cough syrup, bitter neem and talking to him to make him understand that now he needs to leave BF now. It didn’t work. I found my son scared and clung onto me even tighter. So please don’t play with your child’s emotions. Don’t add to his anxiety. In all the emotional trauma he would want you more. So go slow and distract him. Make him forget the BF naturally. Give him loads of hugs and kisses and enjoy the transition to the new emotional bond you two will share for a lifetime.