Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life and then for at least 12 months with complementary foods. With that said, every mother will determine how long she will nurse, when she will wean her baby, or when a baby weans himself. It is important to note, however, that what mom may think is baby-led weaning is often a “nursing strike” or a temporary disinterest or distraction rather than actual weaning caused by many things including illness, teething, or excitement about all the new things they are discovering as they grow and develop. In these situations, it is good to give it some time, offer the breast but don’t force it. It is important to wean gradually because sudden weaning can cause a mom to get over-full and may lead to infection if the milk is not released by nursing or pumping.
There are myths and misconceptions around weaning but some, like binding your breasts in a tight bra, are not recommended as they can lead to complications and cause distress for you and baby. It is best to check with a reputable breastfeeding educator to ensure that your weaning process is as healthy as possible.
The sudden shift in hormones when reducing nursing sessions and due to the reduction in milk supply can cause depression in mom, especially if she doesn’t want to wean and is being pressured to do so, or if she is prone to depression. Abrupt weaning also puts a mom at risk for developing infections like mastitis or a breast abscess because the milk is not regularly drained from the breast.
Be patient and flexible. Weaning will happen, but it takes time and patience. When you’re actively weaning, there are many ways that you can still have a closeness with your baby and that is important because baby may feel confused as to why they don’t have that same closeness they used to have while nursing. Be sure to get in lots of cuddles, snuggles, and show affection despite the reduction in nursing. If baby wants to nurse, let him. Many moms do the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method which means if baby shows an interest, don’t put up a struggle but if baby is not showing an interest, don’t offer the breast.
Weaning is not all or nothing. You can always keep one or more feedings per day and drop the other feedings one at a time. Many moms keep nighttime or first morning feedings for a while after baby has weaned from all other breastfeeding sessions.