In the United States, we tend to stop breastfeeding around 3 months. This is extremely low compared to the worldwide average of 4.2 years (though it’s hard to know the true figures). Regardless of the average, there are a ton of benefits to be had for allowing breastfeeding to go on as long as you’re finding it mutually beneficial for mom and baby. Just one example (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics) is baby’s that were exclusively breastfed for the first 4 months of life were significantly less likely to be hospitalized for a lower respiratory tract infection. Mom’s antibodies are shared through breastmilk and are a huge source of protection against everything from ear infections to certain kinds of spinal meningitis.
However, there comes a time where you will want to slowly wean your baby, and there are a few handy ways to make this a natural and simple process.
- Do it gradually. Drop 1 feeding every 5 - 7 days and replace that with formula, solid foods. Whole cow’s milk can also be a tool if baby is older than one year. Prior to that, baby’s immature kidneys have trouble with the high concentrations of protein and minerals.
- Drop the feeding just before bedtime last, as this feeding has a lot to do with comfort and not just nutrition.
- If you’re finding it uncomfortable because of breast fullness, you can hand express or pump for 1 - 3 minutes just enough to relieve any discomfort. The idea is not to fully drain the breast, just make things more comfortable.
- Some mom’s opt to start the combined birth control pill (estrogen/progesterone) to reduce milk supply. If you still desire to do some breastfeeding, this is not advised as it can have a dramatic effect on supply.
As a side note, drugs containing pseudoephedrine (lots of over the counter cold meds) are also known to decrease milk supply - as much as 24% after a single dose. It has reported that this can cause some agitation and irritability in baby, so I don’t usually recommend this as a tool. If you’re finding the process of weaning scary or nerve racking, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Lactation Consultant for help.