Breastfeeding without any supplementation (infant formula, juice, water, solid foods) is recommended for the first six months after birth. Partial breastfeeding is recommended until the infant is at least 12 months old, and thereafter, for as long as a woman and her child choose to continue.
Women choose to stop breastfeeding at different times and for different reasons. Most of the time, the mother chooses when to wean. But sometimes, weaning happens because a baby no longer wants to breastfeed. Some babies wean quickly. Other babies can take months to wean.
There are many possible reasons for wanting to wean. There is no particular age by which weaning should be complete and continued breastfeeding is not harmful to a child’s development. Women who are told that they must wean should consult with someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding to help them explore their options.
The World Health Organisation advises women to continue partial breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. The benefits of breastfeeding persist for as long as it is continued. Some of the benefits persist even after breastfeeding is discontinued.
Breastfeeding is not a reliable method of birth control. Most women are able to become pregnant, even while breastfeeding, within the first three months after giving birth. Women who become pregnant are usually able to continue breastfeeding if they wish. However, the woman will need to consume extra calories (approximately 200 per day) to satisfy her own needs and those of her foetus and breastfeeding child.
When you decide to wean, do not stop breastfeeding all at once. Instead, try to reduce your breastfeeding slowly. To do this, you can; drop one breastfeeding session every two to five days, shorten each breastfeeding session, increase the time between breastfeeding sessions.
Some women start to wean by stopping the daytime feedings first. They might still breastfeed at night or before bedtime. The night or bedtime feedings are usually the last feedings to be stopped.
You can give your baby a bottle or a cup. Most babies younger than six months old are weaned to a bottle. Most babies older than one year are weaned to a cup. Babies between six months old and one year can be weaned to a bottle or a cup.
To help your baby’s first bottle or cup feedings go smoothly, you can; have someone else give your baby the bottle or cup, give the bottle or cup before your baby gets too hungry or put breast milk in the bottle or cup.
As weaning occurs, you may find that your breasts begin to feel less full and may begin to become smaller. Most women’s breasts will remain slightly larger than pre-breastfeeding. Some women will have stretch marks similar to those on their abdomen from pregnancy. These will fade to pale, silvery coloured areas over time.
Once breastfeeding has stopped entirely, your breasts will stop producing milk. Even after breastfeeding has stopped, there may be milk in the breasts for several months to years. You may notice drops of milk on occasion or may be able to express drops by hand. If your breasts become painful, hard, or reddened after weaning, you may have a plugged duct or breast infection; talk with a healthcare provider to determine if treatment is needed.
As you produce less breast milk, you will need to consume fewer calories to maintain your body weight.
Weaning can be a very emotional time for the woman and child. It is not just a transition to another feeding method, but the conclusion of a special relationship between mother and child. Even if both are ready for the weaning process, unexpected feelings of sadness may occur. The baby will need extra love during this time.
Dr. Ian Shyaka ,
Resident in Surgery,
Rwanda Military Hospital,