LivingWeaning by decision of the mother or the baby:...

Weaning by decision of the mother or the baby: what to do in each case?

Weaning is the process by which breastfeeding is stopped. We know that breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants up to six months of life; subsequently, it is recommended to keep it together with other foods for up to two years or more whenever the mother and the baby want it.

But there comes a time when the mother, the baby or less frequently both decide to stop breastfeeding. What are the main causes of weaning? How do we know when the time has come? How do we proceed in each case?

How long does breastfeeding last?

It is difficult to know the exact rates of breastfeeding and these vary greatly depending on the country, being influenced by the socioeconomic level, the duration of maternity leave, the culture, the support available, etc.

The WHO estimates that, globally, only 41% of babies under six months are breastfed. If we talk about exclusive breastfeeding, the figures are even lower.

Weaning by maternal decision

Why do mothers want to wean?

Let’s start by saying that whatever the reason a mother wants to wean, it is her decision and should be respected and supported . Numerous studies have analyzed the reasons why mothers decide to stop breastfeeding and we present the most frequent below.

A study carried out in Canada collected data on weaning before six months of age. Of the 500 mothers who stopped breastfeeding before six months, the majority (73.5%) did so in the first weeks of life. The most frequent reasons were the sensation of lack of milk and the inconveniences and fatigue derived from breastfeeding . Return to work was associated with duration of breastfeeding; 20% of the mothers who weaned their babies after six weeks of life did so to return to work.

Another study carried out in Brazil in 2014 shows that the majority of mothers (94%) wanted to breastfeed at least until the baby was 12 months old. However, only 58% continued breastfeeding for up to six months. The mean duration of breastfeeding was 10.8 months. The main reasons for weaning were insufficient amount of breast milk (real or subjective) as well as returning to work or school .

In Spain , a study published in 2021 was carried out that collected information on 236 newborns during their first six months of life. 15% of the babies were initially formula-fed and 4% were mixed-fed for six months. Figures for exclusive breastfeeding fell from 66% at one month of age to just 19.9% at six months of age .

The reasons that led the mothers to stop breastfeeding were similar to those found in other studies. 80% of those who thought their baby was hungry and more than half of those who introduced supplements, weaned before 6 months. Work reasons and family or social pressure also led to giving up breastfeeding.

Gradual or sudden?

Whenever possible, it is preferable to wean gradually. In this way the breast adapts better, producing less and less milk. And the baby, from an emotional point of view, will also take it better.

However, in some situations it may be necessary to make an abrupt weaning, such as a serious maternal illness, an unexpected trip… In this case, care must be taken because there is a greater probability that the mother will suffer a breast engorgement, obstructions, mastitis or even abscesses mammary.

Is weaning different depending on age?

When we want to give up the breast, the process will be different depending on age: under 6 months, who only drink milk; between 6 months and one year of life, who have already started complementary feeding but milk is still very important; or older than 1 year. Whenever possible, it is better to do it progressively.

Before 6 months . We will have to gradually replace breast feeds with formula feeds . The ideal is that we alter them so that our chest gets used to it. For example, remove one shot every 2-3 days. First we can remove one in the morning, 2-3 days later one in the afternoon, 2-3 days later another in the morning, but maintaining a breast feed between the 2 bottles…

After 6 months . Some of the breastfeeding feeds can be progressively replaced by other foods (vegetable purées, fruit purees in the case of offering crushed fruit, or solid foods if we are doing BLW). The remaining feeds will be replaced by formula. Some babies will be able to drink from a cup, or they can take the milk in the form of porridge with a spoon.

After one year of life , the role of other foods becomes more important. Children older than one year can already drink cow’s milk and are perfectly capable of drinking from a glass

Will my baby accept the bottle?

This is probably the biggest difficulty we can find. Many babies, especially if they are well-established breastfeeding and are “older” will not want the bottle the first few times. In general, the younger a baby is, the easier it is for him to accept a bottle.

For one, the container is different . It’s not the breast, it’s a teat, with a different consistency and another way of sucking . In addition, the content also changes , breast milk does not taste the same as formula. A good solution may be to give bottles with expressed breast milk at first, and when they suck well from the bottle, gradually switch to formula.

Sometimes they refuse the bottle if the mother gives it to them, but they accept it if someone else gives it to them , especially if the mother is away from home.

On the other hand, we can choose to give the milk in a container other than the bottle: with a cup, with a spoon… In very young babies it can be tedious to give large amounts with a cup (although they are capable of drinking from a glass even from newborns).

From 6 months we can also offer them milk in the form of porridge; if it is with industrial cereals, be careful with sugar; We can also make porridge with oat flakes, porridge with corn…

The “emotional” part of breastfeeding

We must not forget that, in addition to food, breastfeeding is comfort, security, affection, bond, relaxation. When we wean, we must try to cover these needs in another way. It is possible that they need more arms, more pampering, that we are more present. For this reason, as far as possible, it is preferable that weaning does not coincide exactly with other important events: returning to work, entering the nursery, the arrival of a sibling… if possible, it is better to delay it a bit.

If the baby or child is older and already understands, we can explain to them about weaning , why they can no longer breastfeed. There are several stories with this theme that can help you.

The mother’s emotions may also be running high at this stage. Remember that, in this case, the decision to wean is yours . Look for moments of intimacy with your baby or child, take advantage of moments alone with the two of you. It also helps to share experiences with other moms who have already gone through it or are going through the same thing as you. Sometimes, when we start weaning, we feel that it is not the ideal moment. Remember that nothing happens to rethink the situation and leave it for later.

Pills to cut milk, yes or no?

Carbegoline is a drug that inhibits breastfeeding. It seems that it acts by decreasing prolactin, the hormone responsible for breastfeeding. It is effective if administered in the first days after delivery. When lactation is already established (first weeks), this drug hardly works, since there are other mechanisms that regulate milk production and prolactin has less weight.

What about the mother’s breast?

One of the mechanisms that regulates the production of breast milk is the FIL: lactation inhibiting factor. It is present in breast milk. When the breast is very full, there is a lot of FIL and it sends a message to the body not to produce more milk. When it is emptied, on the other hand, there is little FIL and the body interprets this as meaning that it has to produce more milk.

When we are weaning, as we withdraw feeds, it is likely that we will notice fuller breasts. We can express a little milk to be comfortable and avoid engorgement and mastitis. But not much quantity; since, if we empty it, there will be little FIL, the body will interpret that our baby has suckled and needs more milk and we will produce again. Of course, you can also take ibuprofen or apply cold if you are very upset.

Baby decision weaning

In our society, this is the least frequent type of weaning. It is rare to see children older than two years nursing. But in reality, if we continue to breastfeed until the baby weans himself (natural weaning), this can happen between 2 and 7 years of age .

Breast milk continues to be an excellent food for children of any age, both nutritionally, immunologically and, of course, emotionally. There is therefore no reason to wean if the mother and baby do not wish to do so.

When natural weaning occurs, in many cases it is progressive. Little by little, the children space out the feedings until one day they don’t ask for more. In some cases, a more abrupt weaning may also occur and stop suckling “from one day to the next”.

When the baby decides to wean before the age of 2 there is usually a specific underlying cause, such as a maternal pregnancy. More than half of babies are weaned during their mother’s pregnancy .

Breastfeeding during a new pregnancy is perfectly possible (and later, when the baby is born, speaking then of tandem breastfeeding). However, the production of breast milk decreases a lot towards the third or fourth month of gestation. Also, there could be a change in the taste of the milk. All this causes babies to suckle less and stop breastfeeding.

If this happens very soon, when the baby is less than one year old, we must pay attention to the number of feeds. During the first 6 months, the recommendation is to exclusively breastfeed or, failing that, start formula. From 6 months, when complementary feeding begins, and up to one year, milk continues to be the main food but progressively less quantity is needed; babies can cover their nutritional needs with 4-5 feedings of breast milk or 400-500ml of formula accompanied by other foods.

The bottle, like the breast, should be offered on demand : when the baby wants and as much as he wants, without forcing. It is preferable that there is a little left over, so we will know that you are taking the right amount.

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