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Marie’s Top Tips for Mother-Led Weaning: Part 1

No, mother-led weaning isn’t going “cold turkey.” Mother-led weaning is a process, not an event. Yes, it’s the absence of some feedings at the breast, but it’s also the addition of some other form of nutrition.

I’m a proponent of child-led weaning. But, for one good reason or another, some mothers have decided that they want to or need to take the lead in the weaning process. For those mothers, here are some tips on mother-led weaning. This is Part 1 of a two-part series on mother-led weaning. Be sure to check back for Part 2.

1. Do watch the clock!

Anyone who knows me has heard me say a thousand times, “watch the baby, not the clock.” I stand by that statement when the aim is to initiate or continue breastfeeding. But if you’re doing mother-led weaning, definitely watch the clock. There are two approaches to watching the clock: Cutting down the number of feedings, and cutting down the number of minutes you nurse.

Cut down the number of feedings

Nurse only at certain times. Cut out just one feeding during a 24-hour period. Continue that pattern for about 3-4 days. If your breasts feel uncomfortable, you could hand express a little milk at the time your baby would ordinarily nurse. A few days later, cut down another feeding, and continue that pattern for a while. The slower you go, the easier it will be to accomplish mother-led weaning.

Cut down the number of minutes you nurse

Determine about how many minutes you usually nurse. Cut that down by a few minutes for each feeding, or for several feedings. Keep a close eye on your baby, though. He still needs food and fluid. If those needs are met, and he still wants to suck, consider offering a pacifier.

Along with watching the clock, don’t put the idea of nursing in his head. Don’t offer. If he’s not interested, don’t offer.

2. Consider “favorite” times

The old advice is to first eliminate the least-favorite nursing and continue nursing at the most-favorite times. For example, for many babies, the most-favorite nursing is the one that occurs just before bedtime, or just before nap time. These are tethered to quiet times, which can be a good thing.

Just beware that even though it’s mother-led weaning, the most- or least- “favorite” nursing is not mother-defined! Sometimes it ends up as the mother’s least favorite time: the feeding in the middle of the night, which might be a time when your baby is hungry or lonely. Skipping that feeding may not go well.

3.  Use a “cooperative” time to substitute a new routine

Even for adults, meal times are routinized. We wake up and eat breakfast. Around midday, we start looking for lunch. When we return home from work, we eat dinner. You can imagine how strange it might feel if nothing were done in place of the meal. It’s the same for your baby during mother-led weaning.

To fill the gap in routine, Ariadne Brill recommends “stacked habits.” I love this suggestion! Instead of nursing, plan a “stacked” habit: offer a snack, read a book, or sing a song. Any combination of stacked habits will work. By establishing a new routine, your baby is less likely to protest the absence of the old routine.

Brill also suggests trying the new routine at a time when your baby is rested, least hungry, and therefore most likely to be cooperative.

4. Figure out what your baby really needs

We all know that breastfeeding is more than food. But it is food! And it’s fluid, too! Since you’re the one doing the leading, anticipate how to respond before your baby looks for the breast. This is critical, because while the breast may have been the “magic” to cure the need, now the mother or caretaker needs to figure out an alternative way to meet the need. Needs may include:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • boredom
  • pain (maybe teething?)
  • upset
  • tired
  • high need for sucking

Try to think of other ways to meet baby’s needs.

5.  Use an age-appropriate distraction

Yes, distraction is a wonderful technique! Whether it’s an 8-month old, an 8-year old, or an 80-year old, focusing on something different helps us to give up our habits. Just be sure to pick a distraction technique that is age-appropriate.

Similarly, this may be a good time to set clear boundaries for older children. For example, you might not want to nurse at the park or in the grocery store. If the child is old enough to understand, you can not only use distraction techniques, you can offer irresistible options. (“How about an ice cream cone instead?”)

This post focused mostly on time-related tips. In Part II of this series, I’ll give my remaining five tips which focus more on techniques.

Meanwhile, tell me, did you try any of these suggestions? Let me know in the comments section below.

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