Weaning can be a really emotional topic for mothers,” says Kildare-based nurse and infant feeding specialist Katie Mugan.
“That’s because even though you are ready to wean, you may feel torn in two about the decision,” she says. “You want to wean because you want your body back or you’ve hit your achievements in relation to how long you planned to breastfeed, but it can still be difficult to do – and very emotional.”
Katie, who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and the person behind www.nursingmama.ie has four children, aged 10, eight, five and two.
“I weaned my first child at eight months and my second at five months as I was going back to work. I breastfed my third for a year and my youngest is still being breastfed at two,” she says. “He’s my last so maybe that’s why I’m going on longer.”
Weaning can be a different experience for every mum, she says, and the time chosen to do it depends on several factors.
“It depends on the mother and on the age of the child as well, but I always tell mums that no matter how long you’ve spent breastfeeding, whether it’s a day or a week or a year, you’ve done a huge amount for your baby.”
Age will, of course, determine what you have to do after weaning.
“If the baby is under six months, realistically you’re looking at transitioning the baby on to the bottle,” she says.
“If the baby has had a bottle previously it is an awful lot easier. Babies tend to love the breast and there can be bottle refusal – this can be one of the biggest hurdles that most mums will have to overcome.
“If your baby is under a year old you are looking at transferring on to formula,” she continues.
“If the baby is over a year old you can go straight on to cow’s milk. There’s no need for formula at all.”
Bottle refusal can often be the biggest challenge to overcome for weaning mums.
Katie recommends introducing a bottle before the age of three months.
“Early introduction is your window of opportunity,” she says. “Once you get to three or four months, the baby can become very fond of the breast and won’t want to take the bottle so it’s good to introduce it early on.”
“Start by introducing it twice a week, then every evening so it will be easier to transfer the baby totally to the bottle when it comes to six months if you’re going back to work.”
If you haven’t introduced the bottle early on, Katie would recommend introducing it at least six weeks before you have to go back to work.
“That’s because they can put up such a fight,” she says.
Trialling the (bottled) milk or formula both warmed and cold to see what the baby prefers is suggested. Katie also mentions the importance of position.
“Try [bottle feeding] in the same position as you breast feed, and if they refuse then try every other position from them sitting up facing away from you to walking around with them facing outwards. Again, all that’s needed sometimes is distraction to get them started.”
But what if all that doesn’t work? In this case she suggests getting outside help.
“If they are absolutely refusing, you may need to step back and get somebody else to trial them with the bottle,” she says. “You may need to leave the house, also, because it’s hard for mum not to take over if you can hear that your little one is looking for the breast.”
That someone can be a partner or a confident granny or aunt.
“You need someone who knows what they are doing. You’ll often find that when the baby is in the arms of a confidant person, they’ll actually say: ‘Okay, I feel okay about this.’ Sometimes it might take distraction, walking around with them, singing, nursery rhymes, trialling it outside.
“You would literally do anything to try get them started on a bottle.”
Even if the child only takes small amounts initially, that is still considered an achievement.
“If they take an ounce I’d say that’s success, and you keep doing it every day and getting them more used to it,” Katie says.
“You can let baby play with the bottle and chew on it also so that there is no oral aversion to it.”
Weaning from nighttime feeds can be difficult, given it can be normal for a child of up to 18 months to be breastfed up to three times a night and co-sleep, perhaps, as well.
“These are the ones, therefore, that can take a little more work,” Katie says.
So what should you do?
At night the main goal is trying to settle the baby and if they are distressed offering a small amount.
“Often, ‘out of sight’ can be easier, but in the end it comes down to family dynamics and where parents are. When you have hit the point where you are done and you say, ‘I’m finished’, you will succeed in weaning your baby, but half of it comes down to ‘I do want to but I’m torn…’ Once you make the decision you will manage it but you do need support.
Remember, though, to make memories – have a few photos of you breastfeeding your baby for posterity. Sometimes mums forget to do that.”
Visit www.nursingmama.ie for more information and support