Gradual Weaning From Breastfeeding

Millennial mother breastfeeds baby in a nursery
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Gradual weaning is a process of slowly eliminating breastfeeding sessions over an extended period of time until your child is no longer nursing. Gradual weaning can take weeks, months, or years to fully complete.

The Benefits of Weaning Gradually

Children can usually accept weaning more readily when it occurs gradually.

Compared to abrupt weaning, gradual weaning is easier for mothers, both emotionally and physically.

By slowly reducing the amount you breastfeed your child, the changes to your body, your breasts, and your hormones can adjust over time. It also allows your supply of breast milk to decline little by little so that you may be able to avoid painful breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis which can occur from weaning suddenly.

Getting Ready

As you begin to think about weaning your child from the breast, keep in mind that breastfeeding provides your child with so much more than nourishment; it is also a source of comfort, affection, and security. It is important to replace breastfeeding with not only an age-appropriate source of nutrition but also activities that offer your child extra love and attention.

Take Your Time

With gradual weaning, you will take away one breastfeeding session at a time. Wait until you and the child have adjusted to the change and are comfortable with the new routine before eliminating the next feeding. This may take a few days, weeks, or even longer. Your child will probably be able to give up some of the daytime feedings without much difficulty because those feedings are easily replaced with fun new activities and distractions.

Other feedings such as the first feeding in the morning or the nursing sessions before naps and bedtime will most likely be the hardest for your child to let go of. Those special moments in the morning and at bedtime may be difficult for you to give up as well.

Some moms will choose to only partially wean their children to this point and continue with breastfeeding in the morning and before bed for quite a while. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. Do what you feel comfortable with and what you feel is right for you and your child. The process of weaning does not have to be completed in a specific time frame. Gradual weaning allows you to take the time that you and your child need to make this transition.

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  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.