Partial Weaning and Partial Breastfeeding

Baby drinking bottle

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Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing. While pediatricians recommend exclusive breastfeeding (no formula or other supplemental nutrition) for your baby's first six months of life, partial breastfeeding—also called partial weaning or combination feeding—may be the right choice for you. How often and how long you breastfeed your baby is up to you and depends on your circumstances.

Partial weaning simply means that you breastfeed for some feedings and supplement with formula for others. For example, you might nurse your baby first thing in the morning, immediately after work, at bedtime, and during the night if needed. In most cases, your breasts can adjust and provide the right amount of milk at the times you need it.

Many families find partial weaning helpful in situations such as these:

You're Going Back to Work

If you need to return to work but want to continue to breastfeed, you can. You can choose to pump while you're at work and breastfeed when you're home and on the weekends. Or, you can just breastfeed when you're home and provide your child with a different source of age-appropriate alternative nutrition while you are away from your baby.

Your Child Is Getting Older

Partial weaning comes naturally for older children. As they begin to add more and more foods into their daily diet, they need don't need to breastfeed as often and may drop feedings all on their own. Breastfeeding continues to provide your child with many health and developmental benefits for as long as you decide to nurse, even if it's only a feeding or two per day. The longer you breastfeed, the better it is for your child.

You Are Feeling Overwhelmed

If you feel as though breastfeeding is too much for you (especially if you are also pumping) and think you need to wean your baby, you may want to try partial weaning instead of fully weaning. When you begin to breastfeed less often, it may feel more manageable. Plus, your child will still be able to get the benefits of your breast milk.

Your Milk Supply Is Low

A low breast milk supply is often the result of a poor latch or not breastfeeding frequently enough. If you're concerned about the amount of breast milk that you're making, you should talk to your baby's doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding support group for assistance.

However, if you have a true low breast milk supply as a result of certain breast conditions, a previous breast surgery, the return of your period, stress, smoking, hypothyroidism, or other health problems, you may have to give your baby a supplement. But the need to supplement doesn't mean you have to completely wean your baby. You can continue to partially breastfeed along with supplementation for as long as you wish.

You're Not Ready to Give Up Breastfeeding

You may decide to wean your child as a result of pressure from family, friends, your baby's caregiver, or your partner. Then, as you begin to wean, you might realize that complete weaning doesn't feel right for you or your baby. At this point, you may choose to continue to breastfeed first thing in the morning and again when you put your child to bed. In this way, you can maintain your breastfeeding relationship with your child—but since your child is not nursing during the day, you may not feel as much pressure from others.

Your Child Isn't Ready to Wean

You may find that when you're ready to wean, your child isn't. If your child is having a tough time giving up the breast, partial weaning may be the answer. Breastfeeding is not only a source of nutrition, but it also provides comfort and security. Every child is different, and while some will give up breastfeeding easily, others still need the warmth and closeness that breastfeeding provides.

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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.