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Nursing Your Older Baby and Weaning

Whenever possible, plan to wean gradually rather than abruptly. Gradual weaning is easier on both mother and baby. Requiring an infant to abruptly relinquish both his method of feeding and his principal source of comfort and security can be emotionally distressing. Furthermore, you won't want to stop nursing completely and drastically decrease your milk production until you are confident that your baby tolerates formula well. For younger infants, plan to eliminate one nursing at first, substituting formula for the skipped breastfeeding. Several days to a week later (depending on how rapidly you want to wean), you can replace a second nursing with a feeding of formula. Gradually tapering your breastfeeding also helps prevent your breasts from becoming uncomfortably engorged.

Eliminate first those nursings that hold the least interest for your child. Certain nursings have special significance for a baby, who is sure to protest if you stop these breastfeeding sessions before she is ready. Perhaps you've been bringing your baby into your bed first thing in the morning and the two of you start the day with a leisurely nursing. Consider how special those times are for your little one. Or maybe you always nurse your baby to sleep for naps or at bedtime. Think about what you can substitute for the comfort, security, and intimacy of nursing.

It might help to keep a diary for a few days to note when, why, and how long your baby nurses. Try first to eliminate one of the midday nursings, or one when your baby typically stays at the breast for only a few minutes. Or, you might choose to omit an evening nursing, especially if your milk supply is noticeably lower in the evenings or if a substitute caretaker is available to take over.

Substitute other intimate activities. Breastfeeding is such a highly effective method of soothing and quieting an upset child that it's easy to rely solely on nursing when other comforting measures might be equally effective. Consider whether there are times when you offer your breast to your child simply because it seems easier at the moment to restore calm. Or there may be times when your child nurses simply out of boredom. Children may resist weaning if nursing is the principal form of one-on-one attention they receive. Be creative as you taper nursing, and make sure you offer your child ample opportunities for comforting and interesting stimulation. When several children in the family compete for Mom's attention, the youngest may use nursing as a surefire way to get Mom all to himself. No wonder the last child often breastfeeds the longest! Try substituting rocking, cuddling, stroking, singing, reading a story, making a puzzle, or playing a game.

Wear inaccessible clothing. A nursing toddler soon learns to pull at her mother's blouse buttons and lift her mother's shirt to nurse. Seeing the exposed breasts-for example, as you change clothes or emerge from the shower-will trigger the desire to nurse. When you are structuring weaning, try wearing clothing that is inaccessible for nursing, such as a one-piece dress that pulls over your head or zips up the back. Explain in a matter-of-fact tone that you simply aren't able to nurse right now because of what you are wearing. Although toddlers and preschoolers have a limited capacity to reason, your explanation may postpone their desire to nurse for a while, especially if you can distract your child with an interesting activity or offer some cuddling and extra hugs.

Change your routine and avoid situations where you normally would nurse. If you had a favorite rocker where you often nursed, move it into the garage for a while. If you normally nursed while on the phone, keep calls short and remain standing while you talk. If you often nursed in front of the TV, don't watch any programming while your child is awake. If you want to eliminate the early-morning or bedtime nursing, ask Daddy to help out by being the one to get your child up or tuck her in at night.

Use a timer to limit the duration of nursings. In addition to eliminating the number of breastfeedings, you can also structure the weaning process by limiting the length of nursings. If you try to end a nursing before your youngster is ready, it can feel like rejection to her. Instead, use a timer to monitor the length of some nursings. Explain to your child that when the sand is gone or the timer buzzes, you will have to stop nursing. Whereas a parent's limits might easily evoke an emotional response in a child, a neutral instrument like a timer can serve as an objective way to limit nursing.

Focus on your child's increasing independence. Emphasize what a big girl she is becoming and the new privileges she enjoys, like going to preschool, becoming potty-trained, and staying overnight at Grandma's house. You can acknowledge how special nursing is for little babies and reminisce about her babyhood.

Enlist the help of other caretakers. Encourage Daddy, grandparents, and baby-sitters to lavish extra love and affection on your child during the time she is tapering her nursing. They can help distract and entertain her and keep her preoccupied, especially at former nursing times. Their close involvement will remind your child that other loving adults can be effective sources of comfort and love.

Let your child know you have needs too. One woman put Band-aids over her nipples and explained to her three-year-old that she had "owies" on her breasts and wouldn't be able to nurse anymore. Her cooperative and considerate child agreed to wean. Another mother told her child that her breasts were getting tired of making milk and wanted to rest now. When your child requests to nurse while you are doing something else, ask her to wait a few minutes until you are done.

Keep your sense of humor. On those days when you wonder whether your breasts will ever belong to you again, remember that a sense of humor can help you maintain your perspective and a positive outlook. Every child does wean eventually, and late nursers are sure to leave their moms with some funny anecdotes. For example, I recall a woman whose recently weaned four-year-old gazed at her breasts in the bathtub and remarked, "Those used to be mine, but they're no use to me now." Another preschooler reluctantly weaned after announcing that his mother's breasts were "broken," since her milk flow had slowed to a trickle.

Don't put noxious substances on your nipples. Although countless stories are told of women who have put foul-tasting substances on their nipples to dissuade a baby from nursing, I have never recommended this method. I must emphasize that nothing ever should be applied to the nipples that could prove to be toxic to a baby. Cases have been documented where babies were harmed by ingesting a potentially dangerous substance that was topically applied to the mother's nipples. Besides, don't you want your child to end your nursing relationship with positive memories and complete trust in you?

From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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