When it comes to when to end your breastfeeding journey, there is no one size fits all answer. The relationship between your body and your baby is a unique one. Only the two of you will know when it’s the right time to start weaning and when to stop breastfeeding. Here are a few tips to help you through this emotional and special time between you and your little one.

What can cause natural weaning

There are a few reasons that your body may start to slow production or your baby may naturally start to wean and it’s important to know the cues. For a younger baby, if you have been doing a combination of breast milk and formula or even nursing and bottle feeding pumped breast milk, your baby may start to prefer the bottle or your body may start producing less milk. This is totally OK if you’re comfortable with it.

When your baby starts to eat more solid foods, you may notice them taking a little less milk. It’s important to note that during the first year of your little one’s life, food shouldn’t take the place of breast milk or formula. As they get older and near a year however, they may slowly start to take less and less milk as they eat more food. This is completely natural and as long as the milk is still their number one diet through the year, it’s OK if they start to take less by their first birthday. After your baby turns one, breastmilk can still be offered as much as you and your baby prefer. Just know that they can start to be weaned if you’d like or if they are naturally not taking as much now that they are primarily eating.

Pregnancy may also reduce your milk supply. While you can still nurse while pregnant and continue to nurse more than one child after birth, many women find this is a natural time to wean their current nursling.

An older toddler may still be nursing for the benefits of breast milk, purely for comfort or all of the above. If you both have chosen to extend your breastfeeding relationship, take comfort in following their cues if they start to naturally wean. They may start to lose interest as they become busier little people. You may also be the one who is ready to stop breastfeeding at this or any point and know that it’s OK.

How to wean

Weaning your baby can be an emotional time. There is no right or wrong time for anyone and only you’ll know when is the right time for you or your little one. Depending on their age and your production, the time it takes to wean may vary. Weaning could take a few days or a few weeks to do comfortably. It’s important to take the process slowly to reduce your risks of getting a blocked duct or infection. To begin, slowly start to drop the feed your baby is least interested in. If you’re pumping, drop the pump session where you produce the least. Over the next few days, start to drop another. For your most productive times, start to decrease the duration. If you pumped or nursed for 20 minutes before, go down to 15 and then 10 and so on.

In addition to decreasing the frequency and duration of your sessions, you’ll want to relieve some pressure and make yourself comfortable. To help reduce supply or relieve pressure, you can stand under warm water in the shower. Doing this while also massaging any hard feeling places in your breast will help make you more comfortable. You may even have some milk come out in the shower which will relieve some pressure and help unclog any ducts. Don’t stay too long in the shower as this can cause inflammation. After your shower, you can also ice your breasts to constrict them. This can help reduce your supply. Cabbage leaves are also said to have properties that will help dry up your milk supply. According to Kellymom.com you can place cabbage leaves fully over your breasts and let them rest on there for around twenty minutes or until they wilt. You can do this as often as needed until your supply lessens. You can also chill the cabbage leaves in the fridge to make a cold compress.

Potential obstacles

You may run into a few obstacles during the weaning process. These are all normal hurdles. An older child may still want to nurse for comfort despite your desire to stop. If they are old enough to talk and understand, walk them through the process and encourage them to be close to you in other ways. Help them understand you’re always there for comfort. For a younger baby or if you need to stop more abruptly, engorgement may be your biggest struggle. Mastitis is a common condition where the breast tissue becomes inflamed and possibly infected. This is caused by overly engorged breasts and clogged milk ducts. A routine of warm showers, ice and cabbage leaves should help relieve some pressure. Hand expressing, massages and gradual weaning will also be key to fighting this off. No matter your reasons for weaning, remember, you know your body and baby best. Follow both of your cues and enjoy this time in your child’s life. While it’s normal to feel weaning is sad or bittersweet, there will be thousands of new adventures and milestones ahead with your child to look forward to. You’ve got this, mama.