Ideally, a baby should be breastfed for at least her first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for six months. At six months solids can be gradually combined with breast milk. Many moms decide to continue breastfeeding into the toddler and even the preschool years. However, any amount of breastfeeding is extremely beneficial to baby, even if it is only for the first few weeks.
There are many reasons you may decide to wean your baby. If you feel ready and comfortable with your decision, by all means move forward. However, often moms consider weaning before they are ready due to outside pressures. If you are not ready to wean, you may want to be sure you are considering all of your options.
Going Back to Work
Many moms are able to continue breastfeeding by pumping at work. Depending on your job, this may or may not work for you. However, even if you can’t or don’t want to pump at work, you may be able to continue breastfeeding in the mornings and evenings and just use formula during the day. If you go this route, be sure to begin weaning several weeks before you must return to work. In this way you can gradually get your baby used to taking the bottle instead of the breast during the day and you can avoid painful engorgement on the job!
If you must undergo a surgery or take certain medications, your doctor may tell you to stop breastfeeding. Often doctors do not take the time to thoroughly research how a given medication affects breast milk. Ask your doctor questions and consider getting a second opinion. If it is a surgery or a short-term course of drugs, consider pumping and dumping, supplementing with stored breast milk or formula, and then picking up breastfeeding again once the drugs have cleared your system.
There is no medical reason you cannot nurse during pregnancy. Breastfeeding will in no way endanger the growing baby inside you nor detract from the nutrients your body provides. Breastfeeding will not cause you to miscarry or go into early labor. However, pregnancy can decrease the amount of milk your body produces, sometimes quite a bit. In addition, you may also find your nipples become more sensitive making it painful to breastfeed. For those reasons, many moms find pregnancy to be a good time to wean.
If you know you will be away from your baby for a long period of time, you may feel that weaning is your best choice. If you know about the separation ahead of time, you can wean gradually. If the separation was unexpected and you must wean cold turkey, you will need to be sure to take care of yourself to prevent engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis. Weaning suddenly also means your hormone level will drop dramatically which can cause depression. Be sure to consult with your health care provider before attempting to wean suddenly.
Severe Breastfeeding Challenges
Most women do fine with breastfeeding once they get the hang of it, but a small handful of new moms face challenges they cannot overcome. This could be not being able to produce enough milk for your baby (only about 3 percent of mothers fall into this category) or challenges with extremely sore nipples or repeated bouts of mastitis. If you are one of these women, and you have exhausted your resources, it is probably healthier for you and baby to wean.
Some moms let their babies decide when to wean (often called natural or child-led weaning). This method has been criticized by some who claim that if a child is not weaned by mom he or she will still be nursing by elementary school. In reality, the vast majority of children who are naturally weaned stop nursing somewhere between two and four years of age. Nursing a child into the toddler years, while sometimes challenging, is also beneficial for both you and your child.