The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding combined with other foods for the balance of the first year -- or longer if you wish. When you wean your baby remains a matter of personal choice. By slowly weaning, you'll find that milk production naturally decreases and then halts with no effort on your part. Weaning quickly, though, can cause painful engorgement.
Demand and Supply
Your body produces milk in response to your baby's needs. The more you breastfeed, the more milk your body makes. Your body will naturally produce less milk as you decreases the number of daily feedings. The process can take a few weeks or up to several months, depending on your approach.
A gradual approach is usually most comfortable for both you and your baby. Start by dropping one feeding every two to three days, suggests the AAP. At the same time, begin to extend the time between feedings by 30 minutes to an hour, suggests Dr. Dan Thuy N. Dao, clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Midwestern University's Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. Don't empty your breasts completely during a feeding, which stimulates the body to produce more milk, Dao adds. Instead, empty the breasts only halfway and supplement with formula or milk, depending on the age of your baby.
Sometimes breastfeeding must be abruptly halted for any of a variety of reasons. If this happens, you'll likely experience some engorgement because it takes a few days for your body to get the signal to stop milk production. Apply cold packs to reduce swelling and take an over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary, says Dao. Your body will stop producing milk within three to seven days, she adds.
Weaning seems to work best when both Mom and Baby are ready. As your baby becomes more active or more interested in solid foods, she may naturally have less time for breastfeeding. Start by reducing breastfeeding sessions during the day, when your baby is busy and distracted, says the AAP. The first feeding in the morning and the bedtime feeding are usually the last to go because these are the times when your baby probably most appreciates the comfort and intimacy of breastfeeding. If your baby wants to breastfeed, it's probably best not to refuse, which can backfire and increase her interest in nursing. Instead, breastfeed briefly or distract her with a toy or a bottle of formula, the Mayo Clinic recommends.