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Heather Kelly is a board-certified lactation consultant and co-founder of the Manhattan Lactation Group. She is the featured lactation consultant on the instructional video "The Real Deal on Breastfeeding" and is on the board of advisers for AlphaMom TV.
It is impossible to talk about how to wean a baby from the breast without first addressing when to wean a baby from the breast. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least a year and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. Longer durations of breastfeeding are not only healthier for the infant, they also make the process of weaning easier and more gradual for both Mother and Baby. Additionally, the revolution in breast-pump technology in the last ten years has made it possible to continue breastfeeding for longer by pumping and bottle-feeding breast milk.
But what about the how? Gradual weaning is best. In terms of breast milk production, the more Baby takes, the more you make. The reverse of this holds for weaning: the less Baby takes, the less you make. Dropping one feeding at a time and giving your breasts time in between to adjust to the drop in supply is the best way to proceed.
Make sure that your baby is comfortable taking a bottle (or in the case of an older baby or toddler, a sippy cup). Prepare your child for the transition by substituting 2 bottles of pumped breast milk for 2 breastfeeding sessions each day for 2 days. This is in addition to the normal breastfeeding schedule. After your child gets comfortable with the bottle, begin to drop the pumpings one at a time by replacing the pumped milk with a supplement recommended by your doctor. Begin to drop breastfeeding sessions one at a time and replace them with these non-breast milk bottle feedings. Give your breasts a couple of days of reduced feeds so that they can adjust to the fullness and, eventually, the down regulation of milk production.