How do I abruptly and painlessly wean my toddler?
September 30, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

My toddler has abruptly stopped nursing. How do I deal with this, physically?

My two-year-old child hasn't nursed for a few days. I'm ready to wean, so this is great. But I'm getting uncomfortable, and I'm worried about mastitis. I've never had any luck with a breast pump or expressing by hand. Any suggestions?

I didn't plan on weaning her this suddenly, but I was out of the house for a few bedtimes, she fell asleep in the car a few times, and now it's been three days. She was down to nursing just once or twice a day.

(Anon. because asking questions about extended nursing leads to unpleasant e-mail, in my experience.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Putting cabbage leaves in your bra is supposed to help quite a bit.
posted by kate blank at 3:13 PM on September 30, 2008

Awkward question that I can't ask in a non-awkward way: do you have a husband or other willing partner?
posted by paanta at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2008

Kellymom has some resources. I used Sudafed to reduce milk supply and it works.
posted by peep at 3:17 PM on September 30, 2008

I would get some help with learning to express one way or another (pump or hand), and do a fake wean that way. If you haven't tried a machine pump, perhaps you could hire one for a short time because it's pretty fail-safe - I could even use a machine in the early days when I really, really struggled with feeding. Chemists and hospitals hire them out quite inexpensively, I think. You could then use the milk to fortify your baby's meals by mixing it into foods while you wean.

Good luck with it!
posted by lottie at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2008

Oh, and I forgot to mention - massage!
posted by lottie at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2008

When our daughter died my wife went through the same thing. Sudafed and Cabbage Leaves were both godsends, she changed the leaves twice a day. Her Doula found some sort of herbal remedy that helped some, but I have only vague recollections of most of what went on at the time, so I'm not sure what it may have been. Hopefully someone here knows what it was and/or you can ask around at a health food store.

As a warning there was still a lot of physical pain, our daughter was eight months old and still nursing as her only form of sustenance at the time. I imagine that at least some of the physical pain was tied to the emotional hurt, but I know for a fact that at least some of the tears were related to her very sore breasts...
posted by togdon at 3:26 PM on September 30, 2008

Um... off topic... but two years old is considered extended breast-feeding? Get out of here! That's what the World Health Organisation recommends. I'm outraged on your behalf.

I'm not a hippy dirt-bag... in fact, quite the opposite... but breast-feeding till two is a good thing.

Back on topic, and off my high-horse.... just hand express the excess to make yourself comfortable and wear a firm and supportive bra... and nursing pads. Shouldn't take too long.

You're not expressing enough to make a bottle so you can just squeeze and squirt in the shower without aiming. Shouldn't be too hard...hopefully. Or you could get your partner to have a bit of a suck to take away the hardness, I guess.

But don't remove more milk than comfort dictates, otherwise you'll create demand and your boobs will make more.

Good luck possum.

(...... still outraged about the two year old thing. )
posted by taff at 3:27 PM on September 30, 2008

I think if she was nursing only once or twice a day, you probably do nothing. This is how it went for me and Baby Cocoa, at 2yo. He nursed 1x/day in the morning and infrequently at night, then he got a lot more interested in getting his own breakfast and playing first thing, and before I knew it he hadn't nursed in about a week. You may feel full for a few days, approaching engorged depending on your supply and the time of day you usually nursed, but it's quite different from going from 4-6 feedings a day down to nothing.

If mastitis is a real concern (though I don't know why mastitis would be more likely unless you tend to get it), try massaging your breasts in a warm shower or bath. As I understand it, pumping will only send the message to your body to continue producing, though I guess you could try to "throttle" the message just enough to avoid mastitis but still reduce actual production.

Depending on where you're located, you could try calling a La Leche League volunteer for more-than-anecdotal advice. Good luck!
posted by cocoagirl at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2008

I'm a lactation educator finished with my course work and now doing my clinical hours to sit for the IBCLC exam. The current recommendation is to hand express just to the point of comfort, then, if necessary for pain, use massage (avoid the nipples), warm or cool (whatever feels good) showers/baths/compresses, and if you get an OK from your healthcare provider, OTC analgesics.

Stop hand expressing once you no longer need to in order to alleviate discomfort--you may be ABLE to express milk for a very long time, but that's OK, no need to get it out.

Watch for areas of redness or unusual warmth on your breasts and/or feeling at all unwell (mastitis typically presents as flu-like symptoms with a fever). Remember that any feeling of unwellness in a lactating or recently weaned woman is considered mastitis until proven otherwise--so call if you feel at all sick. Abrupt weaning is a risk factor for mastitis, but just one, and if you're otherwise healthy I wouldn't be at all worried following the current recommendations to physically comfort yourself.

Don't pump, and don't be surprised if your suddenly grown-up former nursling asks to nurse an odd time or two (or few). It's up to you if you want to redirect her or allow her, but a random nursing events won't derail your dry-up (which is technically referred to as involution--the apoptosis--or natural death--of the alveolar cells that make the milk).

Think of this as a time take care of yourself--it's another new phase of mamahood. Be gentle and indulgent with yourself and your little one, and hey, many congratulations for all the goodness you have given your daughter. You're awesome!
posted by rumposinc at 4:18 PM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hand expressing is pretty tricky, I could never get the hang of it until I saw this video. Perhaps it will help you too. If you can hand express a little whenever you feel full (and really a little, just enough to take the discomfort away), you should be OK. The sudafed is a great suggestion, as that dehydrates you and dries up supply. Also sage and mint are supposed to be bad for milk supply.
posted by Joh at 4:21 PM on September 30, 2008

My girls weaned themselves at 15 months and 19 months respectively. (both dropping their last feeds) I was a tiny bit uncomfortable for a few days but it settled down fast. I was only surprised at how many months later there was still milk...hanging around...just in case....
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:55 PM on September 30, 2008

My wife, a lactation adviser, agrees with the above advice. To sum, use cabbage leaves, straight from the fridge, one in each bra cup and replace them when they wilt. Express to the point of comfort but not more, because it will just prompt your breasts to produce more milk. Massage with heat or cold, whichever feels best. If you're not breastfeeding any more at all, OTC analgesic will most certainly help.
posted by mollweide at 5:56 PM on September 30, 2008

It seems that cabbage might not be better than anything else chilled, but at least it's cheap, easily chilled, and roughly the right shape...

I (nursing a 13.5mo with no plans to wean until she wants to) share taff's outrage.
posted by kmennie at 6:07 PM on September 30, 2008

I tried to dry up after I stopped pumping. I stopped cold turkey after about 3 months of pumping non-stop. It hurt--it was sore. (But I also had an infant kicking my chest during feedings, playtime, etc.) I took Tylenol for the pain. I avoided hot showers directly on my chest because that can stimulate supply. The last key for me was to wear a bra overnight. After about a week of "why aren't I drying up?" this did the trick, and I was dry in a few days.
posted by FergieBelle at 7:31 PM on September 30, 2008

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