Maybe your baby finally learned how to fall asleep on her own, so she doesn't need to nurse at bedtime anymore. Maybe she's less excited about breast milk since you've offered finger foods. Or maybe your plan to pump milk at work every day is tougher than you thought.
There are many reasons why you might need to help your baby switch from breast to bottle for some or all of her meals. And you likely have strong feelings about the change.
“Every mother experiences mixed emotions about weaning and usually feels some sadness about bringing nursing to an end,” says Kathleen Huggins, RN, author of The Nursing Mother's Companion.
If you and your baby have trouble with your new routine, these tips will help.
Take Cues From Your Little One
The weaning process, when your baby eats foods other than breast milk, begins at 6 months with solid foods. Since your baby will get calories elsewhere, she'll naturally nurse less often. This milestone can help you start to use bottles.
“Most moms consider weaning when there are natural transitions,” says Natasha L. Burgert, MD. She's a pediatrician in Kansas City, MO. “As baby's diet is changing and his immune protection from vaccines increases, many moms decide to cut back on their nursing.”
Make Sure You're Ready
Some moms switch to bottles when a relative says the baby seems too old to nurse. But don't be pressured. It's up to you when you do it. If you try to switch and something doesn't feel right, trust your instincts.
“In my experience, moms are typically not disappointed if they are truly ready,” Burgert says. “If moms are emotionally torn about weaning, maybe it's not time.”
Keep Mealtimes Special
With nursing, you hold your baby close and have skin-to-skin contact. There's no reason why you can't keep these rituals as you use bottles together.
“Babies want to be close to you, hear your voice, be warm and snug, and get their tummies full,” Burgert says. “Both bottle and breast can equally do those things.”
If your baby expects you close at mealtimes, don't hand her a bottle, even if she's old enough to hold it.
“I suggest that she be held for all of these feedings,” Huggins says. “In this way, the baby and mother can continue to experience the close, loving bond that comes with nursing.”
Ask for Help
If you plan to replace only some nursing sessions with bottles, get help. This way your baby won't question whether you'll nurse when she's hungry. Your partner can bond with your baby as someone who provides food, not just hugs and kisses.
“It's best if someone else offers the bottles, so the baby associates breastfeeding with the mother,” says Laurie Beck, RN, of the U.S. Lactation Consultant Association.
Find New Ways to Bond
There are plenty of ways to stay close with your baby when it isn't mealtime.
“The mother will continue to snuggle, cuddle, and kiss her baby,” Beck says. “She will develop special times with her baby, such as bath time or story time, to continue to build her special relationship.”
Make It Gradual
Drop one nursing session every few days. Start with daytime sessions.
“Babies are busy playing and interacting with their environment,” Burgert says. “Once solid feeding is going well, roll right into a bottle in the morning, rather than a nursing session.”
It's often hardest for babies to give up bedtime nursing.
“To be successful, the routine has to change,” Beck says. You can “offer a drink from a bottle or cup and then try walking around to put the baby to sleep. Or let someone else put the baby to sleep so that they do not associate going to sleep with breastfeeding.”
Distract Your Baby
If your little one reaches for a breast when she's hungry, try to get her to focus on something else.
“Some babies may struggle accepting a bottle in place of the mother's warm soft breast,” Huggins says. “Distracting the baby with a colorful scarf, a cozy blanket, or a beaded necklace may help some babies make the transition.”
Ease Your Pain
When you cut back on nursing, your full breasts can feel painful. It can even happen if you wean slowly, Huggins says.
To relieve pain, try these methods:
Chill your breasts. “Ice packs help to constrict and feel good if the breasts are warm to the touch,” Beck says. You can get the same relief by putting chilled cabbage leaves in your bra. (Really!)
Remove some milk. Use a breast pump to take off some pressure. Don't pump for too long or your body will think that it should maintain its milk supply. “There's a difference between pumping 15 to 20 minutes to fully empty the breasts and removing just enough milk to make yourself comfortable,” Beck says.
Leave your breasts alone. Once you stop nursing, keep breasts off-limits to help your milk supply stop. “Avoid any breast stimulation, including forward-facing showers and sexual foreplay,” Huggins says.