26/02/2017 14:24 GMT | Updated 27/02/2018 05:12 GMT

How To Stop Breastfeeding Gently

Photo by Jeremy Madea via Getty Images

Weaning off the breast doesn't have to be an all or nothing event and it also needn't be a conscious parent-led decision. If you and your baby are happy the way things are, then you may consider continuing to breastfeed until he or she decides that time's up and weans themselves naturally. On the other hand, if taking charge of the weaning process is the right decision for you, it's ideal to take it gradually and as gently as possible.

Where possible, avoid going "cold turkey"

This not only puts you at risk for engorgement, plugged ducts and breast infections, your baby will likely be upset and confused by the sudden transition. The sudden change in hormones could also cause you to feel very low for a while.

Eliminate no more than one feed every two or three days (if you can) to allow your body time to adjust and avoid becoming uncomfortable. If you need to express because your breasts begin to feel sore, take just enough milk off to relieve the pressure.

Leave their favourite feeds until last

It is much easier to stop the feeds that your little one isn't so bothered about first, which often means that sleepy feeds are the last to go. Depending on their age, you may need to replace breastfeeds with a bottle or cup of milk. If they are older than around 8-9 months you could offer some water and a healthy snack at some of the feedings.

Mix up the routine

If you have a favourite feeding chair begin to sit somewhere else to give your baby a bottle. If you lie in bed and breastfeed in the mornings, get up and have a snuggle or a play somewhere else. If someone else is on hand to help, your baby may respond better if they can offer some bottles in this transition phase. Making changes like these will help to distract your child and reduce their confusion.

Keep up lots of close physical contact

Your baby or young child will find weaning much easier if they know that you are still physically present for them. Don't hold back on the kisses and cuddles. Give them lots of massage, carry them and get down on the floor to have one-to-one playtime with plenty of eye contact.

Experiment with the bottle

To encourage a baby to take a bottle, experiment with different positions. Some babies appreciate a bottle-feeding experience that is made to seem almost like breastfeeding within a familiar setting, having close skin contact and lots of eye contact. Other babies respond better if the experience is different and may initially prefer to be held upright, even facing outward and possibly moving around a room. If your baby is older than 6 months he could gradually move straight to a cup and skip bottles altogether.

Tell them what's happening

Even young babies will benefit from open communication with you. They may not fully grasp the words but they will pick up on your gentle and understanding tone of voice. Tell them whatever you need to in simple language. For example "No more mummy's milk. Mummy loves you very much".

Don't offer, don't refuse

This is a useful strategy with older babies and children if you are not in a rush to wean. Don't sit down and offer a breastfeed. However, if they persist in asking to feed then don't refuse. In the meantime, the busier and more distracted you can keep them (plus happy with snacks and other drinks of water or milk) then the quicker they will get used to not coming to the breast.

Set limits of where, when and how much

This is another great tool to try with toddlers. For example "you can feed when we get back home, but not here at the shops". By the time you get home you can then use the "don't offer, don't refuse" strategy. Also try slowly cutting back on the amount of time they spend at each feeding by gently taking them off the breast and saying to them that the milk is finished for now, before quickly distracting them with something else.

Look for other sources of nutrition

Depending on their age and personalities they may either not require much milk or point blank refuse to drink any. This isn't necessarily an issue. If your child is on solid foods consider adding milk (or dairy alternatives) into cooking such as mashed potato, porridge, home-made custard, pancakes, scrambled egg and French toast and offering yogurts and cheese. Also look out for other foods rich in unsaturated fats, protein and calcium so you are confident they are receiving the nutrients they need.