Mum Neha Jain Rawal, mother to a 1.3 year old son, told us on our FB page that she is going through one of the most common problems that is associated with early motherhood – getting your baby off the breast! If you thought that getting your baby to latch on was a problem, wait till your baby reaches the stage when it’s good to get off the breast. Like they say, for anything you want your baby to learn, the key is always the time – starting early and giving baby the hints before you actually take proper action.
As your paediatrician may have already suggested, the ideal time to get baby off the breast is right after the first birthday cake has arrived. But yes, if that’s what you’re planning, then a few hints of what’s coming need to be shared with baby a few months earlier. If your baby has already crossed the first birthday, like Mum Neha’s son has, and is still only attached to mum’s feed, worry not. There’s still time.
As a baby grows, so does the realisation about where mum’s milk is coming from, and also the realisation that it’s always close by.
1. Mums, remember that it will always be a painful experience and a long one to get your baby off the breast and onto the bottle. So before you begin, make sure you’ve discussed about the anxieties and other points with your partner, and also your family, who may be able to assist you, especially your partner, whose help you will definitely need in the process. Also, make sure you are emotionally ready and prepared that now is the time that the single bond your baby and you had that was the most precious to you till now is going to change, for the better. Breastfeeding helps mums and babies bond like nothing can, but there are many other ways that you will be bonding with your little one.
2. Before you begin, remember, baby will cry, cry and cry more. And this will probably break your heart. It sure will. But you will have to live with a few days of letting baby cry, and not give in. Don’t let yourself feel guilty for this, or don’t think that because you are denying baby of your milk, you are being a bad mother. This is all for your baby and your own health and benefit, so just have a few days of patience and it will soon become baby’s normal routine.
3. Be emotionally prepared and mentally strong. Do not cry if baby cries for a feed and you are unable to give that. Make sure you know that what you are doing is for baby’s and your own benefit.
4. Nothing can happen suddenly. So don’t think that you will suddenly cut down on all the feeds and help baby. Begin by reducing the number of times you feed, substituting one breastfeed time a day to bottle, and increasing the frequency slowly.
5. Introduce the bottle/sippy cup as a play thing, as a fun thing. Give baby time to get familiarised with it.
6. Don’t bring in change at times when baby is super tired, sleepy or hungry. This will only make baby more troubled and cranky. Do not introduce the bottle at such times, as baby will start associating this with unhappy times. Try and hand the bottle about half an hour before nap time, when baby is a little tired, but not cranky. Also, try and hand the bottle a little before baby gets too hungry. This will give baby time to slowly figure out the bottle, look at it, play with it, and probably use it once baby is hungry.
7. Try and slip in the bottle nipple while you are breastfeeding. Baby will refuse the first few times, many times, but please keep trying.
8. Your baby may suddenly not want to go to a bottle. Try and get a small sippy cup instead.
9. Giving milk in a bottle as a starter may be a big change and shock for baby, as baby is only used to having milk from mum. Instead, try and give water in a fun sippy cup and see how baby reacts.
10. Since you will be trying to detach from baby’s milk needs, this is the best and most crucial time that your partner, or if that is not a possibility, then the closest person who will be baby’s carer, to step in. Let baby and the carer have more time together, and get more comfortable with each other. This will help baby accept feed from the hands of the carer.
11. Do not give baby the bottle/sippy cup yourself. No matter how tempted you are, this is not the time for you to be handing an alternative to baby. Leave this to your partner or to the carer.
12. When someone is assisting with feeding baby, avoid being in the same room. Seeing mommy at feeding time will make baby realise that breast milk is close at hand.
13. Start with giving some light milk in the bottle/sippy cup. Try and dilute the milk with water, as otherwise it may get difficult for baby to digest. There is no need to add any sugar or any other flavour in the beginning. See if your baby will go for natural plain milk. If your baby is not happy with the taste, ask the doctor for any suggestions about what to add for flavours.
14. Put honey along the bottle nipple or on the sippy cup teat to make it appealing to baby.
15. If you absolutely have to hold baby while bottle-feeding, make sure baby’s back is to you, while you make baby sit on your lap. Otherwise, you can try and get baby on a high-chair, and try and divert attention by opening a fun music book, a flip-the-flap book, playing with a toy, or if nothing helps, switching on the television and putting on something that baby will love. Trying out the bottle while taking baby for a stroll outside may also be a good idea.
16. Sometimes, babies will sleep off in the night with the nipple still in the mouth, as this is a comfort option for them. If this is the case, try and keep a favourite sippy-cup near baby’s pillow, so that baby can grab it in the middle of the night and get back to sleep.
17. At night, try and let baby sleep in a cot next to the bed. At feeding time, let your partner hand the bottle. If you are co-sleeping (sleeping together with baby in the same bed), let your partner lie down next to baby. This will prevent baby from directly going for the breast.
18. If your being in the same room is creating a problem for getting baby to the bottle, maybe you should try and sleep in a different room for a few weeks, till baby gets used to the idea of a bottle at night.
19. Many times, we end up breastfeeding a baby in the middle of the night for the sheer comfort and ease of it. Understand that this will create a negative impact on all your efforts at weaning.
Mums, when it comes to weaning baby, no amount of tips and suggestions can help, unless YOU are ready for it. Weaning a baby is, in most cases, a very emotional and trying experience, one that will drain you out completely, that may make you feel that you are not doing the best for baby, one that may make you feel guilty. But please remember, that as a mother, as long as you have nursed your baby, it’s good enough, that you have done a great job as a parent, and that what you are doing now is keeping in mind the benefit, health and comfort of your baby.
Good luck mums!