Ask Dr. Marla: Weaning Gradually

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on April 18, 2011


I am breastfeeding my 11-month-old son about four times a day and am thinking about following a slow weaning process – for both our sakes. I want him to get the benefit of the breast milk throughout the cold and flu season, but have also read that you can avoid drastic changes to breast appearance (i.e. looking empty and extremely saggy) by doing this. Is it true that your body can redeposit fat to the breasts at the same time that you are breastfeeding if you wean slowly, or will that only happen once you completely stop?


The first question to ask yourself is why you want to wean. If given the chance, many babies will continue to nurse successfully until age two or later. Health Canada advises exclusive breastfeeding for six months and according to Dr. Jack Newman of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic and Institute, Health Canada recommends breastfeeding to two years and beyond. The World Health Organization also recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. You are correct in your statement that there are ongoing benefits with respect to infection.

Having said that, the decision to wean is a personal one. Sometimes it is because a mother feels ready to stop and sometimes a baby will be ready to wean although this is not really the norm. If you are returning to work there are still ways you can continue to nurse your baby.

While it may be true that the faster you lose weight anywhere the more the other tissue might hang loosely, I am not sure that rapid weaning is likelier to end up in flabbier breasts! I also cannot find any medical evidence that your body can redeposit fat to the breasts in a different way.

Here are some of the tips I collected from a variety of sources. The key to healthy weaning is that it must be gradual:
  • Replace one feeding at a time.
  • Begin by stopping the feeding your baby wants the least, or seems most distracted in. Often that is the mid-morning feed.
  • Wait between a few days and two weeks before replacing another nursing time to allow your baby to get used to this change and to prevent overfull breasts. 
  • The weaning method of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” often works best for most mothers and babies. Basically, this means that you do not offer your baby your breast for one feeding at a time. Weaning does not mean refusing to let baby nurse, it means gradually releasing your baby from breastfeeding.  
  • When one of you is ready to end breastfeeding before bedtime, you should already have a bedtime routine or nap routine that includes quieting activities.


By Dr. Marla Shapiro| April 18, 2011

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