Weaning from breastfeeding - the how-to

After I got over all of the heartbreak and decided to move forward with cutting off the boob and weaning my son, I realized I didn't really know how to move forward.  All of my googling led to articles about weaning a child who was over one, needing distraction techniques and whole milk, or articles about babies who won’t take a bottle, which wasn't our problem either.

The two big mysteries I was trying to uncover regarding the process of weaning from breastfeeding were these:  1) How do I cut each feeding without too much physical discomfort or leaking?, and 2) How much formula do I give him?  How often?  What kind?

Since I couldn't quantify what Colin was getting directly from me, I had no idea how much formula to offer, and since my low supply meant I was feeding him nearly every 1.5 hours, I knew that when I switched to formula, he wouldn't need to eat so often.  So for anyone out there facing similar challenges, here is how it went for us!

Step one: I quit pumping.  I had been giving Colin a bottle of pumped milk at his bedtime feeding each night, and it was taking me two evening pumping sessions to produce enough milk for that five ounce bottle.  So this was naturally the first feeding that we offered formula.  For a few nights after I stopped pumping, I woke up a bit uncomfortable, but within a few days, my supply responded to the lack of demand.

From there, I progressed by replacing one feeding at a time, focusing on the mid-day feedings first, waiting 2-4 days between each decrease.  I knew that my supply was best in the morning, and it would be most comfortable physically to cut the first a.m. feeding last.  Within a couple of weeks, we had replaced every feeding except for the 4:30 a.m. night feeding, which was toughest to cut because it was his cuddliest and most successful feeding.  And honestly, I was hoping we wouldn't have to replace it with formula and instead cut the feeding entirely so he would sleep through the night. 

Colin handled the entire process of weaning from breastfeeding so well.  Thankfully, he wasn't fazed by the taste of formula and his extreme spit up skills did not increase or decrease.  The challenge of figuring out how much formula to offer and how often was figured out via trial and error.  Again, googling and researching was challenging, as I got widely differing information.  In the book Baby411 (which btw is an extremely helpful resource on most other things), they say a 4-6 month old should be consuming anywhere from 25-40 ounces a day.  That is a huge range!

I started out with a 6 ounce bottle for his bedtime bottle and 4-5 ounces for the additional feedings when I transitioned them from breast to bottle.  I didn't want to give him too much per bottle because I was transitioning him from 7-8 breastfeeding sessions to what ended up being 5 bottles a day.  If I gave him too many ounces, I’d be cutting multiple feedings for me, which would lead to discomfort and potential blocked ducts, so I tread lightly, started small and adjusted up when he indicated that he was still hungry. 

Eventually, by the time we were down to just the early morning breast feeding, Colin was drinking 30-32 ounces of formula during his waking hours.  Once I cut the last morning session, I replaced it with a 2-3 ounce bottle and eventually we did a tiny cry-it-out session (less than 15 minutes!) to drop the feeding entirely.  I’m glad I stuck to 30-ish ounces rather than 40, because even at 30 ounces a day of formula, he was growing like crazy and the pediatrician said that at 6 months, 28-32 ounces is plenty, especially as he increases his intake of solids.

As for figuring out how to navigate the overwhelming aisle of formula options at the store, I am glad that I trusted my gut and started with generic – we are using the Target version of Similac Advance, powdered, and mixing it with Gerber Pure water.  I had no idea until right before we transitioned him that babies aren't supposed to have too much chloride in their water, and Chicago has extremely high chlorine levels.

The strangest part of the whole weaning from breastfeeding process was reaching the end of the journey and realizing that despite all the agony I went through deciding to wean, I was really relieved and happy.  I can wear anything I want (dresses! sports bras!), eat anything I want (spicy food! broccoli!) and leave Colin with his dad, grandparents or a babysitter without stressing about my stash of milk in the freezer.  Plus Colin was thriving and growing in leaps and bounds once he transitioned from breast milk to formula, he was happier and more relaxed, and we were able to fall into a much more manageable routine.

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