Ask the expert: Weaning and working: how do I wind down breastfeeding?
John Sharry advises a gradual approach to feeding when going back to work
Breastfeeding can be a big challenge for mothers going back to work. Photograph: Thinkstock
Q I am wondering when and how I should start to wean my five-month-old son. I have been breastfeeding him from birth and this has all gone well but I am due to go back to work part-time in three months and need to get him ready for this. I’m not sure whether to stop breastfeeding altogether or to try some sort of combination when I go back to work. My friends think I am mad to consider breastfeeding when working.
I am also wondering when I should start him on solids and whether this will help with the weaning process. I have heard of baby-centred weaning and wonder whether this is the best way, or are there other ways?
AThe duration of breastfeeding is a personal decision for each mother depending on her own needs, the needs of their baby, and their circumstances. From the baby’s perspective, if breastfeeding is going well, then the longer it continues the better. Many international expert bodies such as the American Academy of Paediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then throughout the first year as solids are introduced. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, many mothers continue to breastfeed beyond the first year and wait until a toddler is ready to wean on their own terms.
For working mothers, it can be a great challenge to continue to breastfeed with the prospect of going back to work though many achieve this by expressing their breastmilk and/or giving their baby a combination of formula and breastmilk. This, of course, requires great planning though it is possible with a supportive partner and friends, as well as some flexibility on the part of an employer.
The important thing to remember is that the decision about how and when to stop breastfeeding is yours. You have given your son a great start by exclusively breastfeeding him for five months and now is the time to take stock and see how best to proceed. Though lots of people around you will have strong feelings about what is best, it is a personal decision that only you can make. Take some time to review your options and your work schedule and how you might be able to manage things in a way you feel most comfortable.
Gradual weaning generally works best
Advantages and disadvantages of baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning can take a bit more preparation, and make mealtimes a little longer, more messy and possibly more wasteful, especially if most of the food ends up on the floor. Also with BLW some parents find it hard to judge just how much food the baby has eaten; it is easy to see when you use a spoon and a bowl.
However, BLW does provide you with a great child-centred method of encouraging feeding that helps children take responsibility, at an early stage, for what they are eating.
There is more information about BLW by one of the early developers of the approach on rapleyweaning.com.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and founder of the Parents Plus charity. See solutiontalk.ie for details of books and courses.