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Ask Dr. Sears: Weaning While Pregnant

Q: I have a 17-month-old son and just found out I am pregnant again. I am excited and happy, but I also feel guilty. My son is still nursing frequently and shares the bed with my husband and I. I had planned on nursing my son until he was at least two. Now, I have decided to try and gently wean him before the baby arrives. I know it is possible to tandem nurse, but nursing already takes a great deal out of me. My concern is my husband would also like to wean him from our bed. I already feel sad about weaning him from the breast before he's ready, but how do I also wean him from our bed (the newborn will be nursing and sleep sharing)?

A: Now that you are pregnant, it's necessary for you to go through a priority shift. Both your toddler and your unborn baby need a healthy, rested mommy. We have been through similar situations with several of our children, and it's very unsettling for a mother who is used to co-sleeping and night-nursing to wean baby from both the breast and bed, even though you know you need to. It is true that tandem nursing (nursing both a toddler and a newborn), while it works for some mothers, is tiring for many mothers. It sounds like you are being wise in managing the energy you have. Also, remember that weaning does not mean a loss of a relationship. It is more a passage from one relationship to another. The following are some tips on how to make this passage smooth for you and your toddler.

Get Dad to "nurse." Remember, nursing implies comforting, not just breastfeeding. In the natural weaning process, babies wean from mom to dad. Because you are pregnant, you need as much uninterrupted sleep as possible. So, begin night weaning. When baby gets up at night expecting to nurse, encourage your husband to take over the night-comforting and night-feedings. Most babies wake up less once they realize that nighttime breastfeeding is no longer an option.

Tank up your baby during the day. Many toddlers get so busy during the day that they forget to nurse. So, they make up for the milk and the closeness they missed during the day by nursing more at night. As you are easing off on nighttime breastfeeding, temporarily increase the number of daytime feedings. Once your baby begins sleeping through the night without night nursing, then gradually decrease the number of daytime breastfeedings. You will also need to minimize the associations that baby makes with breastfeeding. If you sit down in your favorite rocking chair, baby will quickly associate that with breastfeeding. In this case, try to rock, sing, or get Dad to sit in the chair and rock your baby as a substitute for breastfeeding.

Increase daytime touch. As baby is weaning from your breast, increase the other interactions you have with your baby. Again, remember that with happy weaning you substitute playful interactions for breastfeeding.

Make the breast less accessible at night. Co-sleeping is a setup for night nursing. It's a nighttime parenting package babies love. If baby is sleeping next to his favorite restaurant, inches away from his favorite food, he is going to want to eat. Try putting baby to sleep in a toddler bed or futon next to your bed and gradually increase the distance between you and your son at night. If baby doesn't buy this, here is a trick that we use in our practice and our family that nearly always works. We call this "moving out!" Relocate mom's "all-night diner" to another room and let baby sleep next to Dad for a few nights. Baby may wake up less when the breast is not so available. When baby does awaken, co-sleeping with dad gives the pair time and space to work out a nighttime comforting arrangement that doesn't require breastfeeding.

"Nummies go night-night." This is a phrase we used to entice our night nursers to wean. Around eighteen months, a child has the capacity to understand simple sentences and the idea that the breasts are sleeping. Use simple concepts to explain to your toddler when he can nurse and when he has to wait. Tell him, "We'll nurse again when Mr. Sun comes up." Remember, your first goal is to get more sleep and begin night weaning before day weaning. Medically speaking, unless advised otherwise by your obstetrician, it is safe to breastfeed a baby up until around halfway through your pregnancy. After that time, the hormones that produce milk also can cause premature uterine contractions. Most mothers find that by the time they are four to five months along, the body tells them it's time to wean. The usual sign is increasing nipple soreness. Weaning from Mom to Dad also helps prepare the family for the arrival of a new baby. With Dad taking over the toddler care, it frees you up to once again enjoy breastfeeding and co-sleeping with your newborn.

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