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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.