Whether you choose to go “cold turkey” or gradually wean your child from the breast, weaning is a difficult process for both mothers and babies. From fluctuating hormones, to battling mixed emotions, to elevated stress levels in your little one, weaning is hard!
Babies should be exclusively breastfed (or formula-fed) for the first six months.
For the first 6 months, your baby’s diet should consist of only breast milk and/or formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding, supplementing with formula as needed.
Around 6 months of age, under the guidance of a doctor, your baby may be ready to start solid food. This is only partial weaning, as your little one’s diet needs to rely on breast milk or formula as the bulk of your infant’s daily nutrition until 12 months old.
When your baby begins to eat solid food, be sure to do each breastfeeding session before the meal. Give your baby plenty of nutritious foods, but do not let meals become a substitute for milk.
After starting solids, your baby might begin nursing fewer times per day, and you might notice your milk supply change accordingly. Be aware that even when your infant loves to eat purees or table food, these meals should not replace breastfeeding sessions. Be sure that your little one is getting enough milk each day.
Your little one might decide to wean on his own.
Weaning your baby is easier when your little one decides to self-wean. For a number of reasons, your baby or toddler might decide that they no longer want to nurse.
Some babies are suddenly ready to wean if the mother becomes pregnant again. Although in most cases it is perfectly safe to nurse during pregnancy, a mother’s milk supply can change or the taste of the milk can change due to changing hormones. Weaning during pregnancy might also help your child adjust better to the addition of a new sibling.
Your baby’s first birthday is a milestone that can change your breastfeeding journey.
Your baby’s age can make a big difference in the weaning process.
No matter how many months your baby has nursed, there really isn’t any one “right” time to start weaning. The benefits of breastfeeding extend well past your baby’s first birthday, although weaning a toddler or child can be more difficult than starting when your child is an infant.
The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses extended breastfeeding.
Societal pressure might make weaning seem like the “right” choice, but extended breastfeeding has many nutritional and emotional benefits for your toddler or child. Nursing past your baby’s first birthday is a wonderful accomplishment, and there is nothing wrong with feeding a toddler or child from the breast.
A toddler or older child can drink pumped milk, cow’s milk, or a mixture of the two.
After your baby turns 1, his caloric intake will begin to rely more heavily on solid food and possibly cow’s milk. Infants under one year old should not consume cow’s milk as a substitute for breast milk or formula. However, after 12 months, your little one might enjoy cow’s milk or pumped milk in a cup or bottle.
As you attempt to wean from nursing, you might notice your little one drink less milk. Your child might reject regular milk, so you can do a mixture of milk and breast milk until your little one will take a full bottle of just cow’s milk. Slowly add less breast milk into each feeding, and eventually, your toddler will adjust to drinking cow’s milk instead.
The weaning process is easier when it is done gradually.
La Leche League International acknowledges that weaning your child is easier when it is done gradually instead of “cold turkey.” Any sudden change in routine can be a difficult adjustment for your baby or child. Waiting until your baby is ready to wean can make the process go smoothly.
Breastfeeding can be overwhelming and time-consuming, so if you are hoping to wean your baby because you’re growing tired of breastfeeding, you might choose to partial wean and instead just cut down on the number of nursing sessions per day.
If your little one is under 12 months old and you plan to cut down on breastfeeding sessions, your baby will still need milk from a bottle or cup. For each missed breastfeeding time, your baby needs to have a bottle or drink milk from a sippy cup. Switching feeding from breast to bottle can be a great way to start the weaning process.
The addition of solid foods can also impact weaning and make it easier to gradually wean your baby from the breast. Your little one might nurse fewer times per day, or for less time during each breastfeeding session, as she incorporates more caloric intake from solid foods. Parents might also offer milk in a bottle or cup with meals, and this can aid in the weaning process.
Weaning “cold turkey” is optimal and necessary in some cases. However, weaning in this way can be painful, both physically and emotionally, for mother and child. Your breasts might become engorged, you are more prone to clogged ducts or infections, and your baby might become agitated and stressed if you stop breastfeeding abruptly.
Get help from a lactation consultant or advice from La Leche League.
La Leche League has chapters all over the world and offers guidance to nursing mothers. No matter your child’s age or how long you choose to breastfeed, La Leche League can offer advice and guidance when it comes to weaning.
You can find more information about weaning from the La Leche League website here.
If you struggle with weaning your baby from the breast, talk to a doctor or lactation consultant who can help work through any issues you may be having. Weaning is more than just a physical process; it is also emotional and developmental. Many babies prefer to breastfeed over taking a bottle or drinking milk from a cup, so weaning can be a grueling process. A doctor or lactation consultant can help you decide when and how to wean your child successfully.
Some mothers opt for partial weaning.
Depending on a number of factors, including your baby’s age, the starting of table foods, or going back to work, partial weaning might be a good option for some families.
Partial weaning, eliminating just one feeding at a time, can help make the process of weaning easier. Cut down on nursing sessions little by little, giving your breasts a break, but still breastfeed whenever suits you and your baby.
Going back to work can be a hard adjustment for breastfeeding mothers, because finding the time and energy to pump throughout the day is often easier said than done. Your baby can enjoy nursing when you are with them, but drink from a cup or bottle when you are away at work.
Simple strategies for daytime weaning:
Follow the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” technique: nurse your baby if they ask to, but don’t offer the breast regularly throughout the day
Distract your child with solid foods or an activity
Have other family members or caregivers help feed the baby
Shorten the length of each nursing session, or limit the number of times your baby nurses during the day
Give your baby time to adjust – eliminate one feeding at a time
Simple strategies for nighttime weaning:
Make sure your baby or child is sleeping in their own bed at night
Enlist the help of other family members to assist in the bedtime routine or nighttime wake ups
Wait to wean at night until a few months after you’ve weaned daytime feedings
Feed your child a healthy, filling dinner
Feed your child a snack before bed
Slowly replace nursing times with a new routine such as reading a story, listening to music, or cuddling
Give your child a comfort item (pacifier, lovey, or stuffed animal if the child is old enough)
Make sure the whole family knows that the weaning process can take time
Weaning your baby is a process that takes time and planning.
Depending on your baby’s age and whether your baby is ready to wean, getting your little one to stop breastfeeding can be a challenge. Start slowly, go at your child’s pace, and be sure to have a good family support system, and the weaning process will become much easier!
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.