Weaning is when a baby moves from breast milk to other sources of nourishment.
Weaning your baby is a process that takes patience and understanding from both you
and your child.
When Is the Right Time to Wean?
When to wean is a personal decision. A mom might be influenced by a return to work,
her health or the baby's, or simply a feeling that the time is right.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding babies only breast
milk for the first 6 months of life. After that, the AAP recommends a combination
of solid foods and breast milk until a baby is at least 1 year old. Then, babies may
begin drinking whole cow's milk.
Most experts agree that breastfeeding should continue for as long as it suits mother
and baby. Many women choose to wean after their baby's first birthday. At this age, babies
are starting to walk, talk, and eat more solid foods. So they may naturally lose interest
Other moms breastfeed longer than a year (this is called extended breastfeeding).
Extended breastfeeding is a healthy and reasonable option for mothers and children
who aren't ready to wean. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends
that moms breastfeed for the first 2 years of a child's life.
Weaning does not have to be all-or-nothing. Some women choose to wean during the
day and breastfeed at night, depending on their work situation and their schedules.
Whenever you decide to wean, your child may have another time in mind. Some children
wean themselves earlier than the mother intended and others resist weaning when the
mother is ready. Those wean later in life tend to be more resistant. For example,
a 2-year-old toddler may be more attached and less flexible about giving up breastfeeding
than a 12-month-old baby. At times like these, it's important to take it slow and
be sensitive to each other's needs.
Signs Your Baby May Be Weaning
Some kids are content to nurse indefinitely. But others will give moms clues that
they're ready to begin the process of weaning, such as:
seeming disinterested or fussy when nursing
nursing in shorter sessions than before
being easily distracted while nursing
"playing" at the breast, like constantly pulling on and off or biting. Babies
who bite during nursing should immediately be taken off the breast and told, calmly
but firmly, "No biting. Biting hurts."
nursing for comfort (sucking at the breast but not drawing out the milk)
Approaches to Weaning
To let both mom and baby adjust physically and emotionally to the change, weaning
should be done over time.
One approach is to drop one feeding session a week until your child takes all the
feeds from a bottle or cup. If you want to give your child pumped breast milk, you'll
need to pump to keep up your milk supply. If you are weaning your child off breast
milk, slowly dropping feeds can help avoid engorgement.
You might begin by stopping the midday feeding because it's usually the smallest
and most inconvenient — especially for working moms. Many mothers let go of
the bedtime feeding last because it's still a special part of bonding.
Some moms leave the decision of when to wean up to their child. Children who are
eating three meals of solid food a day (plus snacks) often breastfeed less and less.
In that case, a mom's milk will dry up from lack of demand and she'll need to pump
to keep the milk flowing. If your child is breastfeeding less, make sure he or she
is getting enough iron-fortified formula or milk. Check with the doctor about how
much your child should get.
If your baby weans before 1 year of age, or you find that you're not making
enough milk, you will need to give your baby formula. Check with the doctor to see
what formula is right for your little one.
Making the Change Easier
Weaning is easier if a child has also taken milk from another source. So try giving
an occasional bottle of breast milk to your little one after breastfeeding is well-established.
Even if you continue breastfeeding, this can ease weaning later. It also lets other
family members feed the baby and makes it possible to leave your child with a caregiver.
Remember that infants over 6 months should have solid
foods as well as breast milk. After 1 year, breast milk alone does not provide
all the nutrients a growing child needs. So solid foods must become a regular part
of the diet.
As you start to wean, remember that your child needs time to adjust to drinking
from cups. Be patient as your little one begins exploring the world of food.
Here are some more ways to make this change easier:
Engage your child in a fun play activity or an outing during times when you would
Avoid sitting in your usual nursing spots or wearing your usual nursing clothes.
Delay weaning if your child is trying to adapt to some other change. Trying to
wean when your little one is just beginning childcare or during teething
might not be a good idea.
If your baby is younger than 1 year, try to introduce a bottle or cup when you
would typically be nursing. For an older child, try a healthy snack, offering a cup,
or maybe a cuddle.
Try changing your daily routine so that you're otherwise engaged during breastfeeding
Enlist your partner's help to provide a distraction at a typical nursing time.
If your child picks up a comforting habit
(such as thumbsucking) or becomes attached to a security blanket, don't discourage
it. Your child might be trying to adjust to the emotional changes of weaning.
How You Might Feel
Many moms make the decision to wean with mixed emotions. Weaning brings more freedom
and flexibility, and the proud realization that a child is reaching a milestone. But
nursing is an intimate activity that fosters a strong bond between mother and child
— and some women find it hard to let that go.
So expect a wide range of emotions, and understand that your child may have them
too. Also remember that there will be countless other ways to nurture your child in
the days ahead.