We all know how beneficial breastfeeding is for both mom and baby, but all those days of baby relying on you for breastmilk must come to an end some day.
For some moms, this is a difficult decision that weighs heavy on their minds, but for others it’s quite simple. Once you realize what is best for your family, lifestyle, and well-being, you’ll figure out how to ultimately make that decision.
Weaning from breastmilk is a natural stage in your baby’s development as they begin taking in solid foods while continuing to breastfeed.
Although it’s a natural occurrence, weaning your breastfed baby can come with a lot of mixed emotions for a mom. You may feel excited at the new independence that you and your baby can both enjoy, as well as some sadness as your baby moves to the next stage or milestone of life.
When should I wean my baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of one year. If a baby starts to refuse breastfeeding before that time, it’s generally considered a nursing strike because babies don’t naturally wean completely before one year of life.
“After age 1, the right time to wean depends on personal preferences and lifestyles. Overall, breastfeeding until at least one year is the evidence-based standard. Studies show that breastfeeding after the first year does not have as many benefits as when the baby is younger.” – Kealy Hawk, RN, CLC
The weaning process really starts around 6 months when your baby starts to eat solid foods. It’s called baby-led weaning and is a natural process. As your baby starts to eat more solid foods, they will naturally require less and less breast milk.
“Breastfeeding duration is a personal decision. There is no timeline in which one should have to stop, as benefits do not stop at a certain age for either party.” states Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and Motif Medical Lactation Director.
“One might consider weaning if breastfeeding becomes a hindrance to mental health or if it has been a traumatic or emotional experience. Most wean when at peace to stop, and some babies and toddlers will self wean.” explains Georgakopoulos.
For me, it was during my 8 month mark of breastfeeding where I thought we had enough. My baby was no longer interested in the breast so every feeding session lasted a very minimal time and that time just didn’t feel worth it. He was getting a substantial amount of his nutrition from solid food, as well, so I knew that he was much more interested in that.
Can I just stop breastfeeding “cold turkey”?
It’s best not to suddenly stop breastfeeding, unless the situation absolutely warrants it. Weaning too fast could lead to physical and health issues for mom including breast engorgement, clogged milk ducts, or mastitis, as well as being emotionally and physically challenging.
Therefore, going on that much-needed getaway with your spouse or work trip is not the “best time” to stop breastfeeding. A gradual transition for weaning is almost always best.
How do you know if a baby is ready to wean?
Disinterest is the most common sign. They may have started to replace the breastfeedings with solid foods, taking more fluids through the bottle than the breast, or increasing the time between feedings or skipping a feeding time.
However, sometimes babies do go through phases, so don’t always take the disinterest as a sign of needing to wean. They may just need a few days to get back on track.
Top Tips for Weaning Baby from Breastfeeding
If you need some tips for weaning your breastfed baby or toddler, I have a ton of great advice from the experts below:
1. Decide on the Right Time to Get Started
Every nursing mom will come to a point where either she or baby decides it’s the right time to begin weaning from the breast to the bottle. Sometimes it’s a well thought out decision that is planned and anticipated, but sometimes it can come without warning due to an unexpected situation or medical emergency.
Do what you feel is right and don’t let outside influences interfere with your decision to end your breastfeeding journey. Only you can make the choice.
2. Make Sure You and the Baby are Ready
This involves being ready both mentally and physically. If you start weaning while being unsure, you may regret it later.
You also need to look for clues that your baby is ready. If they are naturally cutting out feedings, refusing the breast for a long period of time, or getting plenty of nutrition by other means, they may be ready.
Beware! Refusing to breastfeed might not be a sure sign your child wants to wean off. There could be other underlying reasons.
3. Start with ‘Don’t Offer, but Don’t Refuse’ Tactic (Child-Led Weaning)
When starting to wean, just stop offering the breastfeedings to your baby, however always let your baby have a feeding when they ask for it.
This could be a good strategy for helping you to initiate weaning without creating too much stress. It may only work best for older babies or toddlers who can indicate their wants and needs independently. However, this tactic may not be enough to wean your baby completely.
4. Parent-led Weaning
This strategy gives you complete control over the weaning process to slowly wean your child. It can involve decreasing the number of feedings, decreasing the time of each session, distraction, or supplementing with other foods.
View an easy to understand schedule of decreasing these sessions below.
5. Slowly and Gradually is the Way to Go
The best way to wean your baby from breastfeeding is to go slowly as to not disrupt their routine too much. This will prevent breast engorgement and keep your baby calm.
To meet both ends, the first thing you need to do is drop one single breastfeeding session per day and continue that for a few days. To replace that feeding, use a distraction such as alternative feeding with a bottle or a distraction.
The trick here is to choose which session you are going to drop first. Typically, it should be the later afternoon or late evening session. The morning and night time feedings are the most difficult to part with and you should keep those intact until the last minute.
Use this tactic and slowly drop more sessions after the next few days. For some it might take a week or two before they are ready to drop another, but if you and baby are emotional and physically ok, you can drop another feeding sooner than that.
Remember, your baby will still need a feeding in the place of that dropped feeding, so be sure to be providing them with another feeding.
6. Comfort Yourself and the Baby
Comforting yourself should be a priority. Even if you are slowly weaning, your breasts might experience engorgement.
As for the child, it’s going to be a tough period. So, distraction is the key here. The sessions that you are skipping should be interchanged with bottle feeding or other fun activities like playing or taking a tour to the park.
7. Being Consistent is Key
Try not to slip into old habits and start breastfeeding just to calm your child, put them to sleep, or feed them more, if that’s what you decided on.
The moment you make a plan of your weaning schedule, stick with it and stay strong! Your child may not like it and may do everything in their power to change your mind, but after a couple days he will forget all about it!
Being inconsistent with weaning will only confuse your child and your body. Once you consistently drop the feedings, your baby will ask for less and your breasts will start producing less, as well.
8. For older children, explain to them
If you’re trying to wean a toddler, you should be able to explain not them in simple terms what is happening. You can use reasons like “mommy is running out of milk” or “big kids drink from a cup like mommy and daddy.”
If they understand what is happening before you cut them off, they may do better.
9. Start dropping daytime feedings before nighttime ones
It’s easier to end daytime feedings instead of nighttime ones because you can distract your child with other foods, drinks, or activities. If your child is used to the nighttime snuggles and calming during breastfeeding, this should be your last option.
10. Shorten the length of time spent for feedings first if that helps
If your child is very reluctant to dropping full feedings or seems extra fussy or not sleeping well because of it, you can keep the feeding, but lessen the duration. If your child normally gets around a 20 minute feeding, don’t go past 10 minutes as you wean.
Also, make sure that they are not comfort feeding and only on the breast for the time the they need to drink. It may take them only 5 minutes to feed, but they may want to stick around for longer.
Is there a certain weaning schedule you should follow and what is it?
There’s not a concrete schedule, and it may be determined by the age of the child.
The younger the baby is, the slower the transition will need to be due to frequency of feedings being replaced by an alternative, as well as the mother’s body needing to acclimate. If older, natural drops in feedings and spacing out may have already occurred, making the transition much easier.
You want to do the slow transition by dropping 1 FEEDING AT A TIME for several days before dropping another one. So if your baby is taking 5 breast feedings a day, drop that to 4 breast feedings and substitute the other feeding for a bottle feeding of breastmilk or formula or solid foods.
Keep that same schedule consistent for 3-4 days or until you feel your child has no problem with the change. After those days, drop another feeding until you only have one feeding in the morning and at night.
You’ll probably want to start with dropping a daytime feeding first as this is the easiest. Many moms liek to continue the nighttime feeding for longer to help comfort their child to sleep, however that is your choice.
What foods or drinks can I give my baby instead?
This all depends on the age of your baby when you decide to wean them from breastfeeding. During the first year, breastmilk should only be replaced by donor milk or formula.
Cows milk or plant-based milk alternatives (i.e. almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, etc.) should not be given before your baby turns one. Their stomachs are not mature enough for it and they don’t provide the right fat and nutrients for your baby.
Solid foods are just for exploring and trying in the first year and don’t provide the full nutrition that a baby needs so formula is still recommended for their full diet.
After age 1, breastmilk and formula can be replaced with dairy or an alternative to dairy for drinks and regular solid foods can be used a primary source of nutrients as well.
My baby is refusing the breast. Does that mean he’s ready to wean?
Babies do go through phases, so don’t always take the disinterest as a sign of needing to wean. They may just need a few days to get back on track.
If you’re looking for a time to start the weaning process, this could be a great chance for you. However, if you still want some more time, there are ways to get your baby back on track even if he is refusing the breast.
Related Post: 19 Tips to Try When Your Baby is Refusing the Breast
How should I care for my breasts when I start to wean?
A mother should never be in pain when she weans. If your are in pain, it means that you’re weaning too quickly.
If, however, there is an essential reason to wean quickly or if your breasts become a bit painful, here are some tips to keep you comfortable and pain-free:
- Apply cold compresses or ice packs for 15 minutes at a time. You can even use bags of frozen peas. Never use heat.
- Hand express or pump to relieve the pressure and ease the pain, but only express enough to feel better. If you remove breast milk too much or too often, your body will continue to make even more.
- Wear a bra that’s supportive but not too tight. Gentle, even pressure on your breasts can feel good.
- Cold cabbage leaves can relieve the inflammation and pain of swollen, engorged breasts and can also help to decrease milk production. Just peel the leaves directly off of a cabbage and place them on your breasts. Replace them for fresh ones every 20 minutes.
- Take Motrin or Tylenol to help relieve the pain. Milk-reducing herbs, such as sage, parsley, and peppermint, may help to decrease the supply of breast milk as well.
- Keep breast pads handy. The engorgement from sudden weaning can build up the pressure in your breasts, causing leaking. Be prepared and prevent stains by wearing breast pads in your bra to soak up any milk that leaks.
Weaning your child from breastfeeding can be a difficult process if you let it, but it really doesn’t have to be! Follow the tips above for a weaning schedule and keeping consistent and you’ll be on your way to easily weaning your baby in no time.