Saying Goodbye to Breastfeeding: How and When to Wean Your Baby
Both baby and mother get a lot of benefits from nursing. The baby gets all the health benefits of breast milk, and both get to experience the special bond that comes from many quiet feedings. But as your baby grows, there comes a time to wean the child and switch him from breast milk to other sources of nourishment.
While some mothers choose to wean after just a few months, others will continue into their child’s toddler years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding your child only breast milk for the first six months, and a combination of solid foods and breast milk up to the age of 1.
Many experts agree that the age of 1 is the best time to wean, because of their adaptability to change. An older toddler aged 2 or 3 might me much less flexible about giving up such a treasured activity. However, the decision to wean is a personal one and is sometimes influenced by factors such as returning to work. If you plan on weaning before the age of 1, it is a good idea to introduce your child to the bottle at around 4 to 7 months of age. Feeding him breast milk or formula from the bottle will help him adapt more easily.
Some children will give definite indications as to when they are ready to wean. If your child becomes cranky when nursing, or nurses in shorter sessions she did before, she might be ready to move on.
Conversely, other children prefer to continue nursing indefinitely. When weaning older children, such as toddlers of 2 or 3 years old, mothers can expect some resistance — and even anger from the children.
To make weaning more comfortable physically and emotionally:
- Go slowly. Abruptly ending breastfeeding can upset the baby and lead to uncomfortable engorgement and even an infection in your breasts. Eliminate one feeding session at a time over a period of weeks, starting with the midday feeding. Many mothers give up the bedtime feeding last because it is usually the one to which the child is most emotionally attached.
- Offer a bottle or a cup. Depending upon the baby’s age, give your baby formula or breast milk in a bottle or sippy cup. If she is less than 1 year old, usually a bottle is preferred; if she is older than 1 and eating a variety of foods, she will most likely accept a cup.
- Cuddle him. Weaning can make babies feel insecure, so giving a few extra hugs and kisses, or just sitting and singing or reading to him will sooth him and make him feel more secure.
- Distract her. Keep the baby occupied so that she doesn’t notice you are not nursing. Try taking her for a walk in the park or visit to the playground, or read a book to her at home.
- Say “No” to bedtime bottles. If you are accustomed to nursing your child at bedtime, you might be tempted to put him to bed with a bottle. Don’t. This poses a choking hazard and causes tooth decay.
- Avoid the nursing chair. While you are weaning, try not to sit with your child in his usual nursing spots.
- Support the adjustment. Your child might pick up a “comfort” habit such as sucking his thumb or becoming attached to a security blanket or toy. It is a normal adjustment behavior and shouldn’t be discouraged.
- Call in the experts. If you are having trouble with the weaning process, consult a lactation professional or your doctor.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD
Date: July 2012