Maybe you just can’t wait to start weaning your baby from breastfeeding. Or you don’t want to do it at all, but you have to for various reasons.
Then the question is, of course how to wean. Especially if you have a little one who really loves nursing or really hates the bottle or solid foods. But it can be done! And it can be done without tears and trauma, especially if you are a little bit patient.
Learn some practical tips to wean your baby from breastfeeding here!
Before heading out to buy formula or the first jar of baby food, stop to ask yourself what makes you want to stop breastfeeding?
Do you now that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers to continue breastfeeding at least for two years?
In reality, most moms in developed countries stop breastfeeding their babies much earlier than that. Research shows that babies need to be breastfed for some 4 to 6 months to really get part of all benefits of breastfeeding. So if you can, breastfeed as much as you can at least during your baby’s first half year.
And if you want and can continue to breastfeed, go ahead unless you absolutely can’t! Don’t let anyone else (other than maybe your baby…) put pressure on you to stop!
Anyway, there will come a time when you’ll want to or have to start weaning from breastfeeding. For a smooth ride, check out the tips below.
How To Wean Your Baby Off The Breast
- When should I stop breastfeeding?
- How to wean your baby gradually?
- How to wean quickly?
- How will I feel?
When should I stop breastfeeding?
There is no “should”. Not for complete weaning anyway. Of course, in some cases, mom needs to stop breastfeeding for medical reasons, but that is a special case. Even then, a pediatrician or obstetricians might be able to find a drug that is safe to use while breastfeeding – remember to always ask twice!
Even if you need to go back to work or have to travel a lot with your job, you can continue breastfeeding in the morning and evening or when you’re not traveling. Bring a breast pump while traveling to stimulate milk production.
What is generally recommended for babies is to start with solid foods at some point around 6 months old. This means that your process to stop nursing will start by then if not earlier.
So, the choice is yours – and your baby’s. If you let your baby decide (so-called baby-led weaning), it will most likely be a gradual process, probably stretching over several months and can continue for several years if you wish.
How to wean your baby gradually?
One of the best ways to begin weaning from breastfeeding is to gradually replace one nursing session with a single formula feed or solid food, depending on your baby’s age.
If you stop breastfeeding while introducing solid foods, don’t plan to take the breast away completely during one feeding until your baby has started to eat a complete baby portion of food. Otherwise, he’ll leave the table hungry!
You can, of course, replace a breastfeeding session with a combination of solid foods and formula, but don’t introduce both at the same time, that can be a bit too much new stuff for your infant.
When one formula feed of serving of solid foods works well and you observe no reaction from your breasts or your baby (including constipation or tummy pain), you may proceed to replace another breastfeeding session within a few days.
When you start feeding formula milk or solid foods to your infant, you should watch how they react to it. Generally, when babies can’t adapt to some foods, they show several symptoms like vomiting, spitting, crying, gas, body rashes, redness on the rectum, runny nose, watery stools and wheezing.
Weaning the night feedings
If your baby mainly breastfeeds at night and that’s the last part of the weaning process left, try to let him or her sleep with you spouse instead.
When your partner has to feed your baby at night, offer formula or water. If it works to offer only the pacifier or possibly water, many old enough babies (usually older than 6-8 months), start sleeping through the night really quickly using this method, and fast! I know many moms who have discovered this with great surprise. You can read more about how to stop breastfeeding a baby to sleep here.
Take care of your breasts
While putting an end to breastfeeding, you should also remember to take care of your breasts by wearing a supportive bra.
If you wean your baby from your breast quickly, the risk of getting mastitis is much higher. When your breasts become engorged (i.e. too full), express some milk, but don’t empty your breast. If you do, this will be a signal for the breast to produce even more milk, completely opposite to what you want.
So to conclude on how to wean – try to do it gradually. This will be the easiest both for your baby and your breasts.
How to wean quickly?
Ok, so the gradually weaning described above is ideal and you are the least likely to run into problems such a baby on food strike or severe constipation or mastitis for your breasts.
But sometimes gradual weaning from breastfeeding just won’t work. If you, for one reason or the other, need to wean quickly, then there are a few things that are important:
- Make sure your baby gets enough nutrition and liquid. Be very open to trying different kinds of formula, different, different bottle nipples, solid foods that your baby really likes et cetera to substitute the breast milk. What you should feed your baby instead of the breast milk depends a lot on what the baby is already used to and the age of your child. You can find a lot of feeding tips and schedules here.
- Take careful care of your breasts. Keep them warm, and supported by a good bra and empty a little bit milk as soon as they get too full (i.e. engorged). Do not empty them completely, though, since this is a signal to your breasts to produce even more milk.
- Consider using some safe herbs that are known to reduce breastmilk supply.
- Keep your baby close and cuddle a lot. Weaning, when not baby-led, was not your baby’s choice and maybe a bit traumatic for your baby. Make sure to cuddle, play and stay close a lot during the weaning process, so that it is only the milk that disappears, not Mom!
- If it is an emergency situation – such as an acute medical necessity to wean, you can also ask your Doctor for medication to reduce milk supply.
How will I feel when weaning from breastfeeding?
To stop breastfeeding can be a relief or actually kind of a sorrow. A very special episode is about to end.
A mother breastfeeding her baby can be a very sacred bond and if you do feel sad about it, it is completely natural. Take your time if possible. While there are cases when the baby decides one day that enough is enough, most babies certainly won’t mind a slow process.
And if all you want is to stop nursing your baby to sleep, here are three different methods to try!
If you have tips or questions on weaning from breastfeeding, please share by leaving a comment below. :-)
Image: “Samantadh” by Alemarmer – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.