Weaning: Letting Go With Love

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You gave your newborn a great start in life by breastfeeding. But now the little bundle is getting all grown up and signaling she’s ready to move on! Is it time to help your baby develop a taste for food other than mom’s milk?

The answer is: It’s up to you – and your baby – when to wean and make the switch from breast to bottle or new foods.

Some children are weaned early, and American moms tend to wean much earlier than in most other countries. Around the world, the estimated median age for complete weaning lands between age 3 and 5.

When you decide – and for whatever reason – that it’s time to wean your baby from breastfeeding, look at this change as just another positive step in your evolving life together.

Is There a Right Time to Wean?

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages moms to breastfeed their babies as their sole source of nutrition for the first 6 months. After that, it’s up to the two of you. Relatives and friends may have opinions they’re only too happy to share. That’s OK. You can choose to follow their advice – or not. But always check with your baby’s doctor if you have questions.

And either you or your baby can signal that it’s time:

  • When you are ready: Your child may want to keep nursing past the first year, especially before bedtime and when she wants comfort. But you may be the one ready to start weaning. Different moms have different reasons for beginning the process – work, social, personal or even medical considerations. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons, paying equal attention to your own needs and those of your child.
  • When baby is ready: You’ll know it’s time for this “child-led” or “natural” weaning when your active little one begins to feed less often and shows growing interest in developmental progress such as crawling, sitting, standing or even taking that first step. Some babies just stop and refuse to latch. If your baby is weaning earlier than you would like, talk with a lactation consultant about nursing strikes. The baby may be teething and will continue nursing with some encouragement.

How to Start Weaning

Experts agree: wean gradually. Going "cold turkey" can leave you with painfully engorged breasts, aches and fatigue. Breast infection is also a possibility and warrants a doctor’s attention.

Weaning usually begins with the first supplemental feeding from a bottle. At 6 months, you can begin by adding some solid, iron-fortified foods to baby’s diet. Talk with your baby’s doctor about how to gradually increase the ratio of solid foods to breast milk.

At 1 year, when your little one has begun to enjoy solid foods and may be able to drink from a cup, he can begin naturally to turn away from breastfeeding toward more big-kid meals.

Either you or your baby can signal that it’s time

To wean a baby under 1 year, The La Leche League suggests starting with introducing a bottle at his least favorite breastfeeding time. If he won’t take the bottle from you, try enlisting others – Dad, Grandma or close friend – for feeding duties.

Give him a few days (or weeks, if possible) between those bottle sessions. For your own comfort, express a little milk from your breasts to take the pressure off. As you leave milk in the breast, your body will get the signal to make less milk over time.

To wean a baby over 1 year, you may not need to go to bottles at all. Just stop offering the breast. An older baby may accept a drink from a cup, a nutritious snack, or just a distraction in the form of a game, toy or change of scene.

As your child gets older, reduce the nursing sessions gradually to help ensure the process goes smoothly:Weaning: Letting Go With Love - In Content

  • Eliminate a feeding every two or three days. Often your child will become so busy with new experiences that she will forget about nursing.
  • Recruit family or another special person to take baby to the kitchen for a meal.
  • At mealtimes, offer food first, with a short session at the breast later.
  • If baby won’t nap without breastfeeding, a car ride can often lull him to sleep.
  • Nighttime feedings are usually the last to go. Try building a bedtime routine not centered around breastfeeding. A good book or a cuddle can eventually become more important than nursing. Talk to your little one about what's going on. She might just understand more than you think.

Add an Extra Helping of Love to Weaning

Many children need extra love and attention during weaning. Here’s where you can get really creative:

  • Try using a sling or baby carrier (front or back) when you go for a daily walk. You’ll both enjoy the fresh air.
  • Visit a playground, friend’s house, garden or park to distract and stimulate your child.
  • Read or sing to her.
  • Dance with him.
  • Read stories together.
  • Everybody loves a tummy rub or backscratch.

It's a whole new stage in your growing child's life. She still needs you, just in different ways.

Find Your Perfect Match

Answer a few questions and we'll provide you with a list of primary care providers that best fit your needs.