Hopefully, if you chose to breastfeed, it was an enjoyable bonding experience for you and your little one. But like all milestones, it eventually comes to an end. First, congratulate yourself on making it this far!
What if you’re not game? If your milk supply is waning, or if pumping at work is inconvenient, it might be time to start gradually switching him over to formula (or, if you wait until he’s 1, you can wean him straight to whole cow’s milk from a cup). You may simply be tired of nursing, and that’s fine, too.
Here’s how to start the transition in a way that’s most comfortable for both of you.
When should you wean your baby from breastfeeding?
Deciding when it’s time to wean is different for all babies. Some children keep their attachment to nursing well into toddlerhood. Others show less interest and start to self-wean before their first birthday (it’s common between 9 and 12 months).
Doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about the first 6 months of your baby’s life and continue to offer a mix of breast milk and solid food until his first birthday. And if the arrangement is working for both of you, it’s lovely to continue on for longer.
What if you want to wean sooner than that? Ultimately, the decision to stop breastfeeding is a personal one, and every mother should do what works best for herself and her baby. Still, weaning often tends to be easier when you follow your baby or toddler’s cues and let him lead the way. While mom-initiated weaning is entirely doable, going against your little one’s preferences can make the process a little more challenging.
How do you wean your baby?
If your child is still an avid nurser, but you’re less inclined, allow plenty of time — a few weeks or longer — for a gentle transition. Ideally, you should start the weaning process a month or two before your actual deadline.
Try dropping one feeding at a time, giving him some formula before a nursing session, or gradually reducing the time he spends nursing at each feeding. For toddlers over 1, you can replace breast milk with cow’s milk or a snack.
Taking it slow is good for you, too. Gradually weaning allows your supply to taper off slowly, helping you avoid uncomfortable engorgement and plugged ducts.
Regardless of how slowly or quickly you decide to wean, pay attention to how your little one is weathering the change. Some babies and toddlers take to weaning quickly. But if your child shows signs that things are moving too fast — waking more at night or acting moodier or more clingy during the day — it might be worth thinking about slowing the pace a little bit.
Partial weaning vs. complete weaning
Whether you’re getting ready to head back to work or you’re simply feeling overwhelmed by round-the-clock nursing, you may want to try partial weaning — breastfeeding during certain times of the day but not others.
For most moms, partial weaning means giving up breastfeeding during the day and continuing to nurse in the morning and night. In short, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing — so if full-time nursing feels like too much, think about whether partially cutting back might be a good fit.
Age-by-age guide to weaning
Weaning a young baby is quite different than weaning an older baby or a toddler. Here are some strategies for stopping or cutting back on nursing based on your little one’s age:
How to wean at 0-3 months
Sometimes early weaning is more manageable because your baby isn’t quite as attached to breastfeeding as he will be a few months down the line. You’ll need to get him well acquainted with the bottle, which can be done by offering it before each breastfeeding session and then tapering off nursing completely.
Worried that your baby might come to like the bottle more than the breast altogether? Milk or formula tends to flow more quickly from a bottle, so your baby doesn’t have to suck as hard. But you can slow the flow of formula and make sucking from a bottle more like sucking from the breast by using a bottle nipple made for a preemie or newborn and sticking with paced bottle feeding.
How to wean at 4-6 months
By 4 months, your baby has likely grown attached to his favorite source of nourishment: your breasts. So weaning might be more difficult.
A little distraction never hurts anyone, and it’s beneficial at around 5 months when he starts to notice the world around him. Start gradually with the daily feeding he’s least interested in, and then taper off from there.
How to wean at 6-12 months
Some babies will self-wean between 9 and 12 months, which could make the process much simpler. Nursing for less time, fussing or being easily distracted while nursing, or frequently pulling at biting at the breast instead of eating are all signs that your sweetie could be losing interest.
But bear in mind that others don’t take well to being told that breastfeeding is no longer an option. Luckily, the introduction of solid foods between 4 and 6 months can help in a big way. Is your baby going gah gah over breastfeeding? Try distracting him with finely mashed or pureed bananas or sweet potatoes.
How to wean a toddler
Some toddlers will wake up one day and decide they’re done — that they no longer need the security of nursing and are ready to graduate to whole cow’s milk and solids.
Others don’t lose interest in nursing and may need a nudge in that direction. It might be helpful to explain that now he’s a big boy, and it’s time to stop nursing. And then gradually reduce nursing sessions to only when he asks. Changing up your routines during times when he usually nurses or offering a snack at times before he usually nurses can help, too.
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