After months of breastfeeding your baby, you’re probably an expert at nursing him or her while you are partially asleep, pumping while you are busy at work and don’t even bat an eye when you are shopping and your little one wants to eat in public. But, eventually, the day will come that you (or your baby) will be ready to stop breastfeeding. This process is known as weaning, and it’s normal to feel a range of emotions when it’s time for it to occur.
How to Know if Your Baby is Ready to Wean
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months of life and then to supplement solid foods with breastfeeding until the baby is two. Most moms in the United States, however, choose to wean when their baby is between four and seven months of age.
Most babies begin to show signs that they are ready to wean between nine and 15 months of age. During this time, babies can self-feed better and become more interested in the world around them. Signs that your baby is ready to wean include:
- Seeming uninterested in breastfeeding; baby may play with your shirt, look around or move their head and body away from the breast
- Sucking a few times on the breast and then stopping
- Refusing to breastfeed
- Showing interest in drinking out of a cup regularly
The Weaning Process
Though there are different methods for weaning, the weaning process typically involves slowly cutting back on the number of feedings per day and shortening the length of feedings. It’s not a good idea to stop breastfeeding “cold turkey” while you are away for the weekend as this can be traumatic for your baby and can cause blocked ducts or painful engorgement in you.
Different Methods for Weaning Your Baby
There is no one “right way” to wean your baby. Depending on individual needs and situation, choose a method that is right for both you and your little one. Popular weaning methods include:
In baby-led weaning, moms are encouraged to give their baby “real” food in bite-sized portions instead of baby food. Babies feed themselves in baby-led weaning rather than being spoon-fed. This process begins at approximately six months of age and is done in addition to supplementation from the breast. Slowly, the baby will transition from getting all of their nutrition from breastfeeding to eating regular meals. Most moms continue to nurse in the morning, at night and before naps, allowing their baby to dictate the weaning process.
During mother-led weaning, the mom begins the weaning process before the baby is naturally ready. Breastfeeding sessions should be cut back on gradually to make the process easier for both baby and mom. Cutting back on baby’s less-favorite feedings, such as during the middle of the day, should occur first. Giving up the morning and before bed breastfeeding sessions usually occurs last. During mother-led weaning, moms distract babies from nursing with drinks offered in a cup, snacks or other activities. Taking a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach to weaning can help both mom and baby make the transition successfully.
Combination weaning, also known as part-time nursing, means stopping all breastfeeding except for one or two nursing sessions a day. Using this approach, moms can continue to nurse their baby in the morning or night, while baby receives formula and other foods during the day. Some moms choose combination weaning when they go back to work. If you need to go back to work and do want to continue to provide your baby breastmilk, you can consider using a breast pump and pumping during the day. Most insurance providers cover breast pumps at no cost to you.
What to Do if “Undesired Weaning” Occurs
Medical problems, trauma or stress can cause some moms to wean earlier than they would like. This is known as “undesired weaning.” Undesired weaning can cause feelings of guilt, sadness and inadequacy for moms who feel like they didn’t meet their breastfeeding goals. These feelings are completely normal. Remember that any breastmilk that you provided for your baby, whether through nursing or pumping, has helped to strengthen their body and boost their immune system. The most important thing is for your baby to get the nutrition they need to grow.
Weaning is a transition that indicates that your little one is growing up and becoming more independent as they rely on sources other than you for their food. Continue to bond with your little one by spending time cuddling, reading and playing with him or her in order to make the transition easier for both of you.