Breastfeeding is one of the most unique and special experiences of motherhood. But just like the many other changes you and your baby go through in the early years, this phase of the parenting journey comes and goes. If you’re like many moms, weaning can be a confusing and emotional time. With more information on the weaning process, you’ll feel ready to help your baby transition to the next exciting phase of growth and development.
What is weaning?
Weaning is the process of transitioning your baby from consuming breastmilk to solid food. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life before introducing solid food and continuing complimentary breastfeeding through the first year of life or longer.
If you follow these guidelines, the weaning process begins the day your baby takes their first bite (or sip) of something other than your breastmilk. As your baby gets older and begins to eat more solid food, the weaning process will continue until they are no longer breastfeeding at all.
While this may sound simple enough, weaning in a way that is healthy for you and baby is a process that requires patience and knowledge. There is no perfect approach to weaning, but following some tips and guidelines can help make the process easier and more enjoyable for both you and your baby.
How to wean a breastfed baby
1. Acknowledge that there’s no perfect time to wean.
When to begin weaning your child is a personal decision that can be based on a variety of factors. In some cases, medical reasons or life circumstances may lead you to wean sooner, while in other cases you may delay weaning until well after your child’s first birthday.
As a mom, it can be easy to compare your breastfeeding experience to those of other moms, but this can cause unnecessary stress or guilt. Feel proud for providing breastmilk to your baby. They benefited greatly because of it!
2. Follow your baby’s cues
There may be a difference between when you desire to wean your child and when they desire to be weaned. Paying attention and understanding your baby’s cues can give you guidance on when and how to continue weaning.
- Baby is disinterested or fussy when nursing
- Baby desires shorter nursing sessions or consumes less milk
- Baby is easily distracted and/or plays and bites while nursing
- Baby sucks or nibbles on your breast without swallowing milk
3. Set a schedule
Determine when you want your child to be fully weaned by and work backwards. Allowing for at least a month for weaning is ideal, though longer might be even better. If possible, try to avoid weaning during other major life changes or developmental milestones such as moving or learning to crawl or walk. This can make the weaning process more difficult and stressful for both you and your child.
4. Wean gradually
Weaning should not happen all at once. Easing into weaning allows both you and your baby to adjust to the change. A slower weaning process helps to prevent breast engorgement or other complications like mastitis or clogged milk ducts. Your breasts will gradually produce less milk as weaning progresses.
Try omitting just one breastfeeding or pumping session per week, and gradually progress from there. Follow your baby’s cues to help determine which nursing session to drop first, whether that’s morning, midday or evening. If your baby is between nine to 12 months, try transitioning directly to a cup as opposed to a bottle.
If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough nutrition from other sources, keep in mind that healthy babies will eat when they’re hungry enough. While your baby may eat less for a day or two, they will likely make up the calories in the following days. Try to be patient and offer them things they like, while also keeping their food varied and balanced.
5. Expect (but roll with) resistance
Your baby may go through extra fussy periods during the weaning process. Since breastfeeding may be their source of comfort, it’s important to provide comfort in other ways. This may look like extra one-on-one time and more physical contact, especially during times when you would normally be breastfeeding.
6. Acknowledge and work through your emotions
Weaning can be a highly emotional time for you, too. The bonding experience of breastfeeding may be unmatched, but there are so many other things and milestones for you to enjoy with your baby as they age. Give yourself time and space to process any emotions, and be sure to talk through them with loved ones or a professional counselor as needed.
There may be more to the weaning process than expected, but it is something you and your baby will get through and learn from together. There can be both positives and negatives associated with weaning, but ultimately it means that your child is reaching a milestone that you should be proud of.