Weaning: when and how to stop breastfeeding
Weaning is easiest when your baby starts to lose interest in nursing, often after starting solids at around 6 to 12 months. If the baby is fussy and impatient while nursing or easily distracted, they may be giving you signs that they are ready.
You may decide to start weaning because you are returning to work. Or maybe it just feels like the right time. If you are ready but your baby is not showing signs that they want to stop breastfeeding, you can wean them off the breast gradually. Mother-led weaning can take a lot of time and patience. It also depends on your baby's age and how they adjust to change.
Planning the weaning process
Proceed slowly, regardless of your baby's age. Experts say that abruptly withholding your breast can be traumatic for your baby and could cause plugged ducts or a breast infection for you. A weekend away from your baby, for example, is not a good way to end the breastfeeding relationship.
Try these methods instead:
- See what happens if you offer a bottle or a cup of milk instead of nursing. As a substitute you can give expressed breast milk or whole cow's milk (if your child is at least one year old).
- Reducing feeds one at a time over a period of weeks gives your baby time to adjust. Your milk supply also diminishes gradually this way, without leaving your breasts engorged or causing mastitis.
- Start reducing nursing time by limiting the time your baby is on the breast. If your baby usually nurses for 10 minutes, try 5.
- Depending on your baby’s age, follow the feed with a healthy snack, such as unsweetened apple puree or a cup of milk (babies younger than six months may not be ready for solids). Solid food is complementary to breast milk until your baby is one year old.
- Try postponing feeds if you are only nursing a couple of times a day. If your baby asks to nurse, reassure your baby that you will start soon and distract them with a different activity. Instead of nursing in the early evening, you could tell your baby to wait until bedtime.
Depending on your approach, weaning can take days, weeks or months. Breastfeeding was an intimate activity for you and your baby, and you both might have mixed emotions about letting go. By taking a gradual approach to weaning — and offering plenty of love and affection — you can help your baby make a smooth transition to a bottle or cup.