Weaning age varies from one child to another. Whether it’s the mother or child who initiates the process, various factors affect weaning: the child’s age and temperament, the mother’s feelings and the approach used.
Give yourself time. Be attentive to your child’s reaction and stay flexible. If possible, it’s better to delay weaning a sick child. She needs her mother’s milk and the comfort she gets from breastfeeding.
Weaning babies under 9 months old
Milk production declines gradually as breast stimulation is reduced. Gradual weaning helps you to avoid engorged breasts and reduces the possibility of mastitis. The time it takes to stop producing milk altogether varies from one woman to another, however it generally takes about four weeks to wean your baby completely. This gives your child time to adapt. Weaning faster may be hard on both you and your baby.
Start by replacing one daily breastfeeding with an iron‑enriched commercial infant formula served in a baby bottle or cup. Between feedings you can empty your breasts by expressing some milk or letting it flow under a hot shower.
Once your breasts no longer feel engorged, replace a second feeding when you’re ready. At first, don’t skip two breastfeedings in a row. You can gradually replace as many breastfeedings as you want. Many mothers continue the main bedtime and morning feedings.
Some mothers will feel their breasts engorged with milk for a few days after the “last” breastfeeding. Don’t hesitate to express some milk to ease the discomfort. You can also let your baby breastfeed for a few minutes.
At about the age of 6 months your baby can start drinking from a regular cup. At first, he will probably only drink a small amount of milk. This is perfectly normal. Finish up with a baby bottle if needed. Offer him the cup often, and make sure he’s getting enough milk—it will remain his primary food for his first full year of life, providing the calcium and protein he needs to grow.
Weaning babies older than 9 months
As your child gets older, you can decide how quickly you wish to wean her. Gradually encourage her to develop other ways of satisfying her needs for nutrition and contact. Many children lose interest in the breast when they lose the need to suck.
For older babies, breastfeeding is often a moment of comforting contact. If you’re trying to wean your child, it’s a good idea to introduce other such moments—rocking, massage, back-rubs and so on. You will breastfeed less and less as your baby eventually starts going days at a time without wanting to nurse.
By about 9 months, provided she is eating a balanced diet, your baby can start to drink 3.25% homogenized milk instead of breast milk.
Here are a few suggestions to ease the transition:
- Don’t refuse your baby the breast if she wants it, but gradually stop offering it.
- Delay feedings if she’s not too impatient so they are spaced further apart and reduced in number.
- Offer her a nutritious snack.
- Distract her with a game or other stimulating activity.
- Reduce the length of feedings.
- Change your daily habits, e.g., don’t sit in the chair you usually use to breastfeed her.
Consult a community breastfeeding support group, if needed.
Express: Pump or squeeze milk from the mother’s breast.
Mastitis: Inflammation of the breast. May also be an infection.
Weaning: Gradual phasing out of breast-feeding.