One of the biggest turning points in a baby’s life is the transition away from breastfeeding. It’s also a major step for nursing moms who may have mixed feelings about weaning their little one. It’s completely natural to experience a wide range of emotions, from sadness to relief to anticipation to guilt. However, if you find yourself feeling confused and aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry: I’m here to help!
Lots of parents wonder when and how to wean from breastfeeding. This stage varies among infants and depends on several factors, including your baby’s age, weight, and readiness to stop, as well as your own comfort level and goals around breastfeeding.. It’s a highly personal decision and one that may change throughout your breastfeeding journey.
Also, it’s worth noting that “weaning” can take as long as you’d like it to take. This should be a gradual process and one that shouldn’t be rushed. Your body will need time to adjust and the shift into exclusive bottle feeding or if your baby is older, solid food territory, takes time and patience to achieve. But soon, you’ll have a growing baby who won’t require breastfeeding or breastmilk to continue thriving.
When Exactly Should You Begin Weaning?
While it’s wise to be careful with the idea of what you “should do” as a parent, let’s talk averages. There are typically two points in the weaning timeline. The recommended age to begin weaning a baby is six months or older when parents can also start introducing solid foods in addition to breastmilk. Then, at one year old, babies are generally able to wean completely since they no longer need breastmilk in their diet at all. However we all know that breastmilk is highly nutritious and benefits baby for as long as you choose to do it.
If your child is over the age of six months and giving you hints that you can move past breastfeeding, it could be your sign to try if you feel you’re ready for that. Those hints look like shorter nursing sessions or a loss of interest during feedings, and becoming more curious about the exciting solid foods that mom or dad eats instead! You can certainly let your baby take the lead, just make sure that they don’t start wanting to have long nursing sessions at night because they’re so distracted during the day when it’s time to eat. So, what comes next?
How Can You Wean Comfortably and Effectively?
The do’s and don’ts of how to wean from breastfeeding will differ from family to family. What works for your baby may not work for others. Expect a bit of trial and error as you both learn to balance a new normal. Avoid putting pressure on yourself and focus on staying consistent. With these initial weaning tips in mind, you’ll rock this milestone. Remember some babies are more attached to nursing and some are less attached so take your baby’s readiness into consideration when deciding if it’s the right time and how long the process should take.
Do the Bottle Swap
If your baby is less than a year old, get into weaning slowly by replacing one nursing session per day with a bottle of breastmilk or formula. This simple switch helps your baby adapt to a modified meal system. Mixing breastmilk with formula may be necessary as a way to get baby used to formula slowly. Once they have the hang of it, gradually include the bottle more often as the days go on until they become more adapted to taking a bottle regularly. Also, incorporating bottles of pumped breastmilk rather than directly breastfeeding trains their attention away from mom as the sole source of food.
Add in Solid Foods
The addition of solid foods to your baby’s feeding schedule naturally reduces their reliance on breastmilk. Of course, “solid foods” refers to age-appropriate options such as pureed baby food and softer choices from your own plate to supplement their nutrition. It’s fun to see what foods our babies like or dislike early on. Plus, it’s a wonderful opportunity for your little one to practice chewing with their incoming teeth!
Distract and Change It Up
A twist in their routine complicates the transition, which is why calling upon distractions to entertain your baby during mealtimes can ease the stress. Introduce them to a fresh environment as you bottle feed. Pick a spot where you can engage your baby visually instead of sitting in the same nursery rocking chair. This will break the association between certain activities or spaces and breastfeeding.
Shorten Duration and Frequency
You can also try shortening the duration of each nursing session by gently detaching your baby as they begin showing disinterest. You can do this slowly, reducing your baby’s feeding time little by little. You can also time your feeds and shorten the duration by 1 minute every other day if you want to take it super slow. You may also choose to revamp their feeding schedule by timing: continue the feeding times that your baby prefers and eliminate the ones that they don’t to limit instances of breastfeeding that they aren’t as attached to; that way, you’ll keep the meaningful contact while also transitioning to a routine that has less nursing sessions overall.
Keep the Cuddles Going
For moms, the hardest part of weaning from breastfeeding is usually the loss of that bonding time with their tiny babe. But that mom-and-baby contact is still so necessary! This physical closeness reinforces your baby’s sense of normalcy and safety, so offering even more of it than before assures them that the end of breastfeeding doesn’t mean the end of that bond. Give your baby all the love and cuddles they crave and then some while weaning. Babies can get used to other ways of being soothed so if nursing has been used as a primary way of soothing you will need to go slow in getting your baby used to new ways of being soothed.
Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits
The importance of a good night’s sleep for your little one is greater than ever when weaning. They should be well-rested and follow a routine that fosters your whole family’s sleep goals (that includes you, mama!). After all, a grumpy baby doesn’t make for very easy weaning. It’s best to keep their sleep routine stable if you’re aiming to wean them in the waking hours, especially if you have a fussy six-month-old who might not be a fan of change. And if you need more sleep support, I encourage you to work with me! I can help you establish a plan for weaning and sleep at the same time!
What Other Resources Are There?
Weaning is a highly personal decision, so be sure to start at a pace that’s right for both you and your baby. Listen to their cues and be flexible in your approach. And if you want personalized guidance on how to wean from breastfeeding, reach out to a lactation specialist. As for personalized guidance on how to improve your baby’s sleep or keep sleep on track while weaning, you can utilize another expert: a certified sleep consultant like me!
Through my work as a sleep consultant, I’ve brought sweet dreams to babies and their parents who never thought they’d all be able to sleep so soundly. I founded Your Sleeping Baby to answer your questions and tailor sleep programs specific to individual families, and my client transformations speak for themselves. Let’s work one-on-one today to get your beautiful baby rested and ready to grow!