You’ve spent more mornings, mid-mornings, afternoons, evenings (and nights!) nursing your little one than you can even count. It’s a blur. The couch, the rocker, the bed ― and (ahem!) the parking lot of the mall, perhaps.
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But for every mom, there eventually comes the time to wean your baby or toddler. Make no mistake about it, though. Weaning isn’t easy ― not for moms or for babies. Here lactation consultant Suzanne Forsgren, RN, BSN, IBCLC, offers practical tips for easing the transition for your little one and making the process as guilt-free as possible for you.
1. Take your time
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for a baby’s first six months, if possible. After that, you can breastfeed while introducing foods for up to two years and beyond. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the same period of time.
But whenever you decide to wean your baby, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. The process works best when done gradually and flexibly, Forsgren says.
“If a mother decides to wean because she is overwhelmed or has to go back to work, she could partially wean and decide later whether to do it completely,” she explains. “Sometimes a baby will even wean himself or herself because he or she is independent and doesn’t want it anymore.”
2. Change the routine for babies
If you’re trying to wean a younger baby, know that you have the advantage of being able to control your baby’s environment.
Dad or another family member can begin offering a bottle during the transition. It’s best if the bottle feeding is done in a different place than you normally breastfeed (without you in the room). The change in routine will make it less likely baby will feel the natural triggers to want the breast.
If you know in advance when you’ll need to wean ― maybe you’re going back to work after six weeks, for instance ― it’s a good idea to begin intermittently introducing a bottle around three weeks or so, Forsgren recommends. Find a nipple for the bottle that’s closest to your breast shape, she advises.
“Babies are sometimes particular about what kind of bottle they’ll take, so you need to know in advance what they’ll use,” she says.
3. Use distractions or time-limiting tricks for older children
Weaning an older child is sometimes slightly more (or a lot more!) challenging, Forsgren says. The most common strategy is to drop one feeding each week, starting with your child’s least favorite one. This gives your breasts time to adjust production in response to the lowering demand.
With an older child, you can use distractions (playing outside or reading a favorite book, for example) to delay or end a feeding session.
Employ time-limiting tricks to shorten feedings. Set a “timer” by turning on a song and letting your child know he or she can only nurse until the song is over.
You can also offer healthy snacks or water shortly before a normal nursing time. This can limit (or completely eliminate) the need to nurse.
Finally, involve your partner or another family member. Dad can take over the nighttime routine or get up early to prepare breakfast and act as a distraction from the morning feeding.
What not to do
Weaning is the end of one chapter, but the beginning of another. And it’s best to start off on a positive note by not making some common mistakes. Forsgren also offers recommendations on what to avoid:
- Don’t get discouraged. All babies will wean eventually, some just take more time than others.
- Don’t go cold turkey, if you can avoid it. You can end up with mastitis (an infection of the milk duct) or plugged milk ducts. Ice packs can be helpful if you’re uncomfortably full.
- Don’t pick a difficult time. Weaning is much more challenging when your child is teething, particularly fussy or sick. It’s easier when things are running smoothly in his or her world.
- Don’t give up the closeness. Remember what you enjoyed about breastfeeding in the first place. It isn’t just about the milk, but the closeness and comfort as well. It’s a good idea to offer plenty of physical interaction and attention for your baby during this transition time.
The bottom line? Don’t try to tackle the transition alone, Forsgren says.
If you’re trying to decide when to wean ― or you’re starting and struggling, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant who can help you through the process.