When you feel ready to stop breastfeeding or your baby just isn’t reaching for your breast like she used to, it’s probably time to start weaning. There are a few ways to wean your baby, and these tips will help make it easier for both of you.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months. But if you can stretch that a little longer, that’s even better. “As far as I’m concerned, moms can breastfeed as long as they want, but most are happy to breastfeed up to a year of age—that’s ideal,” says Jeffrey Bourne, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Babies who are breastfed have fewer colds and are less likely to have asthma and eczema.” But every mom should do what is right for her and her baby because breastfeeding isn’t always an option.
There are two ways to wean your child: baby-led weaning and mother-led weaning. “Baby-led weaning is exactly like it sounds,” explains Bourne. “Follow your baby’s cues, like if she no longer wants to breastfeed and pushes [the] away.” Mother-led weaning is when a mom decides that she is ready to stop breastfeeding (maybe your supply is dwindling, you’re going back to work or you’re just ready to stop nursing) and takes control of the weaning process.
This is the big question: How do I stop breastfeeding? There are a variety of different methods, but experts say that you shouldn’t stop nursing cold turkey. Bourne recommends trying these practical baby-weaning methods below.
1. Postpone feedings This is a simple yet effective tactic: Just lengthen the time between feedings. Bourne recommends that you extend the period between feedings by 30 minutes each week. If your little one gets hungry, you can offer solids. If she is less than a year old, give her formula, but if she is over a year, give her whole milk in a sippy cup.
2. Shorten feedings For this method, you would shorten your feeding sessions. Bourne suggests cutting each of them down by one minute per week. “You go at a slower pace so that your baby realizes that she isn’t getting everything she needs and has to get it someplace else,” he says. If your baby gets hungry and fussy, you can supplement with formula or expressed breastmilk in a bottle. If your baby is over a year, you can offer whole milk.
3. Skip feedings To avoid shocking and upsetting your baby, gradually eliminate one breastfeeding session at a time and replace it with breastmilk in a bottle.
“Up until one year of age, babies should drink breastmilk or formula and start solids at six months,” says Bourne. When your baby turns a year old, you can transition her to drinking whole milk. And avoid juice. “Limit juice if possible because it’s empty calories,” says Bourne. “I’d rather have them eat fruits than drink juices because there’s more nutrition.” Milk and water are always the best options to offer your baby to drink when she is over a year old.
With weaning and so many other things in your baby’s life, timing is everything. Avoid starting the weaning process if your baby is sick. “When your baby isn’t feeling well, sometimes she can take a couple of steps backwards,” says Bourne. “When she isn’t sick anymore, march forward again and get back on the weaning bandwagon.” If your baby is still having a hard time, Bourne says that you simply have to plow ahead until your baby catches on. Yes, it will be hard for both of you, but you will get there!
You might be afraid of engorged breasts or the painful need to express milk while you’re weaning, but that’s actually rare. “As you’re weaning, the amount of milk your body produces decreases,” explains Bourne. “Your body responds and, thanks to the hormone cycle, is ready to stop breastfeeding by about one year of age anyway. Nature works along with mom as part of the weaning process.”
Many women experience feelings of sadness when they stop breastfeeding—some even describe it as a “post-weaning depression.” Bourne says it’s a very real thing, especially for moms who have to stop nursing earlier than they would have liked. “There is pressure on mothers to breastfeed up until a certain time and, if they stop before then, they can feel guilty,” says Bourne. Plus, he notes that a lot of hormones are involved with milk production, and a change in those hormones can affect women in different ways, including depression. “Be prepared for that,” he says. Don’t be afraid to let your doctor—or anyone else—know if you are struggling with depression. New moms should never be reluctant to ask for help.