For mothers who choose to breastfeed, there is an abundance of information and resources that cover everything from latching to leaking to increasing supply. But what about your transition out of breastfeeding?
Weaning is an important part of the breastfeeding process, but it can leave you feeling a little uncertain. When should I start weaning? How do I approach it so that it doesn’t cause pain? What if my baby doesn’t want to take a bottle?
We’ve got you covered, Mama! Read on for general tips on weaning and transitioning to life beyond breastfeeding, and know that you should always reach out to your medical provider or lactation consultant if you have specific concerns or questions.
When should I start weaning?
The first question you may have is when to even begin weaning. We can’t give you an exact answer, as it’s ultimately a personal decision for both you and your baby.
That said, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months, and to continue breastfeeding while introducing age-appropriate foods for up to or beyond two years. The general consensus is that in order to maximize the benefits of breastfeeding, you should try to continue doing so for at least the first year.1
Other considerations include your own mental and physical health2 and breastmilk supply3 and how quickly your baby adjusts to taking a bottle.4 If you are unable to continue breastfeeding, find yourself overwhelmed and stressed to the point that it’s interfering with your own health and ability to bond with your baby, or are unable to produce enough breastmilk for your little one, you might consider weaning – either fully or partially, by supplementing with formula or donor breastmilk. If your baby refuses to take a bottle, it may take a little more time to wean from nursing.
Some women begin weaning when they go back to work. Others plan to begin weaning at around six months, when baby can start trying solid foods. Keep in mind that the only liquid your baby should receive in the first year is breastmilk or formula, and you’ll still need to use bottles after introducing solid foods if you do decide to stop nursing.5
Signs baby may be ready to wean from breastfeeding (typically once you’ve introduced solid foods)6:
- They start nursing less frequently or for shorter amounts of time.
- They skip nursing altogether at times.
- They seem distracted or disinterested in nursing.
- They start playing at or biting your breast more than they actually eat.
If your baby is showing these signs, you may have better luck transitioning to a bottle or cup, depending on how old they are.
Keep in mind that your baby still needs breastmilk or formula to supplement any solid food until they are a year old.
Once you’ve determined you’re ready to start weaning, you’ll want to take care to make the transition smooth for your family while also ensuring you don’t end up painfully engorged.
Here are a few tips to successfully take on weaning5,7:
- Have someone else offer bottles initially. If your baby can smell your milk or feels they should have access to your breasts but then can’t nurse, they might feel more frustrated.
- If your baby is hesitant to take a bottle, try offering it at the start of a breastfeeding session, slowly tapering off how much time they spend on your breast.
- Start with the session your baby seems least interested in. (This probably won’t be a pre-nap or pre-bedtime feeding.)
- If they’re over six months of age, try distracting them with some mashed bananas or other solid food before trying the bottle again.
- Avoid starting while your baby is sick or teething, as they might have a harder time with the change if they’re not feeling well.
- While going back to work is often a trigger to wean from breastfeeding, consider making the transition in advance so you’re not overwhelming your baby with big changes.
- Make the transition gradual, if you can. Try to shorten or replace one feeding at a time with a bottle to both ease your baby into it and allow your supply to adjust to the reduced demand. A month or two is ideal to help avoid engorgement or plugged ducts.
- If you need to wean more quickly, and your baby is taking to the bottle, you can pump or hand express to relieve any engorgement while your own body adjusts. A cold compress on your breasts can also help ease any discomfort.
- Avoid refusing to nurse if your baby wants to; it might make them more adamant about nursing.
- Help your little one find reassurance in other ways. Use a favorite stuffed animal, offer more snuggles, or introduce a new routine to help you continue bonding.
Overall, keep an eye on your little one to see how they’re adjusting. If they seem more irritable or suddenly aren’t sleeping as well, you might be moving too fast for them.7
Life beyond breastfeeding
You’ve successfully weaned your baby from breastfeeding. What’s next?
Maybe you feel relieved. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe a little of both.
Breastfeeding is a very personal and emotional journey, so it’s perfectly normal to have a lot of feelings to sort through as you adjust to life after weaning. Give yourself time to work through those feelings, and consider talking about them to someone you trust.
Another thing to keep in mind is that breastfeeding is a significant bonding opportunity for you and your baby. Look for other opportunities to spend quality one-on-one time with your baby. Snuggle them, read to them, interact with them – whatever helps you feel connected and close.
Finally, consider the fact that after stretching with the demand for milk, your breasts will likely need a little more support long-term. They may be larger and looser than they were pre-pregnancy.8 Investing in well-made bras – ones that offer ample support and that are soft and comfortable to move around in as your child grows and explores the world – can help you feel your best.
Even as your breastfeeding journey comes to an end, we’ve still got your back, Mama! And don’t forget: the real adventure is just beginning.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breastfeeding Frequently Asked Questions
2Frontiers in Global Women’s Health: Mind the Mother When Considering Breastfeeding
3The New York Times: How to Deal with Low Breastmilk Supply
4Baby Center: How to get your baby to take a bottle
5Mayo Clinic: Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers
6VeryWell Family: Is Your Baby Self-Weaning?
7What to Expect: How to Wean Your Baby From Breastfeeding
8Healthline: Breasts After Breastfeeding: How They Change and What You Can Do