When to wean your baby from breastfeeding is a very personal choice. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least six months, and until 12 months, breastmilk should be the main source of nutrition for your little one, with complementary solid feedings. If a baby is weaned from breastfeeding before 12 months, those feedings need to be replaced with formula.
Weaning before 12 months
If you need or choose to wean your baby before 12 months old, you will need to replace all breastmilk feedings with formula. You should talk to your pediatrician about the best formula to use for your little one.
If you are weaning and have a full milk supply, it will be crucial to slowly cut out feeding or pumping sessions, one at a time. Going too quickly or “cold turkey” can lead to engorgement, clogged ducts, or even mastitis.
Moving gradually will also help you and your little one adjust to a new routine. Weaning can be an emotional process, and having a little bit of extra time to enjoy those last feeds or pump a little extra milk to get through the change is something that many parents find helpful.
Weaning after 12 months
After 12 months, how long you continue to breastfeed is up to you. Some older babies and toddlers will choose when they stop breastfeeding, which is commonly referred to as “self-weaning.” In these cases, you would follow your child’s lead and your body and supply will adjust accordingly. Other times, the decision to wean may be your decision, and you can lead the process. There is no wrong way to wean, and only you can decide what is best for you and your baby. If you are ready to wean, these tips may help make the process go smoothly!
Take it Slow:
Pushing too much too quickly can make weaning harder for all involved. Think of weaning as a process, and not a one-time event. Weaning too fast will also put you at risk for engorgement and clogged ducts.
Gradually decrease the amount of nursing or pumping sessions you do each day, and this will allow your body and baby time to adjust.
Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse.
This is a simple technique where you don’t remind your child to nurse, but you don’t refuse when they ask. It is a great way to start the weaning process with a toddler and may help to encourage self-weaning.
Introducing a new routine, without nursing, will help your child understand there has been a change.
When you get up in the morning, quickly get breakfast and/or start a new activity
Change bedtime routine, replace nursing with a song, book or snuggles
Have dad take over with putting baby to bed, so that the new routine is a book, a song, and/or special snuggles with him
Sit in different spots during the transition – avoid those places that your child has come to associate with nursing
These phrases may help your child stretch the time between nursing sessions:
“We can nurse at naptime”
“Let’s nurse after we play”
“We can nurse when we get home”
Limiting the length of your nursing sessions is a great way to begin the weaning process. You can count down, sing a special song, or use a timer.
Replace nursing sessions with something new. This works especially well during the day time. A snack, drink, fun activity, or a book could offer a distraction from nursing. A basket of new toys or activities can be a really fun distraction too.
Weaning is a process and transition for both you and your little one, and can be very emotional. Regardless of how long you have breastfed, remember that you have done an amazing job of providing “liquid gold” for your baby! No guilt should be tied to wrapping up your journey. If you have questions or would like individualized support, our IBCLC is available to help at [email protected]