Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers

Weaning doesn't have to be difficult. Find out how to choose the right time and what you can do to ease your child's transition to the bottle or cup.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're breast-feeding, you might have questions about weaning. When is the right time? Will weaning upset your child? How can you avoid engorgement? Get the facts about weaning and how to make the process a more positive one for you and your child.

When's the best time to start weaning?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months after birth — and breast-feeding in combination with solids foods until at least age 1. Breast-feeding is recommended as long as you and your baby wish to continue.

When to start weaning your child is a personal decision. It's often easiest to begin weaning when your baby starts the process. Changes in breast-feeding patterns leading to eventual weaning often begin naturally at age 6 months, when solid foods are typically introduced. Some children begin to seek other forms of nutrition and comfort at around age 1. By this age, children typically eat a variety of solid foods and are able to drink from a cup. Other children might not initiate weaning until they become toddlers, when they're less willing to sit still during breast-feeding.

You might also decide when to start the weaning process yourself. This might be more difficult than following your child's lead — but can be done with extra care and sensitivity.

Whenever you start weaning your baby from the breast, focus on your child's needs as well as your own. Resist comparing your situation with that of other families, and consider rethinking any deadlines you might have set for weaning when you were pregnant or when your baby was a newborn.

Are there certain times when it wouldn't be smart to start weaning?

Consider delaying weaning if:

  • You're concerned about allergens. If you or your child's father has food allergies, consider delaying weaning until after your child turns age 1. Research suggests that exposing a child to potential allergens while breast-feeding might decrease his or her risk of developing allergies. Talk to your child's doctor.
  • Your child isn't feeling well. If your child is ill or teething, postpone weaning until he or she feels better. You might also postpone weaning if you're not feeling well. You're both more likely to handle the transition well if you're in good health.
  • A major change has occurred. Avoid initiating weaning during a time of major change. If your family has recently moved or your child care situation has changed, for example, postpone weaning until a less stressful time.

If your baby is struggling with the weaning process, consider trying again in a month or two.

What's the best way to begin weaning?

Slowly tapering off how long and how often you breast-feed each day — over the course of weeks or months — will cause your milk supply to gradually diminish and prevent engorgement. It might be easiest to drop a midday breast-feeding session first. After a lunch of solid food, your child might become interested in an activity and naturally give up this session. Once you've dropped one feeding, you can work on dropping another.

Should I refuse feedings during the weaning process?

Refusing to breast-feed when your child wants to nurse can increase your child's focus on the activity. If your child wants to nurse, go ahead. Then, continue working to distract him or her with new foods, activities and sources of reassurance — such as a favorite stuffed animal — around the times of your typical breast-feeding sessions.

What about nutrition after weaning?

If you wean your child from breast-feeding before age 1, use expressed breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Don't give your child cow's milk until after his or her first birthday.

You can wean your child to a bottle and then a cup or directly to a cup. When introducing your child to a bottle, choose a time when he or she isn't extremely hungry and might have more patience. Use a bottle nipple with a slow flow at first. If you use a bottle nipple with a fast flow, your child might become accustomed to that and get frustrated with the pacing and different flow rate of milk during breast-feeding.

How long does weaning take?

Weaning could take days, weeks or months. Even after you successfully wean your child from day feedings, you might continue to breast-feed in the morning and before your child's bedtime to keep up that feeling of closeness.

Breast-feeding is an intimate experience. You might have mixed emotions about letting go. But by taking a gradual approach to weaning — and offering lots of affection — you can help your child make a smooth transition to a bottle or cup.

Feb. 19, 2019 See more In-depth