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How to wean from breastfeeding

weaning baby

Key Points:

  1. The article explains the meaning of weaning and the reasons for starting the process.
  2. It provides tips for starting the weaning process, including choosing a peaceful time, transitioning gradually, introducing the bottle or cup in a loving manner, and seeking support from family members.
  3. The article recommends complementing the weaning process with a consistent routine, distractions or substitutions, and a gradual decrease in breastfeeding.
  4. It discusses the signs that indicate the weaning process is going too quickly and reminds mothers to be patient and listen to their baby’s cues.

If you’ve decided it’s time to wean your baby off the breast, here are some tips to make the baby weaning a happy and peaceful process.

Weaning is a personal process and decision, and it will be different for everyone. This decision might be influenced by a return to work, the mother’s or infant’s health, or simply because there’s a feeling that the time is right; and the weaning process may last months or even years.

What is weaning? 

In different cultures, the term weaning varies in meaning. However, in general terms, it begins with the introduction of the first solid food – as breastfeeding is no longer exclusive – and ends with the cessation of breastfeeding.

When solids are introduced, breastfeeding is still highly beneficial and recommended until at least your toddler is 12 months of age. However, you can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire.

How to wean my baby

If you’ve decided it’s time to partially or completely wean your baby off the breast, the following information can help make the process easier: 

  1. First of all, choose a peaceful time when your baby is happy, healthy, and no big changes are going on in your family’s life (moving to a new house, beginning daycare, etc.) 
  2. The simplest and most natural time to start weaning is when your baby initiates the process by themselves. Remember that ending breastfeeding abruptly can have emotional and physical implications for both the mother and the child. 
  3. Prepare the bottle and present it to your little in a loving manner. Explain to them that, from now on, they will receive their milk from the bottle.
  4. If your baby resists drinking from the bottle, you can ask your partner or a family member for help. Your baby has learned to associate feedings with you and may feel uncomfortable when being fed by other means at first.
  5. If your baby is a year or under, try substituting their least favorite feeding of the day or night first with the bottle. 
  6. Make sure to let your baby have some days (or even weeks) to get used to the change before you substitute another breastfeeding session with a bottle. 
  7. Slowly practice lengthening the time between breastfeeding, so your baby gradually gets accustomed to weaning. During this period, do not express milk unless you feel uncomfortable. If you eliminate only a few feedings each day, engorgement might not occur. However, if you speed up the weaning process, be sure to express some milk to prevent an infection. 
  8. Your body will start producing less milk over time. Breastfeeding works under the law of supply and demand; as soon as you decrease feedings, your milk supply will decline too, and eventually, your body will no longer produce breast milk. 
  9. Talk to your pediatrician about formula recommendations. If you want your baby to drink breast milk from the bottle, make sure you have an adequate supply stored.
  10. Try to introduce a cup with a serving of water during the weaning process. Then gradually introduce milk in the cup to prevent weaning your baby from the bottle too later on.

Tips for weaning during daytime:

  • If you want to accelerate the weaning process, a simple technique is to breastfeed your baby when they ask to and not offer your breast when they don’t want it. Remember to complement this with the information above. 
  • Changing your daytime routine and avoiding the chair or space at home where you used to breastfeed can also be helpful. 
  • If you need it, don’t hesitate to ask other family and household members for help. 
  • Try to offer distractions or substitutions during the time of the day of your usual nursing sessions. Offer your baby a snack or another drink, go to their favorite park or place, read them a book, or sing to them. 
  • If your baby understands the concept of waiting, try shortening the duration of the feedings by singing a song or counting to 20. 
  • Consider delaying weaning if you or your baby isn’t feeling well. This transition is more likely to occur smoothly if both of you are in good health. 

Tips for weaning during nighttime:

  • The nap and/or nighttime feedings are often the last ones to go.
  • You can start by allowing another family member to help take over sleep-time routines. 
  • Offer cuddles, hugs, and kisses, or even mellow music to replace breastfeeding at night or during naps. 
  • When you and your baby decide to wean the nighttime feeding, you can do a bedtime routine that isn’t centered on breastfeeding, like reading a book.
  • Always talk to your baby ahead of time about this and explain the process to them lovingly and patiently.

Remember that weaning may be a gradual or quick process. Listen to your baby’s cues. Some possible signs that your baby may give to you when the weaning process is going too quickly are increased tantrums, regressive behaviors, anxiety, clinginess, and separation anxiety.

Some babies will be ready to wean even before their moms, while others will slowly and gradually start to show more interest in solid foods and less in breastfeeding. Some mothers may be ready to wean at different times too!

Remember that it’s a personal decision and that it’s normal to feel a bit of sadness or nostalgia, but don’t worry, these feelings will pass when you see that your child is completing new milestones in their development. Just don’t forget to be gentle with yourself and your little one during the process.

Dedicating plenty of time to your weaning strategy may allow you to try different approaches and decide what works best for you and your baby. 

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