Weaning: Breastfed Baby

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Weaning is taking away the breast or bottle and teaching baby to use the cup. It is a gradual process that requires a baby to learn new skills. Some babies learn to drink from a cup easier than others.

Health experts recommend breastfeeding through at least the first year. However, you may choose to breastfeed longer. Some babies nurse along with eating solids well into their second or third year, all the while continuing to reap the health benefits from nursing. Ultimately, you and your baby will decide when it is time.

Weaning is a natural stage in development and a decision between you and your baby – not on the expectations of others. There is no set age at which to fully wean your baby from breastfeeding. No one rule works best for everyone.

Gradual weaning from breastfeeding over time allows:

  • More comfort for mom
  • Baby to adjust to change in taste
  • Baby to adjust to using a cup or bottle

Reasons to Wean

  • Mom is ready to wean
  • Child is past one year old and is ready:
    • Eats a variety of foods
    • Is comforted in ways other than nursing
    • Would rather play than nurse
    • Shows little interest in nursing
    • Falls asleep without nursing
    • Is easily distracted with other activities

Reasons Not to Wean

  • Baby starts teething
  • Baby over one year of age
  • Social pressure
  • Working or school
  • Nursing strike
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Common colds or illnesses

Steps to Full Weaning

0-6 months of age

  • Start by replacing one breastfeeding each day with a bottle of iron fortified formula.
  • The first breastfeeding to replace is the one the baby wants the least or when the breasts do not feel full.
  • After 4 to 5 days, replace another feeding with formula.
  • Slowly stop other breast feedings until down to once a day and then skip one day in between until done. Wean gradually over a month or more.
  • If baby refuses formula:
    • Mix a small amount of formula with pumped breast milk in a cup or bottle.
    • Slowly add more formula and less breast milk each day.
    • Allow time for the baby to accept the change in taste.

7-12 months of age

  • Start by replacing one breastfeeding each day with iron fortified formula by cup.
  • The first breastfeeding to replace is the one the baby wants the least or when the breasts do not feel full.
  • After 4 to 5 days, replace another feeding with formula.
  • Slowly stop other breast feedings until down to once a day and then skip one day in between until done. Wean gradually over a month or more.
  • If baby refuses formula:
    • Mix a small amount of formula with pumped breast milk in a cup.
    • Slowly add more formula and less breast milk each day.
  • Allow time for the baby to accept the change in taste.

Over 12 months of age

  • Stop the least favorite nursing time first and put the child at the table for a meal/snack with a cup of water or whole milk.
  • After 4 to 5 days, replace another feeding until all nursing at the breast is stopped.
  • Offer 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks every day. The toddler should be eating meals rather than breastfeeding at mealtime.

Types of Weaning

Baby-led weaning

Gradually moves from breastfeeding to eating more solid foods. He or she decides how much to eat and when they are ready to fully wean.

Mother-led weaning

Slowly removes the number of breastfeeding times and replace them with foods other than formula. Your baby still decides how much to eat, but you decide what and when he or she eats until full weaning occurs.

Partial weaning

Replaces some breastfeeding time with other types of feedings when you are away from your baby. This may be used by moms who work or attend school and still want to continue some breastfeeding.

Temporary weaning

Stops breastfeeding for short periods of time while taking unsafe medications, having surgery, or for any reason where you are unable to offer your breastmilk.  Your baby can receive other milk, formula, or solids during that time, but you continue to protect your breastmilk production by pumping or hand expression.

Emergency weaning

Completely stops all feedings from the breast in a very short period of time.  This frequently is the result of an emergency situation or sudden medical condition.

Weaning vs. Nursing Strike

Some moms think their baby is fully weaning, when they are actually going through a “nursing strike”.

A nursing strike is when a baby suddenly refuses to nurse and may be unhappy. Causes are often not known, although some possible reasons might include: infection, teething, stuffy nose, overuse of a bottle or pacifier, change in routine, long separation from mom, medications, or certain foods.

Strikes are usually temporary and mom should continue to offer her breast and protect her milk supply by expressing breastmilk by hand or pump. Contact your local WIC office if this happens to you!

Wean completely off the bottle no later than 12-14 months of age.

  • Start weaning with the daytime bottle. The morning and before bedtime bottles are often the hardest to give up.
  • Offer the cup in place of the bottle when the baby drinks the least or at mealtimes when other family members are drinking from a cup.
  • Slowly cut down on the number of bottles.
  • At the same time increase the number of cups your baby drinks each day.

Weaning Tips

  • If breast fullness occurs after you omit a breastfeeding, hand-express or pump just enough milk to prevent discomfort.
  • Remove less milk each day
  • Cover your breasts with ice packs for a few minutes whenever they feel too full
  • Wear a supportive bra that is not too tight
  • Call a health professional if you see redness on your breast, feel bad, or have a fever
  • Sometimes babies want the breast for comfort, and not for hunger. To help your baby feel more secure:
    • Read them a story.
    • Give lots of hugs, love and attention.
    • Offer a favorite toy or blanket.
    • Hold or cuddle them.
    • Set a bedtime routine that includes some or all of the above.
  • When weaning an older child, keep them busy with playing games, reading books, or taking a walk.
  • Keep your baby on breast milk or iron-fortified formula until twelve months of age, even if they drink from a cup. Then, if you choose, you can give your child cow’s milk in a cup with meals or snacks.
  • Use a cup without a spout, with handles that fits into the baby’s hands.
  • Use a cup with a curved edge to make drinking easier.
  • Begin around 6 months by letting your baby take small sips of breastmilk, formula, or water from a cup when they are at the table for a meal or snack.
  • Drink from a cup along with your baby, to teach them how.
  • All babies spill when learning to use a cup. Learn to have extra patience while your baby learns new skills.
  • Start weaning when baby is well. If the baby becomes ill during the weaning process, retreat a little.
  • Expect the baby to take less breast milk or formula during the weaning process.

Get more great information about weaning your breastfed baby here!

Source: CDC, USDA

This post was last updated on June 3rd, 2020 at 9:56 PM

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