How to Wean From Breastfeeding

Putting a Peaceful End to Nursing

Six months? A year? The night before kindergarten orientation? Everyone has an opinion about the “right” time to wean a child off breastfeeding. While it's helpful to consider outside perspectives, ultimately, the right time to wean is different for everyone. It's easiest for everyone if your child is the one who decides it's time to wean, but hey, no one said motherhood was going to be easy.

In the Wean Time

cheerful baby girl lying on white bed

How Long to Breastfeed

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In theory, breastfeeding until your child turns age 1 is the healthiest choice. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the primary source of nutrition until 6 months and supplementing breast milk with solid foods up until 12 months.) Your child gets the immunity boost and nutrients of your milk, while you save money on formula and get the flood of feel-good hormones released by breastfeeding.

In practice, though, that just may not work. If your milk production slows down, your work schedule makes nursing too challenging, or if you just find breastfeeding uncomfortable, don't let anyone make you feel guilty about giving it up after six months, or switching to formula even before you reach the six-month marker. But do talk to your pediatrician about the right kind and amount of formula to give your baby if you decide to wean before your child turns 1.

The Weaning Process

Weaning can be a tough transition for you and your child, especially if he still wants to nurse. The process can take weeks or even months in some cases, so be patient and be prepared for setbacks.

Start by cutting some feedings short by a few minutes. If he still seems fussy, offer a bottle of formula, or, if he's eating solid foods, a snack. Depending on how often your baby typically nurses, you may also decide to cut out one of his daily feedings altogether or replace it with a bottle or snack. Have your partner or another caregiver handle these feedings, if possible, because your baby may not be willing to eat something else if he knows his preferred food source is right in front of him.

As you start weaning, your breasts may feel engorged with extra milk. When that happens, express just a little bit at a time to relieve the pressure. Your body will eventually recognize that it doesn't need to produce as much milk as it has in the past, and your supply will diminish over time.

Continue shortening and eliminating nursing sessions until your child seems content to take a bottle or solid food at every feeding. If at any point he's losing weight or won't accept anything but the breast, talk to your pediatrician. You may also decide to postpone the elimination of any more feedings and wait a few weeks to resume weaning.

Child-Led Weaning

cheerful baby girl lying on white bed

How to Stop Breastfeeding

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If you're still producing milk and willing to continue breastfeeding after your baby's first birthday, go for it. Continue the practice until your child starts to lose interest in nursing. This tends to happen naturally between the ages of 1 and 3 as kids start trying new foods and becoming more active. Your child may only want to nurse for comfort or as part of a pre-bedtime ritual.

Some kids will happily continue nursing well into the preschool years. Eventually, you may have to decide that you're officially finished with breastfeeding. When she tries to initiate a nursing session, explain that your body isn't making any more milk and offer a cuddle instead. She'll get the comfort she's looking for, and you'll finally get to put away your nursing bras. Talk about a win-win.

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