Like all good things, breastfeeding eventually comes to an end. Weaning from breastfeeding is a significant moment for both the mother and their newborn, and is a decision that is completely up to them. When a mother and baby are ready to begin weaning off breastfeeding, there are a few tips and methods that can help make this a positive transition.
When to start weaning breastfeeding
When it comes to stopping breastfeeding, there is no set time that all mother-baby duos must follow. Every mother and baby is different and weaning is an entirely personal decision made when both are comfortable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding babies up to six months of age.1 It is recommend that a combination of both solid foods and breast milk until the child is one year of age. If a baby is weaning off breastfeeding before he or she is one year of age, they can take child formula instead of breast milk. And if the baby is stopping breastfeeding at one year of age or older, they can just skip the formula and start drinking cow’s milk right away.2
While this is the recommendation, there are many mothers who stop nursing before the 12-month period, and there are others who continue breastfeeding their baby for up to two years. This is known as extended breastfeeding and is a perfectly healthy option for mothers and babies who wish to continue their breastfeeding journey.
Signs that a baby is ready to start weaning off breastfeeding
Mothers often wonder how to stop breastfeeding, because it is quite rare for a baby to just stop breastfeeding off their own accord. Weaning off breastfeeding is usually a gradual process for both mother and baby. There are a few ways that an infant can indicate that he or she is ready to start weaning: 3
A disinterest or fussiness while nursing
Shorter breastfeeding sessions than previously
Easily distracted while nursing
‘Playing’ at the breast, such as pulling or biting
Sucking but not extracting milk
Find more information on weaning, baby-led weaning, and when it’s best to start here!
How to wean breastfeeding
Once the mother and baby have determined it’s time to learn how to stop nursing, there are a few things to keep in mind to help make it a smooth transition. Here is our advice on how to wean the baby from breastfeeding when the time finally arrives:4
1. Wean gradually
The key thing to remember when it comes to weaning is to do it gradually. This is so that both mother and baby can properly adjust to the physical and emotional changes.
Additionally, stopping breastfeeding slowly can help mothers avoid issues such as engorgement and overall breast discomfort.
2. Express or pump milk
To help prevent engorgement while weaning, mothers may need to express or pump some milk, especially if their baby is less than one year of age. One trick when learning how to stop breast milk production is to remove less milk than normal so that the breasts know to start producing less.
Since pumping stimulates milk flow, it’s important to pump for less time than the duration of a feeding session. Eventually, milk production will slow down to a stop. Check out thisdouble electric breast pump that gently stimulates milk flow in less time with a soft massage cushion.
3. Drop one feeding session a week
So, how exactly does one wean gradually? We recommend dropping one session each week, starting with a midday feed or whichever tends to be the baby’s least favorite. The last ones to go are usually the sessions before going to sleep and first waking up.
While a baby is weaning, the mother’s breasts will still be producing milk until she completely stops breastfeeding. In the meantime, mothers may find these honeycombed breast pads useful to help keep their clothes dry and milk-stain-free morning, noon, and night.
4. Extra cuddles may be in order
In addition to the physical changes that stopping breastfeeding brings about, mothers and their infants will also go through emotional changes. Babies should be given extra cuddles and love during this time. The extra affection can help maintain that feeling of closeness and connectedness that comes from breastfeeding.
5. Introduce other foods during normal feeding sessions
Another way to help a baby adjust to these new changes is by substituting normal feeding times with other foods. Babies who are one year of age or older can substitute the usual feeding sessions with cow’s milk or snacks if he or she has moved onto solid foods. Consider this natural baby bottle with an ultra-soft nipple that closely resembles the breast and can help support an easy transition from breast to bottle.
Making the transition
While weaning off breastfeeding is a natural part of the breastfeeding journey, it is a very important change that mothers will make with their babies. Along with newfound feelings of pride for their baby’s growth and development, feelings of sadness are also quite normal. Breastfeeding creates a special bond between mothers and their infants. Therefore, difficulty saying goodbye to nursing is not unusual among breastfeeding women.
For any remaining concerns, never hesitate to reach out for a second professional opinion.