Weaning your baby from the breast is an important step in their development, but it’s not always an easy change to make. Try and make it as smooth as possible, it’s important to know when to wean, how best to do it and what to do if your baby refuses.
Weaning can be tough, but at the end of it, you’re baby will be eating happily with the rest of the family happily in a highchair and you’ll be spending less time propping your baby up with a body pillow though you may still need a breast pump for a while as feeding and milk production even out.
When should I start weaning off breastfeeding?
Most mothers choose to wean their babies around six months of age. This is when they begin to add solid foods to their baby’s diet. Other mothers may start weaning off breastfeeding at five months while some wait longer, but six months is the average.
Some babies even begin to naturally wean themselves at this age, or at least become more receptive to it. At around six months, babies often become interested in solid food (especially watching other people eat). They often want to be fed in an upright position and may become cranky during breastfeeding.
It could be the case that your little one may be the one to let you know they’re ready.
How should I wean my baby?
There’s no one best approach to weaning. Every baby is an individual and your circumstances are unique, so you may have to experiment to find out what works best for you.
To help you out, we’ve put together the following weaning advice based on years of practice and what’s worked best for most babies and parents. Try the following to successfully wean your baby off breastfeeding:
Set a timescale for weaning your baby off breastfeeding
It can help to set a time for how long you want to spend weaning. This isn’t to put pressure on you or your baby to finish weaning by a specific date. Instead, the timescale can help you recognise that weaning won’t be an immediate success, and that it’s a process that can take time.
Some mothers aim to spend a month weaning, but others extend this to six weeks or two months or more. You can always begin with a month in mind, but then extend the period you wean if your baby is resistant and needs to be coaxed through weaning more gradually.
Before you begin weaning, your baby has probably only ever been fed from the breast. Because of this, weaning can be a dramatic change and some babies can find it difficult to adjust. You’ll likely get the best results with weaning if you do it gradually in small steps.
Try replacing one breastfeed per 24-hours at first (called dropping a breastfeed). Ideally this should be a time where your baby usually shows the least interest in breastfeeding, as this should be the least disruptive time to switch to other food. Often this is a feed during the day when they are active and may be preoccupied with play and exploring, rather than feeding.
Once you’ve successfully dropped one breastfeed in your routine, you can try dropping another. Keep doing so gradually over time until every breastfeed has been replaced by solid food or milk from a bottle.
How quickly you can drop feeds will depend on how your baby adjusts to weaning. Some mothers manage to drop feeds every three days, others drop one a week, while other mothers find it takes longer.
Gradually reducing breast feeding will also help you to produce less milk over time and will make weaning a more comfortable process for you.
Make solid food fun
Whilst most babies miss breastfeeding, this can be balanced by making eating solid foods an exciting experience.
Start slow, with a small amount of solid food to make sure it’s not overwhelming. Experiment with different foods to find the ones your baby enjoys the most. Eat the same food with your little one to show they’re eating adult food (most babies delight in finding they’re eating the same food as you). Try to provide lots of encouragement and support to make eating solid food as enjoyable and exciting as possible.
Provide plenty of emotional support
Your baby loves close contact with you, and breastfeeding is a comforting and emotional experience.
As you breastfeed less, they will very likely miss the contact and the comfort feeds provide. When weaning, it’s important to find other occasions to cuddle and to provide emotional support. Make sure you have plenty of one-on-one time with your baby, with lots of cuddles, plenty of eye contact and loads of fun.
Your baby may strongly associate you with breastfeeding and may be resistant to accepting other forms of food from you. If possible, see if other people they know can feed them instead at certain times of the day. Your little one may be more willing to accept a bottle or solid food from your partner, their grandparents or from other carers.
Some babies do take to weaning like ducks to water, but this is relatively rare. Most babies resist weaning, at least at first.
Whilst this resistance can be distressing, it does often pass quickly. At such a young age, babies adapt quickly to new routines. It may take a few days to happen, but it will. You don’t have to be perfect, and the odd relapse can happen. But try to be consistent and stick with it.
Take care of yourself
So far we’ve focussed on your baby, but weaning can be a difficult time for mothers too.
Breastfeeding can be an emotional experience for you as well, and you may miss the contact and the bond it brings. Just as you need to provide more emotional support to your baby, recognise that you may need support too. Cherish one-on-one time with your little one and make sure you have plenty of physical contact. Also don’t be hard on yourself if you feel down or otherwise emotional.
If you wean gradually, your breasts should respond by producing less milk. This may not happen perfectly, however. If you become engorged or otherwise tender or painful, try soothing your breasts with a cold compress or an ice pack. You may have to express some milk with a pump too.
What if my baby refuses to wean?
If your baby absolutely refuses to wean, they may simply not be ready.
You may have to accept that the time isn’t yet right and stick with breastfeeding. Wait for a couple of weeks or more then try to reintroduce weaning again, particularly if your baby begins to show more interest in solid food and feeding in an upright position.
Consider partial weaning
If your baby is a stubborn weaner, you can try partial weaning. This is where you continue to breastfeed at certain times but give them other types of food at the meals where they’re more receptive to the other food.
With partial weaning, you aim to establish a set routine of varied feedings. You may breastfeed in the morning or evening for instance, but then bottle feed at night and at mid-day. You should then give your little one solid food during set snack times.
Partial weaning allows your baby to adjust to other types of food without totally removing breastfeeding. But as they become more established with bottle feeds and solid foods, you can attempt full weaning by gradually dropping breastfeeds.