Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding your baby or toddler. It is a natural process, and all growing children go through it, but it can sometimes be a difficult time for mother and baby.
Breast milk contains everything your baby needs for the first 6 months of their life. Weaning your baby from breastfeeding can occur any time after breastfeeding has been established. It can happen shortly after birth, or up until when your child is a toddler. Most babies are weaned by the age of 3.
Weaning is also going to be different for every mother and baby. It’s important to remember that it is a process, not an event, and the time involved varies from person to person.
Weaning can occur in 3 different ways:
- mutual decision - the easiest and most comfortable way to wean for both of you, this is when your baby starts to show an interest in food
- mother-led weaning – there could several reasons why you want to wean your baby, such as returning to work, problems with breastfeeding, another pregnancy, medical issues or just deciding it’s the right time
- baby-led weaning – this is when your baby stops showing an interest in breastfeeding
Slow is best
Slow weaning is best, both emotionally and physically, for you and your baby.
For you, it will be more comfortable because your breast milk will decrease gradually. This will reduce the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis. You will also avoid a sudden hormonal change.
If it is slow, your baby will remain secure and more settled as they adjust to the change.
Tips on how to wean
Depending on your baby’s age you can wean to a cup or a bottle. Babies younger than 7 months should use a bottle, but if older than 7 months, they can start to use a cup.
Cow’s milk is not suitable for babies under 12 months, so until they reach that age you should continue with expressed breast milk or formula.
- First, stop the breastfeed your baby seems least interested in.
- Next, stop one other breastfeed every few days - or longer - depending on your comfort and how your baby is coping.
- Express breast milk for comfort when you need to.
- Check for lumps in your breasts every day, and massage them to help to avoid mastitis.
- If your breasts are painful, paracetamol, cold packs and a snug fitting bra may be helpful.
If your baby is finding weaning difficult, try:
- lots of extra cuddles
- offering a dummy for extra sucking
- offering formula before breast milk (if weaning on to formula)
- making sure that your baby is being offered lots of extra drinks
- offering only one breast at each feed
- changing your routine - go out when your baby is due for a breastfeed
- having your partner, a friend or a relative offer a cup or bottle to your baby
- having your partner get up to the baby when they wake at night
Where to go for help
For information and advice on breastfeeding or weaning, contact:
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Last reviewed: August 2020