What is weaning?
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.
Weaning can happen at any time. It can happen shortly after birth, or when your child is older. Most children are weaned by the age of 3 years. But it is a personal choice, and you can breastfeed for as long as you and your child would like.
The World Health Organization suggests exclusively breastfeeding your baby for their first 6 months. You can then combine breastfeeding with solid foods until your baby is 2 years old or longer.
The best time to wean is when you or your child feel that the time is right. It’s not when your friends or relatives feel you should stop breastfeeding.
How is weaning different from introducing solids?
Weaning is different from introducing solids. Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding your baby and replace breastfeeds with another fluid. This may be: expressed breast milk, formula or milk (depending on your baby’s age).
Weaning is different for everyone. It’s important to remember that it’s a process. The time taken to wean varies from person to person.
Are there different ways to wean my baby?
Weaning can take place in 2 different ways:
- Parent-led weaning — there may be many reasons why you want to wean your baby, such as:
- problems with breastfeeding
- another pregnancy
- medical issues
- going back to work
- just deciding it’s the right time
- Baby-led weaning — this is when your baby stops showing an interest in breastfeeding.
How do I wean my baby?
Depending on your baby’s age you can wean them from breast milk to a cup or a bottle.
- First, stop the breastfeed your baby seems least interested in.
- Next, stop another breastfeed. This may happen after a few days or it might take longer. It will depend on how you and your baby are coping.
- Express breast milk when you need to. This will help you to stay comfortable.
- Check for lumps in your breasts every day. Massage any lumps you find to help avoid mastitis.
- If your breasts are painful, paracetamol, cold packs and a snug fitting bra may help.
You can ask a Lactation Consultant for advice on how to wean.
Slow weaning has many advantages for you and your baby.
For you, it will be more comfortable because your milk supply will fall slowly. This will reduce your risk of blocked ducts and mastitis. You will also avoid a sudden hormonal change.
Slow weaning gives your child time to adjust. Occasional breastfeeds can still be used to comfort your child.
Sometimes there are reasons why you might need to stop breastfeeding very quickly. This can happen: shortly after birth or after you’ve been breastfeeding for a while.
There are medicines that stop you making milk. But these don’t work well if you have been breastfeeding for a while.
For babies younger than 12 months
If your baby is less than 12 months of age, they will need to have breastfeeds replaced with formula.
Babies who are fully weaned before 12 months need about 600 mL of formula a day. Ask your child health nurse to help you with this.
For babies older than 12 months
Children who are older than 12 months of age can have cows' milk as a drink. They only need about 1 to 1 ½ cups (250 to 375 mL) a day. Toddler formulas aren’t needed.
Give drinks (water and milk) in a cup.
My baby doesn’t want to wean
If your baby is finding weaning difficult, try:
- offering only one breast at each feed
- offering formula before breast milk (if weaning on to formula)
- offering solids before breastfeeding (if your baby is older than 12 months)
Make sure that you still spend lots of time with your baby.
How do I wean my toddler?
There are many things you can do to make weaning easier for both you and your toddler.
Explain to your toddler that breastfeeding will stop soon. Toddlers understand more than they can say.
Here are some tips to help both of you:
- Stop the early morning feed by getting up and getting dressed before your toddler wakes.
- Keep feeding times the same.
- Discourage long feeds.
- To stop feeding when you are out, wear clothing that makes it harder for your toddler to get to your breasts.
- If you have always fed your child to sleep, change their routine. Start to increase the time between their feed and bedtime.
- If your baby wakes at night, have your partner re-settle them.
Be guided by both your and your toddler’s needs.
Where can I get more information about weaning?
For information and advice on weaning, call:
- your midwife
- a lactation consultant
- the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 mum 2 mum | 1800 686 268
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: November 2022