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Weaning

5-minute read

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 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.

How is weaning different from introducing solids?

Weaning is not the same as introducing solids. It is the process of stopping breastfeeding and replacing it with either expressed breast milk, formula or milk.

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.

Are there different ways to wean my baby?

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 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.

How do I wean my baby?

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

How do I wean my toddler?

Although many mums wean their babies at around 12 months, some continue to breastfeed well into the toddler years. There is no harm in breastfeeding your toddler since breast milk will continue to provide nutrition. Many mothers say it helps develop a stronger emotional bond with their child and can help with their developing behaviour.

When you feel the time is right to wean your toddler, there are several things you can do to make the transition easier.

Be guided by you and your toddler’s needs, and let those determine when is the right time to wean.

Here are some tips to help both of you:

  • Wean slowly if possible.
  • Explain to your toddler that breastfeeding will stop soon - toddlers understand more than they can say.
  • Point out other toddlers who no longer breastfeed.
  • Offer praise if your toddler is able to go for a whole morning without a breastfeed.
  • Increase your cuddling time, so that your toddler feels secure and knows that they can still be comforted in your arms without going to the breast.
  • Avoid the early morning feeds and daytime feed by getting up and getting dressed before your toddler wakes.
  • Be consistent with feeding times.
  • If you don’t want to feed when you are out, wear clothing that makes your breasts less accessible.
  • Distract your child with play, games and reading.
  • Offer lots of healthy snacks and drinks.
  • If you have always fed your child to sleep, change the routine, shorten the feed and increase the time between the feed and bedtime.
  • If your baby wakes at night, have your partner go in to re-settle.

Although the decision to wean affects the whole family, the best time to wean is when you or your child feel the time is right, not when friends or relatives feel you should wean.

Where can I get more information about weaning?

For information and advice on breastfeeding or weaning, contact:

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020


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