A: There's no real right or wrong time to wean your child from your breast; it has more to do with your lifestyle. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that moms breastfeed for the first year, but only about 15 percent of moms actually do this, since going back to work, physical challenges, or simply wanting their bodies back prompts many women to wean sooner.
If your baby is younger than 9 months, you should wean her to a bottle since she doesn't have the motor skills to use a cup. After that time, it's best to wean straight to a sippy cup and solid food to avoid putting your child through another transition from bottle to cup just a few months later (since all children should be off the bottle by their first birthday). To make weaning as easy as possible on your child, be sure it doesn't coincide with another big transition, like moving or starting daycare.
Start by eliminating one midday breastfeeding session first. The early-morning and bedtime feedings are usually the most soothing for your child (and you too), so leave those until the very end. Phase a bottle into your child's schedule one feeding at a time. Wait about a week (or two if your baby is resistant) before replacing another feeding with a bottle. This will not only give your child time to transition, but will keep you from becoming painfully engorged. (If you do become engorged, pump off just enough milk to make yourself comfortable, since emptying your breasts will just encourage your body to make more milk.) Cold packs and acetaminophen can also help. Continue substituting bottles for nursing sessions every week until your child is completely off the breast.
If you're weaning straight to a sippy cup, it's a good idea to introduce your child to the cup about one month before you start the weaning process so she has time to get comfortable holding and drinking from it. Pick a plastic spill-proof cup with a spout, which most closely mimics a nipple. Finding the right cup for your child may require some trial and error. Some children go through several styles before finding one they love (some children like handles, while others can't stand them, for example). At first, you should just offer water in the sippy cup during meals of solid foods. Then as your child gets more comfortable, start filling the cup with breast milk or formula so she gets used to the idea that all her beverages can come from a cup. (Just don't make the cup available 24/7 or your child may graze from it all day long and disrupt her normal eating schedule.) The first few times your baby drinks from the cup, it can be a bit messy (expect lots of drooling and dripping). Hold the cup to her mouth and let a few drops trickle out. Don't force her to take more than she wants, since you don't want to turn this into a power struggle. If she tries to grab the cup to drink on her own, by all means, let her. After your baby's comfortable with the sippy cup (about a month or so), you can start the weaning process.
Toward the end, when you finally eliminate the bedtime and morning feedings, enlist Daddy to put your child to bed and pick her up in the morning (just for a while) to soften the blow of not nursing. When weaning your baby from the breast, it's also important to give her plenty of affection and attention so she doesn't start missing the physical closeness that comes with nursing.
Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.