How to Wean Your Child from Breastfeeding

Just when you finally get the hang of breastfeeding, it's time to wean your baby. Here's how to ensure the transition from breast to bottle is a surefire success.

mother holding baby PhotoAlto/ Matton

Pick the Perfect Time

"When to wean?" It's a question that's top of mind for nursing mamas. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively until your baby is 6 months old, then serving a combination of solids and breast milk until she's 1 year old. But know that weaning is ultimately a personal decision and should be based on what's best for your family -- perhaps you're returning to work and need the flexibility of bottle-feeding, for instance. Most mothers choose to wean their baby off the breast when she's 4-7 months old, according to the AAP.

Surefire Signs Your Baby Is Ready

Telltale signals your baby is ready to start solids? He holds his head in an upright position, sits with support, or expresses interest in what you're eating. In addition, his active tongue-thrust reflex has disappeared -- or is in the process of disappearing. He may also act indifferent or cranky during routine breastfeeding sessions.

Set a Schedule

Check your calendar -- pinpointing a specific date by which you want to wean can help you strategically plan. Then allow yourself a full month to successfully complete weaning -- this gives you and your baby a little extra breathing room should you experience obstacles and setbacks along the way.

    Know When to Play the Waiting Game

    Planning a move? Starting a new job? Did your little one just start teething? You may want to hold off for a month or so, because stressful situations don't work well with weaning. Another timing consideration: Your baby will be more apt to cooperate when she isn't overly tired or hungry. And if she's not cooperative? Try again in a few days.

      Settle into a Plan

      Easing into a weaning routine allows you and your baby to more smoothly adjust to the change. For instance, you may omit one breastfeeding session a week -- probably the most inconvenient feeding for you or the one your baby's least interested in -- and gradually drop feedings until he's solely using bottles or cups or eating solids.

        Wean with TLC

        Just because you aren't comforting baby at the breast doesn't mean you can't nurture her in different ways. Spend quality one-on-one time with activities that keep her emotionally stimulated during this transition -- cuddle together while reading a book or singing a lullaby, romp around together at the playground, or massage her back.

          Let Your Little One Lead

          Some babies excel at weaning when they're in control. If you're OK with letting your baby call the shots, rely on the tried-and-true "don't offer, don't refuse" method. In a nutshell, you nurse when your child expresses interest, but you don't actually initiate it. It's not the quickest weaning strategy, but it ensures your baby's needs are met.

            Switch Up Your Routine

            Let Dad, Grandma, or another caregiver assist with weaning. If your baby resists a bottle from you, La Leche League International recommends seeing if your baby will accept a bottle from someone else while you're in another room -- chances are, he'll do better in your absence at first. Or if you're the one serving the bottle, change up your routine -- if you nurse in your bedroom, try nursing in the living room. Consider holding him in another position. If this doesn't work, revert back to your old routine, then try again in a few weeks.

              Weaning Older Babies

              If your baby is 9 months or older, it's best to wean directly to a cup so you don't have to deal with getting her off the bottle in a few months. And if your baby is older than 1 year old, wear complicated clothing -- such as a dress with a zipper down the back or a buttoned-up shirt -- to help her wean. Limit her nursing time and regularly comfort her with your undivided attention.

                Prevent -- or Soothe -- Engorgement

                Another reason to take it slow: Rapid weaning can cause engorgement. Why? Your milk ducts miss the memo that they need to reduce milk production -- and all that milk has nowhere to go. If you're engorged, soothe the pain with cool ice packs or acetaminophen. Or reach for your trusty breast pump -- you can serve the pumped milk in a bottle or mix it with your baby's cereal.

                  Understand Your Emotions

                  Your baby isn't the only one who has to adjust while weaning. You too must deal with a whirlwind of emotions -- some moms want their bodies back; others feel rejected when their baby passes up the breast. Though you may be pleased to end nursing once and for all, it's totally natural to feel pangs of nostalgia about your baby getting older. Your best bet? Embrace her independence, know that weaning is an emotional experience, and talk to other breastfeeding mothers who can relate.

                    Serve Up Nutrition

                    For baby's first foray into solid foods, most parents start with 1 teaspoon of single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal (such as rice cereal) mixed with 4-5 teaspoons of breast milk. Once she gets the hang of cereal, you can introduce pureed veggies, fruits, and meats. The AAP recommends trying one new food at a time and waiting at least 2-3 days before starting another to monitor any allergic reactions. Once she reaches 9-12 months old, your baby might enjoy small portions of finely chopped or mashed finger foods such as dry cereal or mashed graham crackers.

                      How to Wean a Baby

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