What Are Some Weaning Strategies?

When I’m ready to wean baby from breastfeeding, how should I do it? 
profile picture of Elena Donovan Mauer
ByElena Donovan Mauer
Updated
Mar 2017
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Photo: Sean Locke

First off, there’s no perfect time to stop breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and then continuing while you introduce solids for at least a year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years. And some mothers choose to nurse their kids all through the toddler years. That said, there are many reasons moms may wean earlier than the recommendations, and you’re the best judge of what’s right for you and baby.

Go slow

Unless there’s a medical reason to wean, do it gradually. “If you do it abruptly, it can be heartbreaking for both you and baby,” says Gina Ciagne, certified lactation consultant for Lansinoh. Plus, if you don’t allow your body time to adjust as you cut back on feedings, you risk painful engorgement, plugged ducts and even mastitis.

“So if you nurse eight times a day, for example, start by taking away one of the eight nursing sessions — choose the one baby seems least interested in, where she normally unlatches and looks around often,” Ciagne says. Then, every few days, once your body and baby adjust to fewer nursing sessions, cut out one more. End with the session baby seems to enjoy most. “Usually it’s the nighttime feeding that goes last,” Ciagne says. You may need to substitute the skipped feeding with formula, regular milk and/or solid foods, depending on baby’s age and diet. (If you need to wean more quickly, ask your doctor for help.)

Bond in other ways

Expect baby to feel vulnerable during this change, so get in plenty of one-on-one time — cuddle, give her a soothing warm bath, read books. She should know that nursing less doesn’t equal less mommy time. “Talk to her and reassure her,” Ciagne says. Baby’s resisting? Distract her during the usual nursing time with a toy or activity, and avoid the seat you normally sit in for breastfeeding.

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Be age- and child-appropriate

If you have a toddler, it can help to explain the situation: Maybe tell her the milk is going away, but you aren’t. React to baby’s cues. If it’s not urgent, you can cut back on feedings at the pace you feel your child is ready. Simply don’t offer, but don’t refuse feedings, Ciagne says. Weaning can take a couple weeks — or much longer. Some moms start the weaning process, and then decide to go back to the old schedule. That’s okay too.

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