Weaning Your Baby

Mother hugging her toddler
Photo © David Oldfield/Getty Images

The decision to wean your baby from the breast is not a simple one for most families. There are many questions involved and pressures from internal and external sources. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that your baby have nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life and to continue to nurse until at least the age of one year and as long after is as mutually desired. Many families use this recommendation as a guideline for when to wean.

The Decision to Wean

When making the decision to wean try to let what is right for you and your child be your guide. Don't let pressure from others dictate the relationship you have with your child. Breast milk continues to have nutritional value even as your child reaches toddler years.

How Weaning Happens

Weaning can happen in a couple of different ways:

  • Abrupt Weaning
  • Gradual Weaning
  • Partial Weaning (like night weaning)
  • Child led or Natural Weaning

Abrupt Weaning

Abrupt weaning is often difficult on the mom and child, but may be required for a severe illness in the mother or child, though most medication do have safe alternatives for breastfeeding mothers. Be sure to check with a knowledgeable practitioner about medication changes prior to weaning. Sometimes this happens when there is a new pregnancy, did you know it's usually safe to breastfeed in pregnancy? If you continue to nurse both babies after the birth, it is then known as tandem nursing.

Gradual Weaning

Gradual weaning is the process of eliminating one feeding every couple of days or weeks. Instead of the original nursing scheduled, the mother offers an alternative form of nutrition or comfort to dissuade the child from nursing. This is repeated until all nursing has ceased. This is thought to be an easier way to wean, it is less traumatic for the child, but also helps to protect the mother from the pain of engorgement and other complications.

Partial Weaning

Partial Weaning is where a mother decides to keep one or two nursing sessions a day, at her convenience. The rest are phased out as in with the gradual weaning. Many moms choose to leave the first thing in the morning and last nursing in the evening as their choices for times to consider still breastfeeding. The first feedings to go are typically those that are less convenient. Do what works for your child.

Child Led Weaning

Child led weaning is a process where the child decides he or she is ready to stop nursing, which may be abrupt or gradual. This doesn't mean that the mom can't encourage or distract the child during a feeding time to dissuade the child from nursing. The child refuses the breast or simply becomes less interested over time. Abrupt child led weaning is not common at all, what you may be seeing is a nursing strike, instead of weaning. This may be due to illness in the child or something else.

Mastitis After Weaning

No matter which route you choose to go remember that you must care for your body. Failing to gradually reduce your milk supply, either by nursing or by pumping, can cause you pain. In addition to pain, you may actually get mastitis (a breast infection). Though this is more common in abrupt weaning.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • AAP Section on Breastfeeding. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-841. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3552
  • Karall D, Ndayisaba JP, Heichlinger A, Kiechl-Kohlendorfer U, Stojakovic S, Leitner H, Scholl-Bürgi S. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2015 Nov;61(5):577-82. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000873. Breast-feeding Duration: Early Weaning-Do We Sufficiently Consider the Risk Factors?