How Parents Know When They Should Wean

A baby girl holding her moms legs

 Catherine Delahave / Taxi / Getty Images

When you decide to breastfeed, you may think you'd like to continue for six months, a year, or longer. But, sometimes things happen that you didn’t plan for or expect. You may get your period back earlier than you thought you would or get sick and need to take medication.

Unexpected events can make you wonder if it’s OK to keep breastfeeding or if you have to wean. Here are some of the common issues that come up during breastfeeding and whether or not weaning is necessary.

Reasons You Don't Have to Wean

Most mothers can make enough breast milk for their baby and breastfeed for as long as they choose. When issues come up, there is usually no need to stop breastfeeding. Here are some situations when you may think you have to wean but you really don’t.

You Think You Aren’t Making Enough Breast Milk

Breastfeeding mothers often worry about their breast milk supply. But, a low amount of breast milk is often just that, a worry. Most women can make a healthy supply for their children. If you’re breastfeeding your baby every two to three hours around the clock and he has six to eight wet diapers a day, then he’s most likely getting enough.

You can also take the baby to the doctor for weight checks, just to be sure. Weight gain is the best sign your child is getting all that he needs. If you feel your supply is low and your baby isn’t getting enough, be sure to check your baby’s latch and breastfeed very often. You can also take additional steps to increase your milk supply before you think about weaning.

Other Breastfeeding Issues

Pain is a common reason for weaning. But, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. You might have some nipple tenderness in the beginning, but it should subside. If breastfeeding is painful, get help with your baby’s latch and position from your doctor or a lactation consultant.

And if you develop issues such as breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, mastitis, thrush, or even eczema on your breasts, you should talk to your doctor. You can treat these common breastfeeding problems to make breastfeeding feel much more comfortable.

You Want to Leave Your House

You don’t have to be stuck in the house just because you’re breastfeeding, and you don’t have to wean to be able to go out. You can take your baby with you and breastfeed on the go. Or, if you want to go out without your child, you can breastfeed before you leave and once you return.

If you plan to be out longer than a few hours, you can pump and leave some breast milk for your baby to have while you're gone and bring a small pump or hand express your milk while you’re away from home. You can even go out for a night on the town with your partner or friends and have a drink (or two!). You don’t have to wean your child to enjoy life outside the walls of your home.

You Have to Go Back to Work

You may think that you can’t continue to breastfeed if you go back to work, but you can. You can choose to pump your breast milk at work and bring it back home for your child to have when you away from her. Plus, you can breastfeed in the morning before you go to work and in the evening when you return home (or if you don’t work traditional hours you can breastfeed around your work schedule).

Some women do feel it’s more difficult to pump at work, so even if you drop pumping during the day, you can still breastfeed when you’re with your baby and supplement with formula when you're at work.

The Return of Your Period

You may have concerns when your menstrual cycle starts up again and wonder how it affects your breast milk and your baby. Your period may cause a dip in your milk supply or a slight change in the taste of your breast milk, but it does not make your milk turn bad or change the quality of your milk. It’s perfectly safe and still beneficial to continue to breastfeed if you have your period, especially if your child is under a year old.

Your Baby Is Six Months Old or One Year Old

You may have heard that breastfeeding and breast milk no longer provide benefits after six months or a year. While it’s true that breastfeeding is very beneficial for young infants and recommended for at least a year, it is also true that it continues to be a healthy part of a toddler's diet.

You don’t have to stop breastfeeding once your baby hits a certain age. You can breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish to continue, even to the age of two, three or beyond.

Others Are Telling You to Stop

As you breastfeed your child past six months or a year, you may begin to feel pressure to wean from friends or family. But, you don’t have to give in to it. You can choose to educate them on the benefits of breastfeeding, or you can just ignore them and do what you want.

Of course, you don't even have to tell them that you're still nursing. Many mothers who are breastfeeding older children do not breastfeed around other people during the day but continue to breastfeed in the morning and at night away from the criticism. Remember, you can breastfeed your older child for as long as you feel comfortable.

Your Child Has His First Tooth

Many moms think that baby teeth mean the end of breastfeeding, but that’s not the case. Children with a full set of teeth can still latch on and breastfeed well. The eruption of teeth may mean you have to deal with teething and biting, but there are ways to get through it. Plus, many children never clamp down on their mother’s breast.

You or Your Baby Are Sick

If you or the child get a cold or other illness, you can still breastfeed. If your child gets sick, your breast milk has antibodies and immune-boosting cells to help him fight off disease and infection. Breastfeeding also provides the necessary fluids to help keep him hydrated.

If you are sick, you may be worried that you cannot take antibiotics or other medicine while you’re breastfeeding. But, many medications are safe for breastfeeding moms. Just be sure to tell the pharmacist and all your doctors that you're breastfeeding before they recommend or order any treatments or medications.

Your Child Is Self-Weaning

Children under a year old do not typically wean themselves. It may seem like your baby is less interested in breastfeeding around nine months of age since that's when she's becoming more and more interested in the world around her.

Plus, if your milk supply decreases or changes in taste from the return of your period or a decrease in breastfeeding, it could contribute to your child's loss of interest. You could take this lull in breastfeeding as a time to wean if that is what you ‘d like to do, but if you’re not ready, you can continue to offer your child the breast.

You Heard It’s Easier to Wean a Younger Child

Some moms think they have to wean by the time their child reaches a year old or it will be too difficult. However, weaning an older child or a toddler is not necessarily any easier or harder than weaning a younger child. Just keep in mind that weaning gradually may be less traumatic than weaning cold turkey at any age.

Reasons You May Need to Wean

It’s rare that a mother can’t breastfeed or has to wean. Most women can breastfeed for as long as they feel comfortable doing so. However, there are situations when weaning is the right choice or even necessary.

Fertility Issues

It is definitely possible to get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding, so you can start trying for another baby without weaning. However, if breastfeeding is holding off the return of your period and your fertility, you may have to breastfeed less often to get your cycle started again.

If you see a fertility doctor for treatments, he will most likely recommend weaning especially if you will need fertility medications since the breastfeeding hormones can interfere with how well they work. Plus, there isn’t enough information about whether or not fertility medicines are safe for your breastfeeding baby.

Other Maternal Health Issues

Some medical procedures such as ultrasounds or needle biopsies do not interfere with breastfeeding. And, many medicines are safe to take while you’re breastfeeding. But, there are treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation for cancer or radioactive iodine for hyperthyroidism that are not safe for a breastfed baby.

So, if you have to wean for a medical issue, remember that as much as you want to continue to give your child your breast milk, it’s more important that you take care of yourself so you can be as healthy as you can for your child.

You Have an Infectious Disease That Could Harm Your Child

You can continue to breastfeed through many common illnesses and infections, but there are a few that are dangerous to your child when passed through your milk. If you're breastfeeding and you find out you have HIV or HTLV, you should stop breastfeeding. Moms with herpes can breastfeed, but not if there are active lesions on the breast.

Your Baby Cannot Digest Milk Protein

It's not common, but some newborns are born with a medical condition that affects the way the body breaks down the milk sugar lactose or the amino acids in breast milk. If your child has one of these metabolic conditions, you will not be able to continue breastfeeding. Instead, the doctor will order a special kind of formula that is safe for your child.

You Have a True Low Milk Supply

Most of the time, moms who think they aren’t making enough breast milk can make more by breastfeeding often and expressing breast milk after and between breastfeeding sessions. However, if your milk supply is truly low, you may not be able to build up a healthy amount of breast milk for your baby even if you try all the recommended ways to increase it.

Moms who have a true low supply can still breastfeed for comfort and bonding, but another source of nutrition is also necessary to be sure the baby is getting all he needs to grow and develop in a healthy way.

A Word From Verywell

If you choose to breastfeed your child, that’s wonderful. However, breastfeeding is not always easy. When challenges arise, or things happen that you didn’t expect, you may begin to wonder about weaning. As you can see, many situations can lead to early weaning. But, there are only a few circumstances when weaning is truly necessary. If you want to continue to breastfeed and you aren’t sure if you can or should, you can talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant for advice and information.

Of course, weaning is a personal decision. So, if you encounter a situation and decide that you want to wean even though you don’t have to, that’s OK, too. You can choose to wean after a few weeks or after a few years. As long as you and your child are healthy, it's up to you to decide when it’s the right time to wean.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.