How to Wean from Breastfeeding: Your Complete Guide

How to Wean from Breastfeeding: Your Complete Guide

Have you decided it’s time to wean from breastfeeding, but you’re not sure where to start?

You’re not alone.

The thought of weaning can be intimidating.

And there are so many questions…. When’s the right time to stop? How do you start weaning? What’s the right approach?

But fear not, mama.

We’ve got you covered with our helpful expert-approved guide on how to wean from breastfeeding.

Read on to find out how to wean from breastfeeding.

In this article: 📝

  • When’s the right time to start weaning from breastfeeding?
  • How to wean from breastfeeding
  • How to wean from breastfeeding quickly
  • Can you start breastfeeding again after stopping?
  • Weaning from breastfeeding: the bottom line

When’s the right time to start weaning from breastfeeding?

There’s no right or wrong time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until at least six months and then combining breastfeeding and solid foods until at least one year old.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.

But there are many reasons why those timelines might not work for you.

It’s a completely personal decision, and will differ vastly from person to person.

Some mamas might want to wean after a couple of months, and some might feed until four years old.

How to wean from breastfeeding

Whenever you decide to start weaning, it’s best to do so gradually.

Try not to go “cold turkey” unless you’ve got no other option.

Stopping suddenly could cause painful breast engorgement, blocked ducts, or mastitis.

It’s also a sharp change for your baby’s digestive and immune systems.

Weaning slowly gives your breasts time to adjust and your baby’s body time to adapt to a new diet.

It also makes the emotional process of adjustment more manageable.

Even with a gradual weaning process, it’s likely you’ll still experience some swelling and tenderness in your breasts.

If needed, you can express a little to relieve the discomfort.

But not too much, or you’ll give your body the wrong message.

Your body will take a few days to adjust.

Breast milk works by supply and demand.

When milk stays in your breasts for longer, your body slows down production.

As if the female body isn’t incredible enough already!

If you’re ready to wean, you might want to approach it differently depending on the age of your child or baby.

Let’s take a look at weaning for different ages of children.

How to wean an infant from breastfeeding

If you decide to wean a baby who is less than one year old, a good starting point is to replace one feeding per day with a bottle of formula.

(Babies shouldn’t have cow’s milk until they’re at least a year old.)

Start with the baby’s least favorite feed of the day, if possible.

Babies tend to prefer morning and evening feeds, so you could start with a midday one.

It’s also helpful to have someone else around, like a partner, who can give your baby a bottle.

Babies can smell their mother’s milk nearby and might not want to accept a bottle from you.

“You may even need to go so far as to leave the house during that feed,” recommends Registered Toddler Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN) Kacie Barnes as babies can be quite sensitive to that change.”

Once your body has adjusted to the new milk production – usually in about 3-5 days – replace another feed with a bottle.

And then repeat until all feedings have been replaced.

“Sometimes weaning won’t be your choice,” says Barnes, “your body may naturally stop producing breast milk earlier than you planned, due to several reasons.

So you may end up having to increase their formula intake much more quickly than you expected if you suspect that your breastmilk supply is no longer providing adequate calories.

If your baby seems fussy after nursing and/or their nursing sessions become much shorter, that could be a sign that your supply has decreased.”

How to wean a 1-year-old from breastfeeding?

By the time your baby is one year old, you’re probably breastfeeding less frequently than you were when they were at six months.

Solid food, water, and cow’s milk are probably already replacing a few feeds.

To wean at this age, follow the same approach as with babies under a year.

Drop one feeding at a time, gradually, replacing it with solid food, cow’s milk, or another activity (see our suggestions below).

This will give you both time to adjust.

There are a few things you can do to help distract your little one from the change in feeding routines.

  • Offer a drink or snack as a replacement.
  • Introduce cuddle times, to maintain intimacy.
  • Change your daily routine.
  • Use other comforters, like a fluffy toy or blankets.
  • Keep milk in their diet once they’ve made the switch ‒ not as a replacement, but as a drink in their new diet. We love a nutrient-enriched option like Arla Big Milk.

How to wean a toddler from breastfeeding

Weaning a toddler can sometimes be easier, and sometimes more difficult, than weaning a baby.

They’re more communicative and more demanding.

But never underestimate the power of talking.

If your child is old enough, you can explain that you feel it’s time to stop breastfeeding.

Using a gradual approach will help both of you adjust.

And, again, best to do it one feed at a time.

As well as some of the distraction ideas already mentioned, you could also try playing games and introducing fun special-time activities.

This can help maintain a feeling of closeness between you and your toddler.

You could even plan an ending date together with your child. Call it “The Big Wean Day,” and use it as the day you’ll start weaning.

Or stop nursing entirely, if you’ve already reduced feeds.

How to wean from breastfeeding quickly

It’s best to not end breastfeeding abruptly.

But it could be unavoidable.

Many women have to wean quickly for a variety of reasons, whether it’s medication, health reasons, or prolonged separation from baby.

If you have to wean quickly, you’ll need to express milk.

If you don’t, your breasts will almost certainly become uncomfortably engorged.

And there’s the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis.

You can express by hand, or you could use a breast pump.

The trick here is to only express enough to relieve any discomfort.

It’s a fine line to figure out what’s the right amount to express.

Your body will take a few days or weeks to adjust.

If you’re experiencing some pain, you could take Tylenol or ibuprofen.

It’s a good idea to chat with your doctor if you experience any significant pain, redness, or a fever.

Can you start breastfeeding again after stopping?

Yes, you can, although it’s not guaranteed.

Sometimes, it can take some time to start producing breast milk after stopping for a while.

But there are some things that might help, if you want to start breastfeeding again:

  • Massaging your breast to stimulate milk flow.
  • Holding baby skin-to-skin.
  • Some medication can help with milk production, so it’s worth talking to your doctor if you want to start again after stopping.

Weaning from breastfeeding: the bottom line

Some children take longer than others to adjust to weaning.

But try to remember that it will get easier over time.

And if you’re really struggling, you can seek out a lactation consultant for advice.

Whenever you decide to stop breastfeeding, be gentle and patient with yourself and your baby.

Breastfeeding is so much more than simply feeding.

It’s bonding and comforting and cuddling too.

So the weaning transition can be difficult for both of you, physically and emotionally.

Take a big breath. And another.

You’ve got this, mama.

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