What is Weaning?
Weaning is the process of introducing complementary foods to your baby in addition to breastmilk, usually from six months of age. For a guideline on how to introduce solid foods, click here. A child is weaned when it stops nursing completely.
When to Wean
The choice of when to wean is entirely up to you. You do not need to wean if you become pregnant, if you or your baby are sick or need surgery (in most cases) or when your child reaches a certain age. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years or longer if both mother and baby want. Weaning is easiest when your child starts to lose interest in nursing. Signs your child is ready to wean include refusing the breast, or being fussy or easily distracted while nursing, but these things can happen if they are sick or as they become older and more aware and interested in their surroundings.
You may decide to start weaning for whatever reason and that is OK. To make sure weaning is right for you, first try asking yourself some questions, like:
- Are you in the first few weeks of breastfeeding and having trouble? You can contact your local Beba-ks Center (also known as Women's Health Resource Center) for free advice from one of our trained midwives or doctors. Talking to an experienced, trained person who understands what you are going through is so helpful.
- Are you feeling tied down or trapped inside the house? Learning to get out and do more with the baby will help tremendously. Don’t be afriad to breastfeed in public; it is natural, safe and your right as a mother.
- Are you being pressured from family or friends to wean? Someone who did not breastfeed or did so for a shorter time than you, may not know about the health benefits of breastfeeding for a longer period.
- Do you think weaning will make your life easier? The reality is you will still need to feed your baby, which means expensive formula if he is under a year old. And your baby will still want to be close to you and need comforting.
How to Wean
If weaning is your decision, it is best done gradually and might take time depending on how your child adjusts to it. Weaning quickly might leave you with engorged breasts or a breast infection and your baby will probably resist and be very upset.
Five tips for weaning:
- Skip a feeding. See what happens if you offer a bottle or cup of milk instead of nursing. As a substitute you can give pumped breast milk, formula, or whole cow's milk (if your child is at least a year old). Reducing feedings one at a time over a period of weeks gives your child and your breasts time to adjust. If he refuses a bottle from you, try having a family member or friend feed him. Skip your child’s least favourite feeding time first (the nightime feed will likely be the last one to go).
- Shorten nursing time. Start by limiting the time your child is on the breast. If he usually nurses for ten minutes, try five. For babies older than six months, follow the feeding with a healthy snack, such as unsweetened applesauce or a cup of milk or formula. Bedtime feedings may be harder to shorten because they are usually the last to go.
- Postpone and distract. Try postponing feedings if you are only nursing a couple of times a day. This method works well if you have an older child you can reason with. You can also distract your child with a game, a toy, or change of scene. To skip the nightime feed, make bedtime routine not centered around breastfeeding, but instead read her a book.
- Don’t offer, but don’t refuse. Nurse only when he is really determined as this shows a ‘need’ versus a ‘want’, but do not offer to nurse at other times.
- Offer lots of love. A lot of extra love and attention in other forms will be needed during weaning. Try taking her out more, reading to her, singing and dancing; anything so she is distracted and stimulated by other things.
Sources consulted: BabyCenter and La Leche League International