As soon as they start breastfeeding, all new mothers also begin to wonder about weaning. When’s the right time to stop breastfeeding your baby? What’s too much? Six months? A year? Two? And most importantly, how should you do it?
In the lines below, we’ll look at weaning from any possible angle, in order to give you the quickest, most efficient way to wean your baby off breastfeeding. As you read, we recommend keeping in mind that every family is different, and how long it takes you to wean your child will differ, depending on your own personal temperament.
What you need to know about weaning:
The most important thing to remember about weaning is that it is a process. You can’t just stop breastfeeding your child one day, snap your fingers, and expect them to eat solid foods from then on. Rather, weaning needs to begin gradually, and work slowly towards reducing the breast milk in your child’s diet until it can be eliminated altogether.
Can you stop breastfeeding abruptly?
While it’s not advisable to stop breastfeeding abruptly, some mothers may have to, due to various health reasons. If this is the case, your body will continue producing milk for a while yet. We recommend using an alternative milk extraction method, such as a breast pump, to get the milk out and continue feeding your child from the bottle.
This will also be difficult for the child, so try to reassure her if you’ve been forced to stop breastfeeding abruptly. Hold her more, and don’t cut down the time you spend with her under any circumstance, as that would only make the situation worse for your child.
How long should you breastfeed?
Ah, the question that all mothers ask themselves at some point. According to the World Health Organization, a newborn needs to be fed exclusively with breast milk until the age of six months, at the very least.
Once your child reaches that age, this shouldn’t be your cue to cut out breastfeeding altogether, but simply to start introducing other complementary foods into her diet while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond. This way, you will gradually find a balance between breastmilk and other foods. And then, little by little, you’ll start tilting the table in favor of the other foods, with an eye on cutting out breast milk altogether.
Why so long?
For some new mothers, this might seem a long time (while for others, no doubt, it will seem impossibly short!), but the truth is that breast milk contains a lot of essential nutrients for your child. Your newborn is relying entirely on your breast milk until that six-month mark to get her dose of essential nutrients.
This is why you don’t want to rush weaning, even if you feel like maybe you should. Even if you’re forced to go back to work, or are unable to feed your child for a time (due to travel, for instance), you’ll still want to continue delivering the breast milk. Working mothers can use formula bottles for when they are at work, but continue breastfeeding in the morning and evening, as well as during the night. If you won’t be at home for a few days, make sure to leave enough breast milk for your child to be fed (along with formula bottles).
What if you want to stop before six-months?
This practice is known as mother-led weaning, and it happens when the new mother decides to stop breastfeeding early. If this is the way you want to go, first of all, we recommend consulting with your caregiver, to ensure you’re making the best choice for your child.
If you want to stop breastfeeding before six months, you’ll again want to do so gradually.
Even if you stop breastfeeding before the six-month mark, you shouldn’t begin feeding your baby complementary foods before that time.
Are there side effects, if you stop breastfeeding early?
While this differs from mother to mother, some mothers who decide to stop breastfeeding early experience quite a bit of discomfort in their breasts. This is usually because, as they don’t feed, the milk starts accumulating in their breasts, and causing them pain. Because of this reason, some mothers may also experience leakage.
Stopping breastfeeding early can also have a detrimental effect on your psyche (as well as that of your child) since it’s cutting off a vital part of the mother-child bonding. If you’ve stopped breastfeeding, you may experience sadness, anxiety, guilt, and even depression.
How to stop breastfeeding after six months
If you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding after the traditional six months, you’ll begin by introducing solid foods into your child’s diet. These can include purees, or baby-approved snacks like cooked grains, mashed eggs, mashed potatoes, and so on.
As you begin to introduce these baby foods to your child, she will begin getting her nutrients from other sources, and so will have less need naturally for your breast milk.
If you are having trouble producing milk or would like to accelerate the weaning process after six months, you can also begin replacing feeds with formula.
Don’t offer your child cow’s milk until she is at least a year old, however. Ideally, in this weaning scheme, you’ll want to keep up the bottle or breastfeeds until at least two years of age. By this point, your child should be sufficiently grown and accustomed to the “new food” to be able to wean off breast milk more easily.
How to stop breastfeeding gradually (step-by-step):
1. Begin by eliminating one (milk) feed a day. Go for the feed your child seems least interested in, (usually during the afternoon), as they’re least likely to fight that.
2. Replace it. If your baby is somewhere between six and nine months old, you should replace the breast milk with formula, and then follow that up with complementary solid food. If your baby is past the nine-month mark, you can replace the feed solely with solid foods.
Tip: You’ll want to use foods that are rich in iron and other essential nutrients, like poultry, fish, lentils, chickpeas, soft fruits, yogurt, or fortified cereal.
3. Once your child has become accustomed to this, you can do the same for another feed. This will, of course, depend on your usual number of feeds. Ideally, you want to get to a place where you’re only breastfeeding in the morning and at night, then gradually lose those, also.
Caution: Don’t introduce a bunch of new foods, all at once. Rather, introduce one (say, mashed potatoes), and give it a few days (and a few feeds) for your child to adjust. When your child’s used to mashed potatoes, add in another new food, and so on.
4. When replacing the night-time feed, try having your partner feed and put the child to sleep instead. Separation from the mother will lessen the need for breast-milk, and make it easier for your baby to accept that this is a solid feeding.
5. As your child grows, they’ll also become more interested in mealtime rituals, like having their own spoon, and sitting at the table. Encourage these by having patience, and allowing your baby to attempt self-feeding when they want to.
Eventually, your child’s primary food will become solids, with breast milk constituting an in-between snack, then gradually fading altogether.
Don’t cut out the mother-child time, though!
Remember that feedings aren’t just a time when your child is getting her essential nutrients. They are also a very intense moment in your child’s life (as well as your own), where she is getting to know you, and bonding with her mother.
For some children, replacing breastfeeding with formula, or complimentary snacks can feel like a betrayal of sorts. They fear that they are losing their mother because they don’t know how to adapt to this new feeding schedule.
This is why you want to make sure you replace feeding time with mother-child time spent in other ways. This can be a game, sharing the food together, or cuddles. Gradually, your child will adapt to this new routine.
Letting your child determine when you stop breastfeeding
Some mothers are reluctant to break the mother-child bonding process and choose to allow their child to determine when the breastfeeding ends. This is also known as baby-led weaning and is believed to be the most natural weaning method out there.
Over time, your child will lose interest in breastfeeding, as they become more interested in other foods and snacks, as all children do. However, it’s worth noting that this can take significantly longer than the other two weaning methods. Whereas most children in the other examples were completely weaned by the age of two, child-led weaning can delay that to age three or four.
Can you conceive while breastfeeding?
While breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive during the first few months of your child’s life, it is not a 100% type of contraceptive. Moreover, it’s unlikely that breastfeeding will continue acting as a contraceptive past the six months barrier, so you may well conceive, even while you are nursing.
Whichever you choose, be gentle.
Having read a bit more about all the different weaning methods, you hopefully have a more clear idea of which you wish to pursue. Whichever one you choose, however, try to be gentle both with yourself and with your baby.
While creating a weaning schedule will help some mothers keep better track of their weaning progress, do allow time for setbacks. It’s natural for your child to resist weaning, especially if you’re not choosing baby-led weaning. This means your schedule will get thrown off course.
Moreover, you may find yourself experiencing unpleasant emotions as you stop breastfeeding your child. Be patient with yourself during this difficult transition.
Bottom line: what’s the best way to stop breastfeeding?
While many people recommend starting your weaning process at 6-months and up to 2 years of age, there is no single best way to stop breastfeeding. In determining the best choice for you, make sure you listen to your own body, but also to your child. Different weaning methods appeal to different families, so you should always look for the best way to stop breastfeeding for you.
If in doubt, ask your doctor for advice. However, if your health (or that of your child) doesn’t require that you stop breastfeeding, you want to make sure you don’t stop too early.
It might seem exhausting now, but there will come a time when you miss breastfeeding!
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