How to Wean

How to Wean your Baby

Once you have decided when to wean your baby off the breast, the next question is how to wean.

Tips on Weaning your Baby

How you wean your baby depends on how old your baby is and his disposition.

Infants are the easiest to wean. They are so small that they have not acquired an attachment to the breasts yet. As well, milk flows out of a bottle-nipple faster than the flow of milk out of a breast. So, as long as you provide them with food, an infant may happily take the bottle instead of the breast.

how to wean Babies who have developed an affinity for the breast. These babies may be more difficult to wean. They like the taste & smell of breast milk, and they like the warmth & comfort of mother’s breasts. To wean such a baby, you may need to leave the room and have someone else (husband, baby sitter, Grandma) offer the bottle. With you absent, he will not be reminded of your breasts, and being hungry, he may be enticed to drink from a bottle. If he will not drink from a bottle, try feeding him from a cup, a spoon, an eye dropper, or a syringe (with the needle removed).

How to wean toddlers who are down to 3 or 4 feedings per day, will depend on the art of distraction. For example,

  • eliminate the noon-time feeding by giving him more table foods and a sippy-cup of formula (or breast milk).
  • eliminate a pre-nap nursing session by taking him for a walk and letting him fall asleep while in the stroller instead of falling asleep on the breast.
  • eliminate the morning feeding by distracting him with a lively breakfast table with lots of nutritious finger foods.
  • The before-bed feeding is the hardest to give up because your baby is so dependent on that quiet and quality time to settle down for the night. If possible, let your husband or another adult take him to bed so that he is not confronted with you and your breasts which has, until now, always been for him.

To read about how to wean an older child, go to extended breastfeeding

How to wean: Slowly vs. Quicklyweaning

After you have decided to wean your baby, you can choose how to wean: slowly & gradually, or to wean quickly and definitively (cold turkey). If you actively work towards weaning, then it is called “mother-led weaning”. If you allow your baby to wean himself then it is called “infant-led” weaning. Infant-led weaning is the least stressful for your baby, but it may take a long time before you are done.

Weaning slowly is probably easier for you and for Baby. Here, try to eliminate one breastfeeding session at a time. Allow a few days to pass before eliminating another breastfeeding session.

By weaning slowly, you will allow your breast to adjust to the lower demand. Less demand will lead to less supply. You may experience some fullness and leaky breasts, but these inconveniences are minor and quite tolerable. Your baby will adjust to bottle feeding better if you wean slowly. Instead of denying him of your breast, cold turkey, you allow him a few weeks to transition from the breast to the bottle.

If you have no time and need to wean quickly, this is doable as well. Your breasts will become engorged and you may feel pain and have milk leak out of your breasts. However, these discomforts will lessen within 4 or 5 days. You may still have milk in your breast for a month after weaning, but it won’t leak out and your breast won’t feel engorged.

Weaning quickly may be difficult for your baby (unless he is a young infant and hasn’t developed an attachment to your breasts yet). Your baby may be used to having his meals at your breast and may refuse to eat something different out of a bottle. Here’s a few things to try:

  • Leave the room and let someone else feed him. If you are no where in sight, he may be more willing to take “second best” rather than be hungry.
  • Feed him from a cup instead of a baby bottle. A cup may be different enough that he will accept it as a “new and fun” way to drink and not realize that it is a replacement to breastfeeding.
  • Give your baby a bottle before he is overly sleepy. Tired babies are fussy and will be even more upset when they are denied the breasts. Feed early enough so you don’t have to deal with a hungry, sleepy, cranky baby.

Regardless as to when or how to wean your baby, whether you wean quickly or gradually, it is important to remember that they will be weaned. No baby has ever starved to death because he is too stubborn to drink/eat from another source.

If not Breast Milk, then What?weaning off the breast

For babies under one year of age, you will need to provide them with expressed breast milk or baby formula. Typically, this is in a baby bottle, but if he refuses to drink from a baby bottle (because the nipple on the bottle is not the same as the nipple on your breasts), then you can try feeding him with a small plastic cup, a no-spill sippy cup, or a spoon. Depending on his disposition, you may need to be creative as to how the formula (or breast milk) is delivered.

For a baby one year of age or older, you can give him cow’s milk or “second step” formulas that are designed for older babies.

Healthy brain development requires fats, so be sure to give your baby homogenized milk and not fat-reduced or fat-free milk. On occasion, if a baby is obese, the pediatrician may suggest fat-reduced milk. Otherwise, a healthy normal baby can start drinking fat-reduced milk after 2 years of age.