Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers

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Weaning: Tips for breast-feeding mothers

If you're breast-feeding, you may have questions about weaning. When is the right time? Will weaning upset your child? How can you avoid engorgement? Get the facts about weaning and how you can make the process a positive one for you and your child.

When's the best time to start weaning?

Breast-feeding until your baby is age 1 is recommended. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby and boosts your baby's immune system. Still, when to start weaning your child is a personal decision.

It's often easiest to begin weaning when your baby initiates the process — which may be sooner or later than you expect. Weaning often begins naturally at age 6 months, when solid foods are typically introduced. Some children begin to gradually turn away from breast milk and seek other forms of nutrition and comfort at around age 1, when they've begun eating a wide variety of solid foods and may be able to drink from a cup. Other children may not initiate weaning until their toddler years, when they become less willing to sit still during breast-feeding.

You may also decide when to start the weaning process yourself. This may be more difficult than following your child's lead — but can be done with some extra care and sensitivity.

Whenever you choose to start weaning your baby from the breast, stay focused on your child's needs as well as your own. Resist comparing your situation with that of other families, and consider rethinking any deadlines you may have set for weaning when you were pregnant or when your baby was a newborn.

Are there certain times when it wouldn't be smart to start weaning?

Consider delaying weaning if:

  • Food allergies run in the family. Some research suggests that exclusive breast-feeding for at least four months may have a protective effect for children who have a family history of food allergies. If food allergies run in your family, talk to your child's doctor about the potential benefits of delaying weaning.
  • Your child isn't feeling well. If your child is ill or teething, postpone weaning until he or she is feeling better. You might also consider postponing weaning if you're not feeling well. You and your child are more likely to handle the transition well if you're both in good health.
  • A major change has occurred at home. Avoid initiating weaning during a time of major change at home. If your family has recently moved or your child care situation has changed, for example, postpone weaning until a less stressful time.

What's the best way to begin weaning?

When you start the weaning process, take it slow. Eliminate one breast-feeding session a day every two to three days. Slowly tapering off the number of times you breast-feed each day will cause your milk supply to gradually diminish and prevent discomfort caused by engorgement. If you begin weaning when your child is a newborn, consider applying ice packs to your breasts to help decrease your milk production.

Keep in mind that children tend to be more attached to the first and last feedings of the day, when the need for comfort is greater — so it might be helpful to drop a midday breast-feeding session first. You might also choose to wean your baby from breast milk during the day but continue breast-feeding at night. It's up to you and your child. When eliminating a breast-feeding session, try to avoid sitting in your usual breast-feeding spots with your child. Instead, offer a distraction, such as a book, toy or fun activity.

What about nutrition after weaning?

If you wean your child before age 1, substitute breast milk with iron-fortified formula. Ask your child's doctor to recommend a formula. Don't give your child cow's milk until after his or her first birthday. You can wean your child to a bottle and then a cup or, if your child seems ready, directly to a cup.

If you're introducing your child to a bottle for the first time, do so at a time when your child isn't extremely hungry and may have more patience. It also may help if another caregiver introduces the bottle, since some children may refuse a bottle when the breast is available. Choose a bottle nipple with a slow flow at first. If you use a bottle nipple with a fast flow, your child may become frustrated with the slower flow of milk during breast-feeding.

How long does weaning take?

Depending on your approach, weaning could take days, weeks or months. Remember, however, that rushing the weaning process may be upsetting for your child and cause engorgement.

Breast-feeding is an intimate activity for you and your child. You may have mixed emotions about letting go. But by taking a gradual approach to weaning — and offering plenty of love and affection — you can help your child make a smooth transition to a bottle or cup.

Last Updated: 2010-12-14
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