It is very important that you know how to wean off breast feeding your baby. Studies have shown this crucial period in their diet can and will affect their long-term health. While weaning is a process which occurs naturally given enough time, the process can become complicated due to strong emotions and habits that typically accompany breast-feeding. For many women, weaning babies can become a time of sadness and they feel like they are losing a special connection to their baby. However it does mean weaning baby needs to be a time of turbulent emotions. When done properly, weaning becomes a time of improved connection and love between you and your baby.
For many moms, even the start of breastfeeding is not easy. When it comes to weaning your baby or toddler, this time is usually accompanied by different feelings.
But what does weaning actually mean? We speak of weaning when the baby no longer receives meals from the breast. Instead, it eats fruit, vegetable and milk porridge or solid food. By the way, babies who are bottle-fed are called weaned. Children who no longer need a bottle but spoon porridge or already participate in the family meal are weaned.
When is the right time to wean? Strictly speaking, there is no such thing. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Breastfeeding Commission do advise full breastfeeding for at least six months and then slowly introducing the baby to vegetable and fruit porridge. But ultimately, each mother decides for herself how long breastfeeding is right for her and her baby and when she wants to change the diet. The important thing is to listen to yourself and your feelings alone and not to what others say. No woman should feel bad if she decides to wean her baby after six months (or sooner), for whatever reason.
Conversely, no woman needs to justify breastfeeding her child at two years either. The WHO even advises breastfeeding – at least partially – until the end of the second year of life, because one thing is certain: breast milk is the best food for a child. It contains all the important nutrients, strengthens the immune system and prevents infectious diseases and allergies. Despite all the advantages of breast milk, the right time for you to stop breastfeeding depends more on your individual circumstances.
The following circumstances and signs suggest that it’s time to start weaning:
Tips: How how to wean off breast feeding safely?
If your infant is less than four months old and you want to wean, you will need to gradually replace each breast meal with a bottle milk meal. The National Breastfeeding Commission advises starting complementary feeding at the earliest from the fifth month and at the latest from the seventh month. If you go back to work, for example, you can also pump the milk and continue to feed your baby with your milk in your absence. And of course you can also switch to powdered milk or, from the first year of life, to cow’s milk.
Perhaps the best case scenario for weaning babies is when they outgrow the need on their own. From the age of 5-8 months, babies can be offered a selection of solid foods right after breastfeeding has taken place. Some babies may grab and try food as early as 5 months old, while others will be totally uninterested in the solid food for a few more months.
If your child is older than five months, you can start replacing individual meals with fruit and vegetable porridge. In principle, the departure from breastfeeding should take place slowly. Either your baby shows less and less interest in your breast, gradually drinks less, for shorter periods and less often, then he or she will stop breastfeeding. Over time, your body gets used to the lower demand and will produce less milk accordingly. Or you may have decided to wean and offer your breast less often, but increase complementary feeding at the same rate. Again, your body has time to adjust to the changes and produce less milk from week to week. The following tips can help you make a smooth transition:
So far, your baby only knows your milk. It’s always just the right temperature, and the taste and smell are familiar. Don’t be surprised if the first porridge is not immediately met with enthusiasm. Your baby needs to get used to it. Maybe you can make the first porridge a little more familiar to him by mixing it with a dash of breast milk? And the amounts of porridge your child eats at the beginning are also very small. One to two spoonfuls at the beginning is quite normal. Our complementary feeding plan shows you how to transition your baby to new baby foods in a healthy way.
Try shortening your breastfeeding time. If you have been breastfeeding for ten minutes, try to reduce the duration to five minutes. Afterwards, you can offer some fruit porridge.
Choose a time to stop breastfeeding when there is not much else going on. If your baby is teething or going to daycare, he or she will be very busy and unsettled with these changes and will seek even more closeness to you.
Your baby smells your milk. If you notice that it is getting restless on your arm and is inching its way to your blouse, it can help if dad or a friend takes the baby. There it does not smell so tempting and unless your baby is very hungry, it is easier to distract him.
It is advisable to replace the milk meal as the first one, when you tend to have less milk in the breast (for most women this is between 4 and 8 pm). So don’t do it early in the morning, when your breasts may still be plump from the long night and your baby’s hunger is high. Once your baby has accepted this new meal, another can be added.
How long does weaning take? As is often the case, this varies from baby to baby. For example, if your baby has been watching his bigger brothers and sisters eat for a while and can get his hands on a piece of soft pear from the Tupperware, he may respond more quickly to the offer of complementary food or solid food.
But please always keep in mind: Breastfeeding is much more than just taking in food. A baby who is currently estranged or going through a phase that is not quite harmonious is particularly looking for the mother’s closeness, feels secure and comfortable at the breast and is not as ready for new things.
Normally, weaning will take several weeks, because even if your baby has just learned to love fruit porridge, he may not immediately react enthusiastically to his first vegetable and meat porridge. Your baby needs time for these many new impressions and also to adjust its digestion to the new foods.
There are many advantages to continued breastfeeding even when the baby has started to try some solid foods. Breast milk is still by a long way nutritionally superior to any formula, artificial infant feeding products and even normal food.
If you feel that your baby doesn’t want to give up breastfeeding for a “good reason,” and you have the option to give in, do so. Then, try again in a few weeks or months. Sooner or later, it will work out.
However, you may also want to learn about what is known as baby-led weaning. With this form of weaning, your baby would then set the pace.
Of course solid foods will have to be introduced at some point, but it is important to know that breast milk is healthy and wholesome for humans of any age (ignoring the ethical implications), including the elderly. So while solid food can be introduced from as early as 6 months, there are no health reasons to stop breastfeeding. Indeed research has shown that breastfeeding has a protective effect against:
While the so-called baby led weaning is the optimum scenario, when weaning babies some may not want to stop breastfeeding as early as 6 months. If this is the case, be patient. Wait a few weeks and try introducing some solid foods again. Provide a wider variety of colours, smells, tastes and textures until your baby chooses one.
After your baby has started to eat a certain food, wait 3 or 4 days before introducing the next one. This serves a few functions. Most importantly it lets you know if your infant has a bad reaction to any sort of food :– Watch out for diarrhea and vomiting in particular, but be aware of more subtle signs such as; excessive gas, moodiness, red cheeks, blocked nose or puffy eyes.
What if I have to wean from one day to the next?
Such abrupt weaning is not ideal, but sometimes it is simply necessary. For example, if the mother has a serious illness or has to take medication for a longer period of time that is not compatible with breastfeeding. Weaning no longer happens slowly and gently, but the breastfeeding period comes to an abrupt end.
Try to give your child extra closeness now. This may not always be easy, as he will probably ask for your breast more quickly when he is on your arm. However, his life has already been turned upside down by this sudden change, and the new diet is bound to get to him. If then still mummy withdraws, the need is large. Cuddling, closeness and familiarity in the family are especially important now.
Often, sudden weaning results in milk engorgement and breast infections.
For you and your body, which now also has to adjust very quickly, these tricks will help to greatly reduce your milk production in three to four days and soon let it dry up completely:
Drink supportive weaning sage tea. Cool the breast with cooling compresses from the pharmacy. This restricts blood flow, and the cold also has a preventive effect against breast inflammation.
Important during weaning: The breast should be massaged from time to time so that there is no milk engorgement. You can also express some milk. If the pressure is still too great, you can pump small amounts of milk – but please only enough to make the pressure bearable. If you pump the breast empty, the body gets the signal: make more milk, please!
And as far as your feelings are concerned, please don’t worry! For example, if there is a serious illness, weaning is the only right decision. It is more important for your child that you are well again soon and that you can be there for him.
Are there medicines that help with weaning? Some medicines inhibit the formation of the breastfeeding hormone prolactin and thus also the formation of milk. If it is necessary to take medication for weaning because, for example, your breast keeps getting inflamed, your doctor will prescribe hormone preparations called prolactin secretion inhibitors.
Are there gentle alternatives? Mothers who want to wean report good experiences with sage tea (three cups daily). It helps because it naturally counteracts prolactin secretion. For one cup, take one teaspoon of sage leaves, pour hot water over them and let the tea steep for ten to 15 minutes.
My child refuses the breast, is breastfeeding over? It depends on the age. If it doesn’t want to at twelve months, it’s part of a toddler’s natural development and weaning process. There is no reason to try to get the child to continue drinking by any means. Instead, you can try out whether he takes carrot or fruit porridge from the spoon – and enjoys this meal. This is an unmistakable sign that the child wants something other than mommy’s milk.
The situation is different with small babies. Some suddenly refuse the breast for seemingly no reason. Please do not give up too quickly, but rather look for the causes, which can be very different. For example, your baby may be unaccustomed to mom trying a new perfume or body lotion. Babies with a blocked nose also often don’t like to drink at the breast because they have trouble breathing.
As a transitional measure, you can also pump some breast milk with a breast pump and feed the expressed milk, preferably with a spoon or from a shot glass (sounds strange, but works surprisingly well), because this way you don’t confuse the baby with a teat. If the baby doesn’t want the expressed milk either, you should use baby food. If you are unsure, you should ask your pediatrician, midwife or lactation consultant for advice. Together you can find the cause of the refusal and make a plan to get through the dry spell (literally).
Long-term breastfeeding is viewed with suspicion in our country. Rightly so?
“What? You’re still breastfeeding?” In America, anyone who breastfeeds for longer than eight or nine months is not infrequently looked at strangely: “That’s not normal!” Really not? Maybe not in our country, in other countries it is even common to breastfeed for four to five years. This doesn’t mean that this should be declared the goal in our country as well, but it does show that long breastfeeding is just a matter of culture.
The basic rule is: When to end a breastfeeding relationship is decided by the mother and child alone. As long as they both enjoy it, there is no need to stop breastfeeding!
Women who breastfeed their child longer than “usual” are best off countering silly remarks with expert knowledge, for example:
Some mothers find weaning sad. Is that normal?
Absolutely. After all, weaning is the end of a particularly intimate and incomparable relationship and the child’s first big step toward independence. Women feel particularly sad about this process of detachment when they involuntarily end the breastfeeding relationship, for example because the child permanently refuses the breast or the pain caused by an inflammation becomes so unbearable that they have to wean.
What mothers don’t need at all in this situation are reproachful comments such as “Have you really tried?” or “I heard that you should breastfeed your child for at least six months!” They need expert support and loving people who understand that the young mother has done all she can to create a good breastfeeding relationship. A small consolation: a loving relationship works even without breastfeeding – lots of cuddling and kind words – and the child will grow up just as happy.
Try the following tips to help you wean. Offer your baby the breast only when they make it clear that they want it. If your baby seems disinterested or distracted or will only let you latch on for a few seconds, this could be the signal to start weaning. Skip a feeding and wait to see what happens. Instead, offer your child a bottle or a few spoonfuls of vegetable or fruit porridge.
You can use your own expressed breast milk or mixed formula for this. If you stop one feeding at a time, the baby can slowly get used to the changes. In addition, your milk production will decrease the less it is used – your breasts won’t swell, and you won’t have to worry about a breast infection called mastitis.
Shorten the duration of breastfeeding. For example, if your baby usually drinks for five minutes, try three. Then, depending on age, supplement feedings with some porridge or some mashed, cooked fruit or vegetables. (Remember, though, that if your baby is younger than six months, they may not be ready for solids, and you may have to wait to introduce porridge). Before bedtime, the last breastfeeding is usually the hardest to stop; many moms keep this breastfeeding meal as the last.
Postpone the meal and distract your baby. If you are no longer breastfeeding fully, try delaying each breastfeeding meal. For example, instead of breastfeeding in the early evening, this way, you can “put off” a feeding until bedtime.
I’ve been trying to wean for a month now, but it’s been a struggle.
If you’ve tried everything and nothing works, you may have picked the wrong time.
Softer foods will generally work best as the first additions. A general guideline is fruit or vegetables, which are soft and can be easily gummed. These include, but are not limited to:
If you’re concerned with how to wean off breast feeding, once the infants intestines have developed more and gotten used to whole foods, try out a larger variety of foods such as:
Stick with the same rule of introducing them one by one, with gaps of 3 or 4 days. Meat, cheese and other foods that are taxing on the digestive system are best not introduced until your baby is approaching 12 months or at least 6 months after the weaning babies process has started.
As a cautionary warning, you should never give your baby fruit juices or other sweetened drinks. Water and/or breast milk are always better. And more importantly, never ever give refined carbohydrates to your baby. This includes various types of pasta, macaroni (even those products aimed at babies), sweets, baby jar food, rusks/biscuits, and cereal. Doing so will cause subtle yet widespread health problems; hormones and immune response will be compromised, the intestinal flora will become imbalanced, even mental and cardiovascular health has been shown to be affected.
In addition, complementary feeding is not introduced all at once, but step by step and month by month with a porridge meal. In the beginning, there is only one porridge, and the other meals are milk meals, either with breast milk or with infant milk. It would be best if you kept this in mind during the period of weaning or when weaning from bottled milk. Knowing how to wean off breast feeding is no easy task.
Above all, weaning is a long goodbye – full of feelings, sometimes painful and liberating at the same time. But it doesn’t mean the end of the intimate togetherness you’ve built with your child through breastfeeding. It just means that you now want to exchange breastfeeding for another loving care. If breastfeeding has calmed your baby down, you now need to find a new way to make him feel safe and calm. Read to him, sing together, or play together.
When should I wean or stop breastfeeding? You are the best judge of this. You don’t have to set a firm date if your child is not ready for it. Professional societies recommend, “For optimal growth, development, and health, children should be exclusively breastfed at least until the beginning of 5 months.” The National Breastfeeding Commission has echoed this recommendation, adding, “With appropriate and adequate complementary foods, breastfeeding can continue as long as mother and child desire.” But if you feel your baby needs complementary foods before then, talk to a lactation consultant or pediatrician(s). As I said, it’s not about switching all meals at once, but gradually one meal at a time.
While weaning babies, try to place an emphasis on whole and (if possible) organic foods. Your aim is not only to provide the nutrients necessary for growing but to help shape your baby’s taste preferences so that throughout their lives they will have an instinctual yearning for healthy food. Hope you enjoyed my article on how to wean off breast feeding, please share this information above if you found it useful.