Weaning: when and how to end breastfeeding

Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life. Although babies start to eat and drink other foods at about six months of age, breast milk still makes up most of their diet for the rest of the first year. No matter how long you continue to breastfeed, your milk will always be nutritious and absolutely suitable for your baby’s developmental stage. The natural process of weaning begins when your baby starts eating something other than breast milk, including water and solid foods. However, most of us think of weaning as a time during which our babies begin to receive less and less breastfeeding until other foods and drinks completely replace them.

Sometimes a baby may feel that he or she no longer wants to drink breast milk. Sometimes the baby’s rejection may be temporary, and sometimes it may be permanent. Sometimes the mom gets tired of breastfeeding her now-grown baby, especially at night. Other times, the mother needs to go back to work. In some cases, mothers want to get pregnant again, and breastfeeding may inhibit ovulation. Also, stopping breastfeeding may be recommended for medical reasons. Sometimes weaning is not the only option. Your doctor or lactation consultant can offer some ideas for discussion if you find yourself in this situation.

When is it better to start weaning your baby from the breast?

There is no set and correct period for weaning your baby. Everyone’s mother-baby relationship is different, and weaning is solely a personal decision that mother and baby make when they are both ready.

Solid foods and breast milk should be in your baby’s diet until one year old. If your baby is weaned before he or she is one year old, you can give your little one baby formula instead of breast milk. If your baby is no longer breastfed when he or she is one year old or older, you can give him, or her dairy products meant for baby food instead of baby formula. Although the recommendations are these, many moms stop breastfeeding until their babies are 12 months old, and others breastfeed until they are two years old or older. The second option is called extended breastfeeding, and it is a perfectly healthy choice for mothers and babies who want to continue breastfeeding.

What are the baby’s signs of readiness?

The desire for independence may appear at any age. Sometimes a one-year-old baby can already have the first signs of readiness to do without breast milk. However, a child can often be painlessly weaned from the breast not earlier than 3 years.

So, your baby is ready to stop eating breast milk when:

  • baby’s main milk teeth have come out, and he/she can chew solid food without difficulty;
  • the baby asks for the breast 3-4 times a day and is easily distracted if he/she misses one of the feedings;
  • the baby can fall asleep on his/her own without breastfeeding, both during the day and at night;
  • the baby no longer needs night feedings;
  • the baby can be comforted by words of affection and hugs, and the mom’s breast is no longer the main source of comfort.

If the child needs breastfeeding very often, reaches for the mother as soon as she takes a fixed position, can not calm down and sleep without the breast, it is desirable to postpone weaning from the breast.

When it’s not recommended to start weaning

Nowadays, most mothers who breastfeed a child over 12 months finish breastfeeding not when the baby is ready but when it is convenient for them or under the pressure of external circumstances. However, before weaning your baby from the breast, it is essential to make sure that the moment is chosen correctly.

Specialists do not recommend ending breastfeeding in the following situations:

  • in a new environment (moving, a trip to the sea, etc.);
  • in a responsible, difficult period for the baby (potty training, parents going to work, family changes);
  • before or right after a vaccination;
  • when the child is sick.

If you plan to go to work or can foresee some other event that will be a good reason for not breastfeeding, it is better to wean your baby in advance.