Jun 7, 2024
June 7, 2024

How to stop breastfeeding and tips for weaning

Whether you breastfed for a few months or over a year, breastfeeding your baby is a significant achievement. As you’ve probably experienced, breastfeeding is a wonderful way to bond with your baby, but is also physically and mentally demanding. This transition can be emotional and is not always straightforward, so to help you with weaning, Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC, a lactation expert at Summer Health, is here to share her tips on transitioning from the breast.
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Written by
Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC
Medically reviewed by
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC

What is weaning?

Weaning is the gradual process of transitioning away from breastfeeding. Some mothers initiate weaning because they’re ready to stop, or because their child requires a dietary change, while some babies naturally wean themselves as they get older, nursing less frequently or showing preference for solid foods over milk.

Remember that breast milk or infant formula should provide most nutrition for babies under 12 months. If your baby needs to wean for medical reasons or stops nursing altogether, contact your local or Summer Health lactation expert for individualized guidance.

When should I begin the weaning process?

The answer depends on you and your baby. Some mothers enjoy breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding well past their child’s first birthday. Others choose to wean when their baby turns one, and transition to whole cow’s milk or a fortified plant-based milk alternative.

The simplest time to wean is when your baby shows signs of readiness, often around their first birthday as they begin eating more solid foods. Others don’t show an interest in weaning until well into toddlerhood. Some parents have difficulty managing breastfeeding and pumping when they return to work too. Ultimately, you should wean when it works best for you and your child.

If your baby is under 12 months and you decide to wean off breast milk, talk to your pediatrician about introducing infant formula. At this age, most of a baby’s nutrition should come from breast milk or infant formula. Replacing breast milk with cow’s milk before your baby’s first birthday is not recommended.

Reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding

Here are a few reasons why mothers decide to wean:

  • Insufficient supply: Mothers don’t produce enough breast milk for their baby to gain the recommended amount of weight.
  • Return to work: Breastfeeding mothers who return to work will wean their babies because it’s challenging to pump at work. Pumping is demanding, and many workplaces lack accommodations for breastfeeding mothers ​​or storage options for pumped milk.
  • Pain during breastfeeding: Some babies struggle to breastfeed, especially those with a shallow latch or tongue tie, and some women are prone to frequent bouts of mastitis or breast infections.
  • Baby prefers a bottle: Some babies have an easier time feeding from a bottle. Milk flows faster from a bottle, and some babies prefer the faster flow. Premature babies may have an easier time latching onto a bottle nipple and may reject the breast.
  • Baby's first birthday: Some mothers decide to switch to whole cow’s milk or a fortified plant-based milk alternative when their baby turns one year old.

Also, we want to acknowledge that breastfeeding is challenging, and some mothers do not enjoy it. ‘Fed is best,’ and what matters most is that your baby is well-nourished and receives adequate nutrition.

Signs that your baby is ready to wean

As babies eat more solid foods, they’ll want less breast milk, and have less room in their bellies for milk. Here are some signs that your baby is ready to wean off the breast:

  • Your baby is more interested in solid food
  • Your baby is eating more solid food
  • Your baby is less interested in breastfeeding, either pulling off frequently, becoming easily distracted, or spending a shorter amount of time at the nipple
  • Your baby’s weight has plateaued, and they’re at a good age to increase solids and cut back on milk

How to wean

Weaning will look different for every mother and child. Many factors come into play, such as the baby's age, whether they are transitioning to formula or milk, and the mother's milk production.

In general, weaning should be a slow and gradual process to prevent breast engorgement. You can begin by reducing each feeding session by 1 to 2 minutes over a few days, and then continue to decrease the feeding time by an additional 1 to 2 minutes every few days. If you are pumping, follow the same recommendation, and gradually reduce pumping time.

If you overproduce milk or if your baby is under 12 months old, reach out to your local or Summer Health lactation expert for individualized guidance and support.

Weaning tips for breastfeeding mothers

No matter when you decide to wean your baby, here are some expert-approved tips to assist you along the way:

Pay attention to your breasts

Weaning is a common cause of mastitis in women since going too long without breastfeeding increases the risk of blocked ducts and infection. If you notice engorgement or firm lumps in one or both breasts, try gently massaging the affected area to alleviate pressure. Hand expression can also relieve tension. If you have a fever, notice red streaks, or feel severe breast pain, contact your doctor as soon as possible as these are symptoms of mastitis.

Try a feeding schedule

While some babies adapt more easily to weaning, others strongly favor breastfeeding since it provides a sense of comfort. If your baby resists weaning, the process can be more challenging. To help, consider transitioning to a feeding schedule rather than feeding on demand. This approach allows your baby to regulate their appetite more effectively, with more breaks between feeds and more opportunities to disassociate food from comfort.

Create new routines

Encourage mom to leave the house during feeding time, allowing another caregiver to feed your baby. Babies have a sixth sense for detecting mom, and they might reject the bottle if they sense her presence. Creating new feeding routines, such as offering milk in a new location or using a new chair, can also facilitate a smoother transition.

Are there ways to make the weaning process easier?

The weaning process is an emotional time for both mom and baby. Here are a few tips to help smooth out the process:

  • Introduce a new feeding routine
  • Offer warm milk, which feels more like breast milk
  • Shower your baby with lots of cuddles and affection
  • Ease breast discomfort with a cold compress
  • Wear breast pads in case you have unexpected leaks
  • Ensure other caregivers are participating in feeds

How long does it take to wean?

The duration of weaning depends on many factors: the weaning pace, how your baby responds, their age, and the alternative milk you decide to introduce. It's a slow process for some mothers, stretching from starting solids at 6 months to the first birthday. For others, it can take 2 to 3 weeks. Remember that you can continue to produce milk for a few months after your baby is weaned, and may need to pump or hand express to relieve tension or discomfort.

Just like breastfeeding, weaning is a journey, too. Be kind to yourself, take it slow, and remember, if you need support, the Summer Health team is just a text away.

Dahlia Rimmon, RDN
Content Writer
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