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How to wean a breastfeeding child

Establishing a breastfeeding relationship with your baby can sometimes be challenging, but ending that special relationship can come with its own unique set of challenges as well.

But if you’ve decided it’s time to wean your nurser, there are some expert-tested tips to make it easier on the whole family.

More: 12 Things not to say to an extended breastfeeding mom

First, it helps to understand the different types of weaning. Baby-led weaning is when you breastfeed until the baby outgrows the need to nurse. Mother-led weaning, on the other hand, is when the nursing parent weans their baby at other points during the breastfeeding relationship.

Tips for weaning a breastfed baby
Image: Design by Becci Burkhart/SheKnows; Image via Getty Images

1. Do ask yourself why you are weaning

Tamara Reese, MPH, CHES, LLL leader and a nursing mom of three, suggests picturing a day without nursing your baby at all. “Do you feel sad? Relieved? Does your desire to wean have more to do with people outside of your nursing relationship?” These are all questions you might want to ask yourself. “Sometimes the reasons are very concrete (medication, travel), and sometimes the reasons are loaded with mixed emotion that needs to be worked through before making the decision to wean,” explains Reese.

2. Don’t go cold turkey

Weaning gradually, if possible, is best emotionally and physically for both mom and baby. According to Colette M. Acker, IBCLC and executive director of the Breastfeeding Resource Center, moms who are weaning can drop one feeding every several days and offer a bottle of formula instead (if a baby is under 1 year old, the feedings must be replaced with formula).“This allows her milk supply to decrease gradually and allows her to see if the baby is having any negative reaction to the formula,” explains Acker. “In most cases, the baby will be given a bottle, but if the baby is older, moms may wean to a cup.” 

More: What to do when baby just stops breastfeeding

3. Do stay connected

Reese suggests putting a plan in place to make yourself emotionally and physically available throughout the weaning process. “Babies and children need to feel connected, and just because the milk is gone doesn’t mean the love and connection are.” 

4. Don’t expect smooth sailing, even for older kids

While patience is key when weaning a baby, it’s even more crucial when weaning a toddler. With toddlers, you won’t need to replace a feeding with a bottle and instead can just eliminate that feeding. Acker says that if your toddler understands, you might want to discuss the weaning process before beginning. For many toddlers, distraction can help. “Mothers can find activities that the toddler enjoys and suggest them when the child is interested in nursing,” she shares. “It may take longer with a stubborn nurser, but with patience, it’s possible!” According to Acker, moms can offer snacks and extra fluids throughout the day, depending on how often the toddler was nursing.

More: 7 Ways to respond to ‘Are you still breastfeeding?’ (GIFs)

5. Do find support

Reese recommends either reaching out to a nursing friend or family member for support and guidance. She also suggests attending a La Leche League meeting. “Talking through your feelings and getting strategies can help a lot. Weaning can also bring about feelings of sadness or depression; some mothers experience irritability, anxiety and mood swings. Surrounding yourself with support is key.” 

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