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Weaning is the process of switching your baby from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, or from a breast or bottle to a cup or solid foods. Weaning usually works best when it is done gradually over several weeks, months, or even longer.
There is no right or wrong time to wean. It depends on how ready you and your baby are to start.
Experts recommend feeding your baby only breast milk for about 6 months. They also support breastfeeding for 2 years or longer.footnote 1 But your baby benefits from any amount of time that you breastfeed. Try to breastfeed for as long as it works for you and your baby.
Starting around 6 months of age, your baby needs solid foods along with breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Offer your baby iron-rich foods first. It's okay to give foods that may cause allergic reactions at 6 months of age. footnote 2
There are two ways to wean. Gradual weaning happens over time. It lets your baby have more control over when to stop breastfeeding. Abrupt weaning happens all at once. Which style you use will depend on your preferences, why you plan to wean, and how often your baby breastfeeds.
One way to let a baby control weaning is through the "don't offer, don't refuse" method. This means that you never offer to breastfeed your child. But you don't refuse when your child asks or shows a desire to breastfeed.
This can be a slow process. But when you're committed to weaning and provide encouragement, your baby can wean successfully and happily.
These tips may help you gradually wean your baby:
Stop wearing nursing clothing such as nursing bras and tops with nursing slits. Wear more layers of clothing, or wear clothing that is less easily adapted to nursing. The baby may demand to nurse less often because of the lack of easy access. This technique is usually combined with other techniques.
A baby may just need a minute or two at the breast, more for comfort than for food. When the baby has had a minute or two, urge the child to stop and interest them in something else.
Tell your baby that you'll nurse later, such as after you finish preparing dinner. This will space out sessions until you can eventually postpone a whole nursing session until the next one. It may also allow your baby to become distracted before the breastfeeding ever begins.
If your child still uses breastfeeding as a primary way of satisfying hunger or thirst, be ready with other foods and drinks before your child asks to breastfeed. (Milk or water is better than juice because of the high sugar content of juice.) If your baby isn't hungry or thirsty, encourage the use of a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal, blanket, or doll. Offer it often. Also substitute close cuddling without breastfeeding. A child may fear that weaning means losing that comforting sense of being held.
Make life so interesting and busy that your baby forgets to ask to breastfeed. Read a book to your baby while holding them on your lap (which provides close contact). Or suggest a walk, a ride on a tricycle, or a trip to a playground or sandbox. Distractions can be time-consuming, but they work well.
You may prefer to abruptly wean your baby from the breast. This approach may be best suited for a baby who nurses fewer than 3 times a day.
When weaning abruptly, choose a time when you don't expect other major changes in your or your baby's life and when you have extra time to spend with your child.
The following tips may help.
Try reading a book while holding your baby on your lap. This provides the close contact your child wants. Or suggest a walk, a ride on a tricycle, or a trip to a playground or sandbox.
Stop wearing nursing clothing such as nursing bras and tops with nursing slits. Wear more layers of clothing, or wear clothing that is less easily adapted to nursing.
Your child should stay with a trusted caregiver, such as a spouse, grandparent, or other family member. Since you aren't available for breastfeeding, your child will adjust to the other caregivers. Over time, your child will come to accept that breastfeeding isn't needed. If you are gone for less than a week, your child may ask to breastfeed again when you return. But your child is likely to accept a refusal without too much complaining.
There may be times when you want to stop breastfeeding, but your baby shows signs of wanting to continue. If possible, keep breastfeeding a while longer. If you can't, then try these tips:
Here are some tips for weaning your baby from the bottle:
This can help prevent injuries if your baby falls. It also can help keep the bottle from being a comfort item for your baby.
When your baby asks for the bottle outside of meal or snack time, encourage the use of a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal, blanket, or doll. For example, tie an empty bottle securely around the neck of a favourite stuffed animal or other comfort object, then remove the bottle after your baby thinks of the new object as the source of comfort (after a few days or weeks). Make sure the bottle is tied securely and that the string has no slack or loose ends that could become wrapped around your baby's neck and cause choking.
For example, after a fall, comfort your baby with hugs and attention rather than the bottle.
This can be in the home or in a museum, at a zoo, or at a playground.
Make using a cup part of your baby's solid-meal routine. Then, over time, stop their bottle-feedings.
Make a big announcement that "today is the day you'll eat like a big kid." Celebrate by having your baby throw out the old nipples and bottles and by taking them to the store to pick out a personal cup. The bottle may be a comfort object, so replace it with hugs and attention or another comfort object, such as a stuffed animal.
When feeding time approaches, offer your baby a snack. If this is filling, it may take the child's mind off the feeding.
Some babies grow attached to the bottle and do not want to give it up. Here are some common behaviours and suggestions on how to deal with them.
Do not let your baby crawl, walk around, or go to bed with a bottle. This will make him or her more prone to dental cavities (caries). Also, a baby with a bottle or other object in his or her mouth is at risk for face and mouth injuries if he or she were to fall. Offer a stuffed toy or blanket for comfort instead of a bottle.
Bottle-feeding at bedtime can often be part of your baby's regular routine. This feeding is usually the hardest to give up. Cuddle your baby often, and gradually replace the bedtime bottle ritual with a new one. For example, 1 to 2 hours before bedtime give your baby something to eat or drink. (Don't give your baby cow's milk until he or she is 9 to 12 months of age and eating a variety of iron-rich foods.) Then at bedtime, brush your baby's teeth, give him or her a bath, or read a storybook instead of offering a bottle.
Start using a cup to feed your child if you have not already. Dilute the liquid in the bottle to make it less tasty.
Try giving your baby extra hugs and attention instead of going back to the old way of feeding.
Cup-feeding is a way to provide breast milk or formula to a baby who is unwilling or unable to breastfeed or drink from a bottle. If you do breastfeed, you can also use cup-feeding instead of bottle-feeding if your baby needs supplementation for a few days.
Many babies with special needs can easily learn how to cup-feed. This feeding technique can promote the physical bond between the parent and baby when breastfeeding or bottle-feeding isn't possible.
To cup-feed your baby, you want your baby to slurp or sip the milk. Do not pour the milk into his or her mouth. To do this:
Tap the baby's lower lip with the cup. This signals that it's time to eat.
The tongue should be able to move freely to the cup's lower edge.
Leave the cup in this position, even as your baby takes breaks.
The feeding should last no more than about 30 minutes. Follow your baby's cues about when to stop.
Your baby may be ready to eat solid foods when your baby:
When you start to feed solid foods to your baby, there are some things you want to avoid. Some foods aren't safe or healthy for babies.
Here's a list of foods to avoid for your baby:
Breast milk or iron-fortified formula is the only food that babies need for the first 6 months of life. Breastfed babies need 400 IU of vitamin D each day from a supplement. At about 6 months, you can slowly start to introduce solid foods along with breast milk or formula.footnote 3, footnote 1
Talk to your child's doctor about weaning if:
CitationsHealth Canada, et al. (2014). Nutrition for healthy term infants: Recommendations from six to 24 months. Health Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/infant-nourisson/recom/recom-6-24-months-6-24-mois-eng.php. Accessed April 28, 2014.Abrams EM, et al. (2021). Dietary exposures and allergy prevention in high-risk infants. Paediatrics and Child Health, 26(8): 504–505. DOI: 10.1093/pch/pxab064. November 2, 2022. Health Canada, et al. (2012). Nutrition for healthy term infants: Recommendations from birth to six months. A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/infant-nourisson/recom/index-eng.php.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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