Did you know?
If your baby rejects your breast, you may wonder if your baby is ready to wean. But, if your baby is under a year old, he or she is probably going through a nursing strike instead.
Are you ready to wean? Do you think your child is ready to wean? Often, weaning happens gradually and without any conscious effort or action. But you may need to wean before your child would have naturally stopped nursing or receiving your milk. If you need or want to actively wean before it happens on its own, it is best for you and your child to go slowly. Weaning suddenly can be physically painful for you and emotionally hard on you and your baby.
From the first time you feed your baby something other than your milk, the process of weaning begins. Weaning is the journey for a child between being fully breastfed (or breastmilk-fed, if you feed pumped milk) and when the child stops nursing for comfort and nutrition.
In cultures where there is no social pressure to wean, children usually stop breastfeeding or receiving their mother's milk between 2½ and 7 years old.1
In families that let it happen on its own, weaning happens very gradually, often without any fuss, process, or effort.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following schedule as a guide:
Children who wean themselves rarely do so suddenly and without warning. The process is generally slow and gradual, even for babies who wean from the breast earlier than is normal due to separation from their mothers, pacifier use, or bottle-feeding.
If your baby suddenly rejects your breast, it is more likely a nursing strike, not a readiness to wean. Read more about nursing strikes in our "Challenge: Nursing strikes" section.
You can watch for these signs, but they may be so gradual you may not notice:
If you need or want to wean before your child begins to wean, taking it slowly is best.
Consider delaying weaning if:
If you have been advised to stop breastfeeding because you need surgery or you take a certain medicine, be sure to get to a second opinion. There are very few reasons for complete weaning is absolutely necessary. You may still be able to breastfeed after surgery, and many medicines are safe for both baby and mother.
Talk to a lactation consultant who can help you decide whether you truly need to wean or just need some help getting you and your baby through a difficult time. You also can call the Office on Women's Health Helpline at 800-994-9662, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET to talk to a peer counselor in English or Spanish for free.
Also, try not to make the decision to wean on a day when breastfeeding is difficult.
The time it takes to wean depends on several factors, including:
Especially during the first year, when breastfeeding is your baby's main source of nutrition, weaning works best if you take it slowly. Eliminate one nursing session at a time over several days. For example, if you drop a feeding every three days and you usually nurse about eight times a day, it could take four weeks to fully wean your baby.
It depends on the age of your child.
If your baby is younger than 1 year:
Your baby will need formula to replace the nutrition that he or she gets at your breast. Because your breastmilk changes to meet your baby's needs as he or she gets older, he or she gets the nutrition he or she needs from the same amount of breastmilk at 9 months as at 3 months old. A 3-ounce feeding, for example, has the right amount of calories, nutrients, and immune factors to meet your baby's needs.
This is not true of formula. A breastmilk-fed baby who is weaned to formula may need more ounces of formula than breastmilk.
Because formula tastes different from breastmilk and being bottle-fed feels different from being breastfed, your baby may need your patience with the move to formula.
Talk to your child's doctor to find out how much formula your baby needs and how to recognize signs that your baby's stomach is tolerating the formula well.
If your baby is older than 1 year:
You can offer a meal or snack, or a drink of water or cow's milk (if tolerated) at the time you would normally feed your child.
If your child resists or seems not interested, remember that breastfeeding is also a time for your baby to be close to you. Sometimes a cuddle or getting to sit on your lap while having the snack helps to ease the transition away from the breast. Your pediatrician can advise you about good choices of foods for your toddler.
Weaning works best when it happens slowly, in its own time. But there are some reasons why you might have to stop breastfeeding before your baby is ready and even perhaps before you planned to stop breastfeeding.
Weaning your child suddenly — going "cold turkey" — may cause your breasts to become painfully engorged.
Even when you wean slowly and gradually, it may still be uncomfortable for you. Try these tips to help ease discomfort.
If you wean slowly and gradually, you should not have a lot of discomfort or pain. Weaning suddenly can cause your breasts to become painfully engorged. If your baby is still very young, you are breastfeeding or expressing milk often, and you try to wean cold turkey, weaning can be uncomfortable or painful.
Try these tips to lessen discomfort.
Maybe. Some women report relief from pain with cabbage leaves or other herbs or medicines. Always talk to your doctor before trying any herbal remedies or alternative therapies to make sure they are safe for you and your baby.
For more information about weaning, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
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Page last updated: May 03, 2017.
Content last reviewed: February 01, 2017.