Knowing when and how to wean baby can be confusing. Learn how you can make the process a positive one.
For many parents, knowing when and how to wean their baby can be confusing. While breastfeeding is recommended for baby's first year, there is no set time to stop breastfeeding. You should breastfeed as long as it's working for you and your baby. Talk to WIC breastfeeding staff if you are thinking of weaning your baby.
What Is Weaning?
Weaning from the breast begins when you start to replace breast milk with formula, other beverages or other foods. These are often called solid foods or complementary foods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
- Give your baby only breast milk for the first 6 months of their life.
- About 6 months, continue breastfeeding, but begin adding complementary foods to your baby's diet as they are ready in their development.
- After 12 months, you can continue breastfeeding as long as you and your baby are comfortable.
Your baby's doctor can help you decide if your baby is ready for complementary foods. Talk to WIC breastfeeding staff for tips on what healthy foods to feed your baby and how to introduce them.
When Should You Wean Your Baby?
It's easiest to wean when your baby starts the process. For most babies, this happens when they are getting more of their nutrition from complementary foods.
Babies who are ready to wean usually do so gradually. This is different from a nursing strike, when your baby may suddenly refuse the breast. When your baby is ready to wean, baby may start to skip feedings or nurse for only a few minutes at a time. Over several weeks, baby will drop one breastfeeding session at a time. Eventually, baby will only nurse once a day or less.
Weaning may pause or slow down if:
- Your baby is sick or teething. Then, baby may need the extra comfort and antibodies from breastfeeding.
- A major change has occurred at home. Try not to start weaning during a time of major change, like when you first return to work or school.
- Your baby is struggling to wean. If your baby is resisting, they might not be ready. Try again in another month or two.
Waiting until your baby starts weaning on their own is best. But some parents may decide to actively wean before their baby shows signs of wanting to wean.
If you are considering weaning your baby, speak with WIC breastfeeding staff. They can help you consider if you should wean or help you get through a tough time in your breastfeeding journey. If you decide to start weaning, it is important to go slowly and focus on your and your baby's needs.
What Does My Baby Need in a Diet to Replace Breast Milk?
If you wean your baby from breast milk before baby is 12 months old, then you will need to supplement their diet with infant formula. Keep in mind that babies should not drink cow's milk, fruit juice, tea, sweet or caffeine beverages before their first birthday.
How Long Does It Take to Wean Your Baby?
Weaning is most comfortable for mom and baby when it is done slowly—over several weeks or months. These things can affect how long weaning takes:
- Your baby's age.
- Typical number of times you breastfeed each day.
- If your baby is ready to wean.
How Can I Avoid Engorgement while Weaning?
Weaning slowly will help you avoid breast engorgement.
How Can I Wean My Baby to a Cup?
One step in the weaning process is teaching your baby to use a cup. Your baby must learn this new skill. To make weaning easier, use a cup at the feeding baby is least interested in. Or try it at meals when other family members are drinking from cups.
To help your baby learn to drink from a cup:
- Hold the cup for your baby.
- Put small amounts of breast milk or infant formula in a cup.
- Feed your baby slowly so that baby can swallow without choking.
When you and your baby are ready to wean:
- Try a "don't offer, don't refuse" approach for one nursing session at a time. This means, at the usual feeding time, don't automatically offer your breast. But if your child asks to nurse, don't refuse. Typically, the last breastfeeding sessions babies drop are the ones before they fall asleep or after they wake up.
- Serve solid foods at the table in a high chair. This assists with weaning and helps your baby start a new routine.
- When you would normally breastfeed, distract your baby with an activity. Reading a book with your baby is a special way to bond in place of breastfeeding.
- Give your baby lots of extra love and attention. Weaning can be emotional for both of you.