A mother and daughter

Weaning a Child Off Breast Milk

Weaning a child off breast milk means they no longer gets any of her nutrition from this source. This might mean a child is old enough to eat more grown up food, or a mother may simply decide to switch to formula after a time. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. In the child-led weaning, the child may have reached an age where they are less interested in breast milk. In mother-led weaning, it occurs because she feels it is the right time for her child or because of a change in schedule, like returning to work. Here are some tricks for when and how to wean a child, as well as what to do when things become more difficult than they should be. 

When to Wean

Most experts recommend breastfeeding for at least a year; six months is the minimal amount of time necessary to garner some of the great advantages derived from nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests six months of only breastfeeding followed by six months of slowly adding additional foods to the child’s diet, while the World Health Organization suggests continuing for 24 months.  

Weaning too soon or too quickly can be traumatic; it can also be painful for mothers, whose breasts will take time to stop lactating. After about twelve months, the child will probably start weaning themselves. Although there may be times before that when it seems as if a child is starting to wean, experts say this is a “nursing strike.” The child may be more focused on life around him, learning a new skill, or have developed an adverse reaction. Generally, this fades after a few days. 

How to Wean

It might take several weeks to completely wean a child from the breast. Even after introducing alternative, child-friendly foods to their diet, you can continue breastfeeding as long as you want. Nursing creates a strong bond that can be hard to break. Start slowly. Try removing a single feeding at a time and giving your child something as an alternative. 

Shortening the length of time a child spends nursing, followed by additional food may work better for some moms and babies. As they get older and begin to understand you, nursings usually start to occur farther apart. In this case, a useful trick is to increase the amount of time between feedings by distracting your child with an alternative activity. 

Weaning Struggles

If your baby is absolutely refusing to stop nursing, something more might be going on. They may be having trouble adjusting to the change of pace and lack of mom-time if you’ve recently returned to work. Upheaval in the household may also make it more difficult to cut your child off. Even reaching a new developmental stage or being sick can make them be more inclined to nurse. Breastfeeding isn’t just getting sustenance—it’s a comforting period as well. Especially in younger babies, you might just need to wait a few more weeks before attempting to wean your child from nursing. 

Last Updated: June 07, 2016