Weaning is a natural stage in your baby's development. For some babies it starts when solid food is introduced at about six months.
The process of weaning can last a few weeks to more than one year. It depends on your preferences. You can let your baby lead the weaning, adjusting breastfeeding to the changing levels of interest and need. Or, you can lead the process.
You can wean to a cup or to a bottle containing formula or breastmilk, depending on your baby's needs. There are several approaches to weaning.
This is best for you and your baby. It allows you to slowly decrease milk production without experiencing engorgement or discomfort. It gives your baby time to adjust to drinking from a bottle or cup.
Start by skipping one daily feeding and substituting formula or milk if your baby is older than one year old. (Discuss what kind of formula or milk to use with your baby's health care provider.)
Choose the feeding that is of least interest to your baby. Wait a few days until you are not producing as much milk at that feeding time. Then, choose a second feeding to eliminate.
To lessen engorgement, choose the feeding one or two hours after the one you've already stopped. Continue this process until your baby is only nursing once a day.
After a few days of once-a-day feedings, skip a day between feedings until you stop nursing altogether. By that time you will be producing very little milk.
Partial weaning allows you to eliminate certain feedings but continue breastfeeding at other times. For example, you may decide to nurse in the morning and at night and give your baby formula at other times. One advantage of this method is that if you decide to return to full breastfeeding, you may be able to.
In rare cases, there may be a reason you would need to stop breastfeeding suddenly. This may be a difficult time for both you and your baby.
You will probably become engorged. See common concerns on how to deal with engorgement. If you will be returning to breastfeeding, try to pump or express your milk at regular feeding times until you can resume feeding.
If you have been told you must wean, contact your lactation resource.
Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts