Whether you breastfeed, formula-feed, or do both, at some point your baby will need to be weaned. If you’re breastfeeding, it can be a difficult transition for both your baby and you — after all, those feeding times are wonderful bonding times, too. Weaning from the bottle can also be challenging: Your child may resist moving from a soft nipple to a sippy cup. But remember: Weaning is a natural part of development. To make it easier, for both your baby and you:
Weaning from the breast
When to do it
There are no hard-and-fast rules — breastfeeding is a relationship between you and your baby, and it will end when one of you decides the time is right. If you let your baby initiate weaning, it probably won’t happen until after he’s 10 months old. But you may want or need to stop before then. Just keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of life. If you and your baby are happy going even longer, there’s no reason not to.
How to wean
- Start by skipping the midmorning or late-afternoon feeding, when your child is less likely to be famished. Or keep shortening a feeding until it has been eliminated.
- Substitute the skipped feeding with lots of cuddling and skin-to-skin contact so your baby knows he can be comforted without nursing. Older children may need a distraction during missed mealtimes, like a favorite toy.
- Gradually substitute fortified formula for one feeding per day the first week, two the next, and so on. To wean a baby 1 year and older, give him a sippy cup with whole milk.
- At night, change your child’s bedtime routine so he disassociates it with a feeding from you. Move the rocking chair you usually share into another room, reschedule bath time, or have your spouse put your child to bed instead of you.
- If your child won’t accept the bottle from you, see if he’ll let your husband feed him instead.
- To avoid the physical discomfort of overfilled breasts, express some of your milk — just enough to relieve the pressure.
Recognizing nursing strikes
Just because your baby or toddler suddenly refuses to breastfeed for a few days doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to wean. He may just have gone on a nursing strike. Some common triggers:
- Thrush, sore gums (from teething), a stuffy nose, an ear infection, or another illness that is making nursing uncomfortable or affecting his appetite.
- Fear of breastfeeding. For instance, you may have startled him when he accidentally bit your nipple.
- Something you ate that’s strong or spicy (compared with your usual diet) that changed the taste of your breast milk.
- Your different smell because of a change in perfume, deodorant, soap, or lotion.
Weaning from the bottle
When to do it
Doctors suggest eliminating bottles by around 12 months of age, which is when most children are old enough to drink from a cup. Some moms wait until their kids are a bit older to wean, but the longer your child drinks from a bottle, the greater the risk of tooth decay — especially if he has a nighttime bottle (because the fluid pools in his mouth while he’s sleeping, bathing his teeth with sugar). Your child probably won’t accept the change overnight — or without resisting — so you’ll have to be patient and consistent.
How to wean
- Postpone weaning if he’s sick, very tired, or is undergoing a major transition (such as a move or a switch in caregivers).
- Make gradual changes. Cold turkey’s hard on kids, so begin by skipping the bottle your child is least attached to, and eliminate another every few days.
- Introduce a sippy cup at a family meal. When he sees you drinking from a glass, he’ll likely want a “big boy” cup, too. Look for sippy cups that have a soft, nipplelike tip if your baby seems reluctant. Remove the spill-proof valve at first to make it easier for him to learn to suck from it.
- Instead of putting the bottle front and center in the refrigerator, hide it away in a cabinet. If he can’t see it, he might not ask for it quite as often.
- Make the bottle less appealing. Water the milk down, or just switch to water.
- Since using the bottle is comforting for your child, as you limit his access to it, increase the amount of loving attention you give him.
- Insist that your toddler sit in one spot when he has his bottle. Given the choice between it and his freedom, he’ll probably choose freedom.
Weaning from the breast or bottle is a natural step for all children and moms. If you substitute what you’re taking away with plenty of support, attention, and reassurance, it’ll be a smoother transition for both of you.