Weaning is the time when a breastfed child has fewer and fewer breastfeeds until he is no longer breastfeeding. However or whenever it happens for you and your child, you’ll most likely experience some big emotions around your breastfeeding journey coming to an end.
The right time to wean is a personal decision for you and your family. Some mothers start out breastfeeding with a particular timeframe in mind, while others have a ‘wait and see’ approach. Some let their child decide, and for others, unforeseen circumstances may cause weaning to occur earlier than anticipated or wanted.
Here is an insight into what weaning might look like for you when the time comes:
How Weaning From Breastfeeding Might Happen
How weaning happens depends on your individual circumstances. Sometimes the mother leads the weaning process (mother-led weaning), sometimes the child does (child-led weaning) and sometimes it’s both the mother and child (mutual weaning).
There are many health and wellbeing related reasons why a mother might decide to wean.
For example, you may:
- Have had enough. If you are a breastfeeding mother with an older baby or toddler, you may feel like this sometimes, especially if your baby/toddler feeds often at night. You may feel exhausted, ‘used’ and want your own space back. Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or lactation consultant could provide you with some helpful tip.
- Want to become pregnant again and breastfeeding may be preventing you from ovulating. You may find it helpful to speak with your midwife, GP or obstetrician about this.
- Be pregnant. Many older babies or toddlers wean themselves when their mother falls pregnant. This is because pregnancy tends reduce your milk supply (often significantly). If your child and you are happy to continue to breastfeed during pregnancy however, you can continue.
- Have been advised to wean for medical reasons. If this is the case and yet breastfeeding is still important to you, discuss with your health professional if there may be any alternative options. Sometimes obtaining a second opinion can be helpful too.
- Be going back to work. Many mothers return to work and continue to fully or partially breastfeed. Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or lactation consultant can help you to work out if doing this may work for you.
- Have endured significant breastfeeding problems. Sometimes, despite accurate information and support, problems arise which are overwhelming and which make breastfeeding seem impossible. An Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or lactation consultant can support you (depending on your individual circumstances) by helping you to overcome breastfeeding problems, helping you to wean or to reassure you that being a mother is so much more than about how a baby is fed. Even if you may not be breastfeeding any more, you will be able to give your baby, the best of yourself (a relaxed and loving mother).
Pressure To Wean From Breastfeeding
Sometimes, a mother may receive inaccurate information that pressures her into weaning from breastfeeding, despite her and her baby enjoying the breastfeeding relationship. For example you may:
- Have been told that your milk is too ‘watery’ or ‘not rich enough’ or that your baby is ‘not getting enough hindmilk’. These things are completely untrue.
- Have been told that your diet is not good enough to make quality breastmilk. This is also largely untrue.
- You may have heard others talk about their milk ‘drying up’ and worry that your baby is not getting enough milk. It is important to use reliable signs to assess if your baby is getting enough milk.
- Have been told your baby has to wean once he gets teeth. This is also completely untrue.
- Think you have to wean if your baby is refusing to breastfeed. It is common for babies to go through a phase of refusing to breastfeed but thereafter resume breastfeed as though nothing ever happened.
- Feel pressure to wean once your child gets older. If breastfeeding is working well for you and your child, there is no need to stop. Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor can provide you with helpful support and encouragement.
Sometimes, a child weans on his own accord. If this was the case, he would most likely be over 12 months of age and be likely enjoying a range of different foods and drinks. If a baby is under the age of 12 months, it would be unusual for him to wean himself – it would be more likely a case of breast refusal than actual weaning. Find out more about breast refusal here.
Sometimes it’s not really the child or the mother doing the weaning. Sometimes, it just happens slowly but surely and when it does happen, it works for both of you.
From the time your baby is around 6 months and is eating solid food, gradually, he will begin to eat more and more other foods. As this occurs, he will naturally have less of an appetite for breastmilk.
As time goes on, he may naturally show increasing interest in a variety of food and fluids from a cup and these things may gradually replace the breastmilk in his diet.
Weaning Your Baby Under 12 Months
If weaning occurs and your baby is under 12 months of age, formula is a necessary substitute for breastmilk. If weaning occurs and your child is over 12 months of age, formula is not necessary.
Whenever possible, weaning as slowly as possible, gives you, your child and your breasts a chance to adjust. Lots of cuddles and skin-to-skin time with your baby while weaning can help you both adjust.
As you gradually make less milk while weaning, the concentration of anti-infective factors in your breastmilk increases. This gives your child an extra boost of protection from infection before he is fully weaned.
To wean, start by dropping the breastfeed your baby seems least interested in and replace it with a formula feed. Then, depending on your baby’s willingness and how long it takes for your breasts to adjust and feel comfortable, you can drop another breastfeed, and so on.
While weaning, monitor your breasts for signs of engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis. Speak with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or see a lactation consultant it you have any concerns.
For information about weaning toddlers, see BellyBelly’s article 10 Tips To Gently Wean Your Toddler.
Weaning can be an emotional time for many mothers, regardless of how it has come about. You may feel sad, disappointed, a deep sense of grief or rejected (if your child weaned himself). These are all very natural feelings. Your hormones take some time to get back to normal, especially if you have had to wean quickly. Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or lactation consultant can help. You might also like to read BellyBelly's article on post-weaning depression.
Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the World Health Organization recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for around 6 months and then for solids to be introduced and for breastfeeding to continue for at least one year or as long as the mother and child desire. Regardless of how long you breastfeed, it will be beneficial for you and your child.