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Weaning - Topic Overview

What is weaning?

Weaning is the term used to describe the process of switching a baby from:

  • Breast-feeding to bottle-feeding.
  • Breast- or bottle-feeding to a cup.
  • Breast- or bottle-feeding to solid foods.

Your baby will go through one or more of these weaning processes. All types of weaning usually work best when they are done gradually—over several weeks, months, or even longer.

Weaning a baby from the breast is a big change for moms as well as for babies. Besides affecting you physically, it may also affect you emotionally.

Some moms feel a little sad to lose some of the closeness that breast-feeding provides. But you will also have more freedom, because others can feed your baby. Don't be surprised if you feel both happy and sad that your child is becoming more independent.

How do you know if your baby is ready to wean?

Signs that a baby is ready to wean often appear after the baby has learned to crawl or learned to walk. Your breast-feeding baby may suck a few times and then stop nursing. He or she may just start to lose interest in your breast.

Bottle-fed babies who are ready to wean may start spitting out the nipple or throwing or hiding the bottle before it is empty. Your baby may show more interest in drinking from a cup.

When is the best time to wean?

When to start weaning mostly depends on how ready you and your child are to start weaning.

Some breast-feeding moms aren't ready to give up the closeness that breast-feeding brings. So they may delay weaning, even though their child is ready. Other moms are ready to wean sooner or have responsibilities or life changes that make it necessary.

There is no right or wrong time to start, and there's not a certain amount of time to take, except that it's best to wean your baby from a bottle by 18 months of age. Also, try not to start weaning when your child or your family is under stress. Stress can range from cutting a new tooth to moving to a new house or starting a new day care program.

What is the best way to wean a baby?

Gradual weaning is best for both babies and moms. Look for signs that your baby is ready. When you are both ready, try dropping one feeding every 5 to 7 days. This will help give you and your baby time to adjust to new ways of feeding. If you are breast-feeding, gradual weaning helps keep your breasts from becoming too full, a problem called breast engorgement.

How do you meet your baby's nutrition needs while weaning?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:1

  • Breast-feed your baby for at least a year and as long after a year as you and your child desire.
  • Feed your baby breast milk or iron-enriched formula until he or she is 12 months of age. Be sure to meet the vitamin and mineral needs of children.
  • Begin to introduce solid foods at 6 months of age to complement the breast milk or formula.
  • Do not feed your baby cow's milk before 12 months of age.

You can also give your baby breast milk from a cup or a bottle.

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