Whether you regard breastfeeding as the best way to feed your baby or if you feel it is a great bonding experience, weaning your baby off breast milk might cause some anxiety for you. It is the end of an era and the beginning of another, as your baby begins to get nutrition from sources other than your milk. The question of when to wean does not have an exact answer, experts state. Considering a few factors will help you decide if the time is right.
As your newborn progresses through his first year or two, breast milk goes from being crucial to beneficial to unnecessary. You should feed your infant breast milk exclusively until he is at least 6 months old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP recommends that you then feed your infant a combination of breast milk and other appropriate foods between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. You might opt to wean your baby off breast milk after he turns 1, but continuing to breastfeed at this point is perfectly normal. As long as your milk continues to flow and your baby is still interested in breastfeeding, the AAP encourages mothers to breastfeed for as long as both mother and baby seem to benefit, says HealthyChildren.org.
Factors to Consider
Once breast milk is no longer nutritionally necessary for your baby -- after his first birthday -- examine the effect that breastfeeding has on your life. A mother who has returned to work might feel that rushing home to breastfeed or pump milk between meetings is too difficult. Your baby's reaction to breastfeeding is another consideration. If he seems disinterested or gets fussy soon into every feeding, he might be telling you that he no longer needs to breastfeed. A baby's father might also feel left out from the feeding process, and weaning your baby will enable the father to become an equal partner in feeding your baby.
The Weaning Process
Weaning your baby will likely take months. Start slowly, suggests the AskDr.Sears website, by first dropping a feeding that your child will not miss much. The feedings that are most soothing for him and you – such as his bedtime feeding or the first feeding in the morning -- should be the last to go. The mid-morning or early afternoon feeding might be the first one you can drop, but only you and your baby can decide. Instead of nursing him for the mid-morning or early afternoon feeding, bring him to a setting that will not remind him of feeding. Take him on a walk or initiate play in the living room. If he seems hungry or cranky, give him a snack. Allow him a week or more to adjust to this new schedule, and then drop another feeding and substitute it with solid food. If you feel that you cannot give up breastfeeding, maintain one daily feeding until you feel ready to let it go. You might need to pump during the day to maintain your milk flow.
Once you have decided to wean, think about what is coming up in your baby's life. MayoClinic.com recommends that you postpone weaning if a major change has affected your baby's life, like a move or a new childcare arrangement. It is also best to delay the process if a big change is coming up soon. MayoClinic.com also recommends that you not wean if you or your baby are ill or if he is teething. The weaning timetable might be beyond your control, if your milk flow slows or stops. If this happens before your baby's first birthday, talk to your pediatrician about supplementing your baby's diet with iron-fortified formula. A mother might have mixed feelings about this process, and she may soon miss the closeness that nursing allowed. Spending more time snuggling with your baby and leaning on your partner for support might soothe you during this transition. Additionally, some babies wean themselves when they progress to a more advanced developmental stage, such as when they begin to crawl or walk. If this happens, this is entirely natural, and you can feel happy that your baby has decided to expand his world according to his own timetable.