Parenting / Children

How to wean a baby off breastfeeding

wean a baby off breastfeeding

What is the best way to wean a baby off breastfeeding? Our guide outlines the best strategies and methods, depending on the age of the baby.

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Timing and methods to gently wean a baby off breastfeeding

When the time comes and mothers want to wean breastfeeding, it should be done gently and painlessly. We reveal here how it works.

After the baby only drank breast milk in the first few months and the porridge diet was successfully introduced, many mothers think about weaning. However, many women are afraid of weaning and fear of pain and other possible complications. Most of them also wonder when the right time to wean is at all. The following guide provides important tips on weaning.

WHO recommends breast milk in the first six months of life

According to an official recommendation by the WHO, babies should only receive breast milk for the first six months of life. But mothers do not have to stop breastfeeding immediately afterwards. In addition to other foods, it is quite possible to offer breast milk up to the age of two. Often, breast milk is viewed simply as a food. But for the children it is much more and is also considered a consolation donor. The majority of mothers in industrialized countries are turning to commercial infant formula sooner than is recommended by the WHO.

By the way:
Researchers have found that babies were originally breastfed for much longer. Accordingly, comparisons with other primates have shown that our ancestors probably fed the babies exclusively with breast milk for the first four years.

Options to wean a baby off breastfeeding

how to wean a baby off breastfeeding (2)

❍ Option 1 – weaning in the first six months:

Although the WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding until the age of six months, more than every second mother decides against it. Women who want to stop breastfeeding before the age of six months should initially replace a breastfeeding meal with the infant formula that is available in stores. Lunchtime is ideal for this. The first bottles should then best be given by the father or another family member. The reason is simple: Babies are able to smell breast milk.

You will already feel this clearly when a breastfeeding meal is replaced by a bottle. Because your breasts will feel fuller overall and react more sensitively. In this case, expressing a little milk can help. You should only pump so little that the feeling of fullness has really subsided. If you are expressing too much milk, you are signaling to your body that there is a high demand and milk production will be stimulated again.

It usually only takes a few days for your body to get used to the new amount of milk and for it to be changed. As soon as the body itself produces significantly less milk, you can skip a second breastfeeding meal. The procedure is the same here again.

In principle, a baby does not have to be completely weaned straight away. If mothers want to enjoy the intimacy a little more, you can also replace individual meals with the bottle.

❍ Option 2 – weaning after the sixth month:

From around the age of six months, babies are dependent on larger amounts of nutrients. In addition to iron and zinc, more vitamins D and B are needed here. The baby can no longer obtain all of these nutrients in sufficient form through breast milk, so the addition of complementary foods is recommended. Even with the introduction of complementary foods, breast milk initially remains the main source of nutrition and provides a large proportion of the calories.

Even after the sixth month, one thing is particularly important when weaning: calm and serenity. You should take your time and slowly replace breastfeeding meals with complementary foods. In many families, this step of weaning usually happens “incidentally” and unconsciously. If the complementary food is introduced slowly and gently, weaning takes place on the side. The weaning process lasts for several months, namely until you do without breast milk at all meals. In most cases, however, it does not cause any problems.

➔ The following tips help with weaning by introducing complementary foods:

❶ At the beginning many children especially miss the closeness that a breastfeeding meal is associated with. Therefore, you should continue to incorporate enough cuddles into the day.

❷ The last breastfeeding meal that remains until the end is the meal in the evening. Here children can recharge their batteries with love and security before going to sleep. Many children then fall asleep faster.

❸ The time together can be maintained even after breastfeeding through snacks or a drink that is consciously consumed together.

❍ Option 3 – baby-controlled weaning:

If you do not want to consciously wean, but instead opt for the baby-controlled weaning, that is, naturally ending breastfeeding, you need time and patience. In many cases, weaning extends over several months. First of all, the breastfeeding times themselves become shorter because your child is more likely to eat solid foods. But there are also children who then consciously decide against breastfeeding at some point and reject it. In this case, complications can of course arise for you, as milk production is likely to be high at this time. You should therefore always ask a doctor for help with this type of weaning.

Caution: Sudden weaning involves enormous risks

You should definitely avoid abrupt weaning, as this can cause unpleasant complications for both you as a mother and your baby. Of course, there are always situations in which a mother suddenly and very quickly has to wean. This is mostly the case with diseases. In this case, the risk of an uncomfortable swelling of the breast is always highest. To avoid exactly that, you should always express part of the milk. You can either use the breast pump or squeeze out small amounts of milk by hand. Here, feeling is required, because only so much milk can be removed that the symptoms subside. The feeling that the breasts are fuller will certainly remain for a few days.

Incidentally, tea can help reduce milk production. Doctors and midwives particularly recommend sage and mint tea. It can therefore be worthwhile to dry these herbs so that you always have something ready to make a fresh tea. You can of course also drink tea from the trade. 

Give and your child enough time to wean. This has the advantage that the risk of breast swelling is significantly lower. You should also incorporate several phases into your day in which you cuddle with your child, even without breastfeeding. This makes weaning easier for both your offspring and yourself.

Author: Genevieve Dumas is a food, fashion, health and beauty writer from New York, who has worked for a range of major magazines.