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You’ve spent many months dedicated to breastfeeding your baby when you stumble on this bittersweet moment. The moment your baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding. If you’re wondering what the signs are, you’re in the right place.
I’ll never forget as a first-time mom with an incredibly tough breastfeeding journey just how emotional it felt to realize my baby was ready to wean. We made it to 15 months after a rocky journey and lots of hard work.
So much of my life at that time was consumed around pumping breast milk or stopping what I was doing to nurse him that it felt freeing to know those days would soon be over. Along with the feelings of sadness that he wouldn’t need me so much anymore.
Just remember it’s normal for your baby to reach a point, especially if they’re eating solids, where they won’t rely on breast milk (or infant formula for bottle-feeding moms) any longer. To help you better understand the signs your baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding, let’s take a look at the entire process of weaning.
What is weaning?
So, what exactly is weaning? Weaning is when you begin replacing your baby’s (or older baby) current food source (breast milk or infant formula) with solids. The two main weaning processes are by “cold turkey” or by gradual weaning.
Weaning can be an emotional time for both mother and child. It requires a lot of patience, understanding, and love. After all, you’ve both likely developed a strong emotional attachment to one another.
Sometimes, weaning a baby from breastfeeding can feel incredibly forced if you have family members that simply don’t approve of how long you decide to breastfeed or if you’ve had to return to work and cannot maintain your pumping schedule.
What is gradual weaning (also termed “self-weaning”)?
Gradual weaning is when your baby begins to wean themself from breastfeeding. For nursing moms, this could be due to a lower milk supply or simply because the baby is getting more than enough solids they realize they no longer need to nurse to eat.
For bottle-feeding mothers, your baby likely realizes they don’t need milk anymore and you may find they begin to reject their bottle.
Gradual weaning (self-weaning) typically looks like dropped nursing or bottle-feeding sessions until they are a thing of the past. It’s a gradual process that takes time but is so much better for a breastfeeding mother and her baby.
How do you know when your baby is ready for weaning?
Fortunately, most babies make it pretty simple to identify when THEY are ready to be weaned from breast. However, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding until a baby is 6 months of age. They also recommend continued breastfeeding along with solid introduction through baby’s first birthday (if not longer).
For moms who choose to wean their baby from breastfeeding before one year of age can reference this article all about choosing the best infant formula until baby is ready for 100% solids.
There will also be times when sudden weaning is necessary due to unforeseen reasons. Please be patient and kind to yourself as it may not have been on your own terms or your own time. However, you should still feel so proud of the time you were able to breastfeed whether it was minutes or years.
The most important thing to remember is that choosing to wean your baby after one year or before one year is a personal decision. Whatever you choose, it will be the right time for you.
What is The Best Way to Wean My Baby?
If the option presents, gradual weaning is always the best way to go. Gradual self-weaning allows you to slowly offer a nutritional substitute (such as solids) without it being forced.
A few other benefits of self-weaning include:
- Increased immunity levels in breast milk for baby as your milk supply decreases gradually.
- Provides more time to comfort and soothe baby as they wean and get use to a different nutritional supply.
- Allows you to process your emotions about weaning (which can be pretty emotional and difficult for some moms, this is normal).
Will my milk supply disappear once I begin weaning?
Sometimes, a women’s breast milk supply will remain the same or slowly decrease as she begins weaning her baby from breastfeeding.
If you’re an overproducer, you might find you’re more prone to developing a clogged milk duct, breast engorgement, and sometimes a breast infection known as mastitis if you aren’t emptying yourself enough during this time.
Once you’re 100% sure you are ready to wean your baby from breastfeeding, it’s a great idea to touch base with a lactation consultant for a step-by-step plan. Typically, this plan will also include ways to help you decrease your breast milk if it isn’t decreasing on its own. You can also try the following suggestions:
- Apply cabbage leaves directly to breasts until the leaves begin to wilt to help decrease milk production. Repeat multiple times as needed.
- Consume a milk reducing tea or supplment (these ones are highly rated on Amazon).
- Hand express milk to relieve engorgement without actually fully emptying them.
- Sudafed is sometimes used off-label to decrease milk supply. Be sure to talk with your medical provider first before taking this medication.
Signs Your Baby is Ready to Wean From Breastfeeding
Now that you understand what weaning your baby is and which type of weaning might work best for you, let’s discuss the signs your baby may begin to show when he or she is ready to wean from breastfeeding.
1. Baby Nurses Less Often
Many babies will self-wean themselves by nursing or bottle-feeding less and less on their own. Typically, this is due to them consuming more solids and feeling content with the food they’ve eaten.
This was the main sign I noticed when my first little one began self-weaning himself too. He slowly stopped showing interest in nursing during our usual scheduled time.
Sometimes, this can be mistaken as a nursing strike. Nursing strikes are temporary and typically resolve within a few days, unlike a baby who is ready to wean.
2. Baby Nurses for a Shorter Duration
Next to a decrease in nursing sessions is simple your baby starting to nurse for a shorter duration of time.
For instance, if you normally nurse your little one to sleep and it takes around 20 minutes, you might find them nursing consistently for only 10 to 15 minutes. The duration will continue to get shorter and shorter until the nursing session is no longer needed.
This same approach applies to moms who exclusively pump breast milk for their babies as well. If you find your supply slowly going down because you’re little one hasn’t been consuming as much milk from their bottle, you will likely taper off your pumping sessions as needed.
3. Your Breast Milk Supply Decreases
A decrease in breast milk could happen for various reasons. More often than not, it’s due to a lack of demand. This means the less your baby nurses or you pump, the less breast milk your body will make.
Don’t base whether or not it’s time to wean solely on your milk supply though. If you’re like me, my menstrual cycle would greatly decrease my milk supply every month. It wasn’t until I began supplementing with a combination calcium-magnesium supplement of 500-1000mg per day throughout the duration of my cycle that I was finally able to bring my supply back up.
As you can tell, a decreased milk supply can be tricky. If your baby isn’t nursing as often for a consistent time span and is consistently eating solids, it might be time to think about weaning.
4. Your Baby Prefers Solid Food
Breastfeeding is a unique journey because you’re not just meeting your baby’s vital nutritional needs, but you’re also providing a feeling of safety and comfort.
Once your baby begins to eat solid foods, if you find they no longer nurse during those prime times (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times), it’s likely they’d much rather be munching away on their favorite new foods.
Not sure what solid foods your baby may enjoy? Check out these first meal ideas for baby here!
5. Your Baby Becomes More Distracted
This was another sign my little guy showed when he was ready to wean from breastfeeding. He was always distracted and had less interest in nursing.
If you find your baby is easily distracted while nursing (looking away and unlatching, needing lots of breaks to run around, etc…) then it could be time for your little one to drop that feeding session.
6. Can Go To Bed and Sleep Through The Night Without Nursing
Typically, nighttime feedings are always the last and hardest ones to drop. This is because they’re needed for both nutritional reasons and for comfort.
However, once your little one is old enough to eat all their meals and snacks in solids, those bedtime feedings are no longer needed for anything outside of comfort.
Once your child is consuming enough solids throughout the day and no longer needing to rely on being nursed to bed and is able to sleep for long periods without needing a breastfeeding session, this is another good sign weaning is on its way.
7. Baby Completely Refuses to Nurse
If your baby gets to a point where he or she completely refuses to nurse or drink pumped milk from a bottle, that’s a solid sign baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding.
You might also find that your baby still asks for milk, but they prefer drinking it from a sippy cup. This is another good sign your baby doesn’t need to nurse for comfort anymore.
Knowing when the right time is to wean your baby after you’ve been exclusive breastfeeding can be challenging. Nursing mothers and pumping mothers may find it emotionally difficult because they spent so much time being their baby’s food source and comfort space during those early months of life.
Hopefully, these clear signs your baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding can give you some assurance to know you’re making the right choice for you and your baby.
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