Gentle Tips to Wean a Baby From Nursing

By Kara Reynolds | Nov 19, 2019

You love the closeness that comes with breastfeeding your baby. Yet you can’t nurse forever, as much as you both enjoy it. How do you know when it’s time to wean your baby? Plus, how can you introduce a new routine without setting off drama and tears? Exercise patience, take cues from your child and read the guide below to make the process as painless as possible.

Ask Whether You’re Ready

How do you know whether your baby is ready for weaning? Maybe you want to return to work, but you’re tired of using a breast pump. Perhaps you need more time for yourself and want to sleep through the night. What about your child? If they’ve shown interest in solid food when you eat and put objects in their mouth, they could be getting ready. Kids should be able to sit up without support and hold their heads steady. Otherwise, they could choke on or aspirate solid food. Ensure your child has doubled their birth weight before you introduce new foods. If you’ve decided to practice extended breastfeeding and you’re feeling like your journey is coming to an end, gently talking about it with your toddler may be an excellent starting point as well.

Slow Your Time Frame

Do you want to figure out how to wean your baby from nursing? If so, keep in mind it’s a process — it doesn’t happen overnight. It can take weeks or months – and it probably will. That’s totally okay. Starting too soon or forcing the process can adversely impact the health of your child. Unfortunately, inadequate maternity leave in the U.S. means many mothers rush to return to work. While experts recommend breastfeeding for at least six months, only 25.5% of mothers are able to do so. In fact, researchers believe children can benefit from breastfeeding for longer than six months. Unless economic factors force you to wean quickly, take a gradual approach.

Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse – Make Your Baby Ask

The easiest way to make weaning stress-free is to let your baby ask for nourishment. Often referred to as the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach to weaning, this process helps break your child’s association with sensory cues, such as the sound of your bra unsnapping. If you’re accustomed to feeding at regular intervals, wait five or 10 minutes longer than the regular time. Pay attention to how your baby acts. Do they grow fussy? Do they continue with other activities? If your child shows no interest in eating, don’t offer, no matter how tempted you may be.

Don’t Make Them Go Hungry

When you deny someone something they want, they’ll begin to think about it more. The same rule applies to your little one, though they may not be able to express as much in words. If you don’t feed your child when they’re hungry, they’ll obsess and fuss until they feel satisfied. If your baby wants to nurse, let them do so. You can try shortening the feeding time by distracting them with a game or a song. Yet don’t deprive them altogether.

Start With One Feeding at a Time

Weaning isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Begin by eliminating one feeding — preferably one of your nighttime ones if you can so you can get some well-deserved shuteye. If your child is easily distracted from hunger during the day, eliminate a morning or afternoon feeding. Give it at least two weeks before you consider dropping another feeding. Your child shouldn’t grow fussy about missing a meal before you eliminate another.

Change Up Your Routine

Think about how you tackle an unpleasant chore, such as cleaning the bathroom. Do you put on music and dance? Listen to a podcast? Distractions make everything easier. Distractions do the same for your baby, too. Be sure to change your routine while they wean. Take them to the playground during regular feeding time, or sing and dance to their favorite music song.

Cover Yourself Up

What happens when you see a hot plate of delicious french fries or nachos? Chances are, you want to dig in. The sight of your bare breast creates the same type of sensory trigger for your baby. For the time being, opt for high-collared shirts. You don’t have to rock a turtleneck if it’s unseasonably warm, but removing shirts with easy breast access from your rotation while you wean may help keep your child from trying to access your breasts on their own. You can return to your regular wardrobe soon.

Keep Up the Cuddles

Your baby derives significant comfort from breastfeeding. The process provides both emotional and psychological benefits. As solid food becomes a prominent part of your child’s diet and they don’t need the breast as often — they’ll still crave your closeness. Give them your presence and cuddles often. Let your child feel loved, even as they move to new foods. Consider cuddling in a new space that they won’t associate with nursing.

Set Boundaries and Ask for Help

If you have a partner to help, don’t tackle weaning on your own. Have them take your child to the park or distract them. Ask for help if you need it. As a mom, you endure physiological side effects from weaning. It’s not uncommon for weaning to trigger feelings of depression and sadness. Mothers realize their babies are growing up. If you need a day off, don’t be afraid to ask.

How to Wean a Baby From Nursing

Weaning shouldn’t be traumatic — for you or your child. With these tips, we hope you can make the process as gentle and painless as possible for you and your little one.

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