It’s easy to know when to start breastfeeding, as your new baby will instinctively seek the breast when he is ready and within a few days your milk will come in. Deciding when and how to stop breastfeeding can be a little more complicated.
Because breastfeeding is the most nutritious food for baby, The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for about six months, then introducing other foods slowly until a varied diet is established. Breastfeeding can continue for a year or longer, as long as it suits both mother and baby.
There’s no need to stop breastfeeding until you’re ready, but should it become practical or desirable to stop, there are a few things to consider.
- Gradually is best. Whenever you decide the time is right, it’s important to wean your child gradually. Because children experience breastfeeding as both a source of comfort and nourishment, gradually reducing feedings can make the transition less difficult for them. It’s also more comfortable for a breastfeeding mother to decrease feedings gradually. Breast milk is produced on demand, so stopping suddenly can increase your chances of getting a breast infection known as mastitis.
- Start weaning on a positive note. Don’t start the weaning process if your child is not feeling well or there has been a major change at home. If your child is not feeling well or faced with a new or difficult situation, he may need extra comforting.
- Introduce solid foods first. Wait to start weaning until your child eats a variety of nutritious solid foods. The more solid food a child eats, the less interested he will be in nursing, the easier it will be to wean him, and the more confident you will be that he’s getting the nutrition he needs. Once your child is eating solid food, try waiting longer between breastfeedings. Then continue to extend the time between feedings, offering your child snacks instead.
- Distraction can be useful. Change is not easy, especially for toddlers, and some distraction can help a child skip a breastfeeding. Singing, playing with toys and reading a book are a good way to distract a toddler who wants to be breastfed. If he is not easily distracted and becomes upset, don’t insist on skipping the feeding. Insisting can backfire, making a child anxious and more preoccupied with the idea. Try, but if you don’t succeed, wait until another day, when the results might be more positive.
- Skip the mid-day feeding first. The easiest feeding to stop is the mid-day feeding. Try skipping that one first and see how your toddler reacts. If he doesn’t say anything, don’t bring it up. During the day it is easier to distract a toddler with activities inside and outside the house. Toddlers often find it harder to give up the first or last feeding of the day.
- Make breakfast a treat. To encourage a toddler to skip the morning feeding, prepare a meal of his favorite solid foods before he wakes up.
- Plan for bedtime. For many toddlers the bedtime feeding is the hardest to give up, especially if they are used to falling asleep while nursing. Giving up this feeding can take longer and require some planning on your part. Let your child drink water from a bottle, so he can have water if he says he’s thirsty. Let the child have a bedtime snack before brushing his teeth, so he won’t be hungry. Cuddle with your toddler till he falls asleep. Read to him. Eventually your toddler will fall asleep without nursing.
- Recognize that it may take a while Weaning can take months and sometimes a child who is almost weaned may suddenly want to nurse again because he doesn’t feel well, is upset, or is teething. If you can’t distract a fretful child who wants to nurse, don’t worry. Just resume your plan when your child feels better. It may feel as if you are not making progress with weaning, but eventually you will succeed.
- Be extra patient with your child. Breastfeeding is something he has done all his life and giving up a lifelong habit can be difficult for anyone.
- Talk to your child. If your toddler is already talking when you are ready to wean, you can discuss it with him. Talk about what a big boy he is and praise him for “big boy” behavior. Let him know that he is not a baby any longer and can now eat “big boy” food.
Weaning can happen in a matter of weeks, but don’t be concerned if it takes longer. Every child is different and it’s important to find a way that works for both you and your toddler.