Expert Tips to Make Weaning a Smooth Transition

I distinctly remember sitting in my daughter’s nursery late at night (or very early in the morning, who can even remember?) when she was about 7 months old. I was nursing her and in an exhausted haze thought, “How much longer are we really going to do this?”

Then when my daughter turned 1, I started the weaning process and even got a little teary-eyed about it. How was our breastfeeding experience already coming to a close? What felt never-ending around seven months, now seemed to have gone by in the blink of an eye. How is my baby suddenly a 1-year-old?

Everyone’s breastfeeding experience is unique, and I was very lucky to have a smooth and happy experience. I had been warned of the many challenges women can face with breastfeeding, and even though my journey was mostly painless, it still had its rough moments.

 

Everyone’s breastfeeding experience is unique, and I was very lucky to have a smooth and happy experience. I had been warned of the many challenges women can face with breastfeeding, and even though my journey was mostly painless, it still had its rough moments.

 

My initial goal was to breastfeed for six months, but since everything was going smoothly (and due to the pandemic, my daughter and I were never apart), I moved the goal up to one year. At the one-year mark, I began the weaning process, but I had a lot of questions. In the early days of breastfeeding, I had a lot of support available from lactation consultants, and from the mom groups I attended. When it comes to weaning, though, there seems to be less support.

In speaking with a handful of moms, I quickly realized I wasn’t alone in my weaning confusion. We all questioned when to do it and how to get our children to like cow’s milk. And we all wondered whether we were providing sufficient nutrition in place of breast milk.

I spoke with two pediatricians, Dr. Nadia Sabri, MD FAAP, a board-certified Pediatrician and founder of Mindful MD Mom, a platform that empowers parents with mindful, intentional living skills and wellness strategies and Dr. Christina Valentine, MD, MS, RD, Neonatalogist, and Medical Director of Reckitt Benckiser/Mead Johnson Nutrition, North America. I also spoke with Bonnie Hutchens, a Portland-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who runs Family Breastfeeding Support, a private practice offering assistance and support to pregnant and parenting families, to help answer common weaning questions.

If you’re thinking about weaning and aren’t sure where to start, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about weaning.

 

When should you begin weaning?

This is a personal decision and will be different for every mother and baby. “Weaning is a gradual process and usually starts after a year of age as table foods increase,” said Dr. Sabri. “The baby will start nursing for shorter periods of time and/or less frequently.” As babies become more independent (and more distracted!) they may be less likely to sit still for a nursing session, with so many things to explore.

There are a range of opinions on when to stop breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding until around six months and then until 12 months (or older) while introducing solids, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends it up to 2 years of age. There is no exact time to stop breastfeeding. Weaning should be a decision based on a number of factors, doing it when it feels right for you and your baby. It can be a very personal decision and as long as your baby is getting proper nutrition, from either the breast, a bottle, or table food, you should make the decision that is best for your family.

And as a reminder, we believe fed is best, so if breastfeeding has not been the right choice for your family, that is OK as well. There are a number of reasons you may have used formula over breastfeeding or chose to stop before a year, including but not limited to, parental preference, going back to work, or low milk supply.

 

 

I’m worried about mastitis and clogged ducts during weaning, how can I avoid this?

If you’re eager to stop breastfeeding, you should still aim to make it a gradual process. When done gradually, mastitis and clogged ducts aren’t typically an issue. According to La Leche League, “If you wean cold turkey, your breasts will likely become painfully engorged, and you might develop a breast infection. Your baby will probably fight the switch from your warm, soft breast to a plastic substitute.” So for the health of yourself and the happiness of your child, a gradual wean is the way to go.

 

How do I ensure my baby is getting proper nutrition as I wean and after we’re done breastfeeding?

This will depend on when you decide to wean your baby. “If your infant is weaning between 6 months-1 year, they need an infant formula containing iron, which supports development,” said Dr. Valentine. “And you will also need to begin introducing baby foods rich in iron, vitamins, and minerals.” However, if your baby is 12 months or older, they can move right onto cow’s milk. This offers calcium and vitamin D, which both contribute to growing bones.

If you are concerned about proper nutrition, you should speak with your pediatrician and do weigh-ins, or even make an appointment with a registered dietitian to navigate specific dietary needs.

 

I’ve heard about post-weaning depression, is this common? What are the signs?

Women are becoming more well-versed in recognizing the signs of postpartum depression, but post-weaning depression is also something to be aware of. “Some women are relieved to have their bodies back and some women feel a real loss when they wean their babies,” said Bonnie. “Both are very normal.”

She also explained that some of these feelings can be related to your hormones adjusting, as well as feeling as if you’re losing a relationship you’ve worked so hard to develop. It’s good to take some time for self-care and also to speak with someone you trust and who will listen. If you ever have feelings that seem to linger, speak with a trained mental health professional.

 

 

What should I do if my child is refusing cow’s milk?

If your baby is used to breast milk, don’t be alarmed if they at first refuse cow’s milk. This is fairly common and there are ways to combat this.

In my own experience, I used pumped breast milk mixed with whole milk, starting with a large proportion of the mixture being breast milk. I gradually increased the amount of whole milk and decreased breast milk until she was drinking pure cow’s milk. It took about a week and this worked for us. Also, different brands of milk might have different flavors, so it’s worth trying a few brands before jumping to the conclusion that your child dislikes cow’s milk.

Dr. Valentine shared that there can be a number of reasons why a baby might refuse cow’s milk. Some possibilities she says to question include, “Was it in a cup or bottle? (fun cups can help!), and what was the temperature of the milk? Some like it warmed (but not hot).”

And both Dr. Valentine and Dr. Sabri shared cow’s milk isn’t the only way your child can get calcium. Try incorporating other forms of dairy into their diet, from things like cheese, cottage cheese, or using yogurt in a smoothie (and if your child has a dairy sensitivity, your pediatrician can provide other suggestions). Dr. Nadia shared that yogurt smoothies are a great way to incorporate fruits and veggies into a child’s diet. Take any leftovers and freeze them into a popsicle mold for a refreshing and nutritious snack.

 

Breastfeeding has also meant bonding with my child. How can I ensure we still have calm moments together even after breastfeeding is done?

Now that my daughter is a busy 1-year-old who doesn’t sit still for more than 60 seconds at a time, I think back to how calm she was when breastfeeding. A part of me misses holding her and being still for a few precious minutes each day. I definitely don’t miss when the breastfeeding process was happening every 90 minutes for 40 minutes at a time (those first few weeks are brutal!), but the quiet moments in the last few months were quite blissful.

If you’re also missing these moments, Bonnie recommended having a time where you are focused on being with your child without distraction. Consider sitting together and reading a book or going on a leisurely walk together. Make a special time to be fully present. Look for ways to slow down and really connect to maintain that special bond.

 

Read More: 4 Ways Breastfeeding Has Improved Since My Mom Had Me—And One Thing They Had Right

 

Show Comments +