Some babies are easy to wean. Some are not. The process can be fast or slow, but fear not. Somewhere between the cradle and college every baby, every single one, stops breastfeeding for good. To get you started, we've put together our best weaning tips for making a smooth transition no matter what.
1. Timing is Everything
When's the right time to wean? Only you know for sure. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises a diet of breast milk alone for the baby's first 6 months, followed by a combination of breast milk and solid food until it's time to celebrate his first birthday. But these are only guidelines. In real families, it varies widely. Some continue breastfeeding through toddlerhood, however surveys show that most moms start weaning between 4 and 7 months. Like we said, you'll know.
2. Start Slowly
The number one rule of weaning is simple: take your time. It usually takes weeks to complete the weaning process. You're dealing with tender breasts plus tender feelings—the second one goes for both of you. Start by dropping one feeding at a time. For babies under 1 year, substitute one bottle of formula a day and pick the feeding that's been least convenient for you. (Why not make things easier?) For toddlers, start with a snack and sippy cup at this time (more on this later because you guessed it … weaning a toddler can be harder).
3. Natural Nipples
If you're weaning to a bottle, try a nipple that's as close to the real thing as possible. Most beloved among the post-breastfeeding set are Dr. Brown's BPA Free Polypropylene Natural Flow Bottles. But don't forget, all babies are different. Some take to new bottle immediately while others resist. If your first bottles don't work out, and they might not, try another brand.
4. Revamp Your Routine
Start by letting Dad help with feedings. Your baby won't associate him with breastfeeding, which simplifies things a bit. And try to avoid your familiar nursing positions when you're snuggling together. In fact, steer clear of your regular nursing chair for now. Once your child gets more clarity on her new feeding style you can sit anywhere you like.
5. Creating Comfort
Nursing isn't only about nutrition. It's also a bonding experience designed by Mother Nature to make sure you're in this for the long haul. That's why your baby will need extra snuggles as he gives up the breast. Hold him more often, give him hugs, kisses, and tickles. Try a pacifier. Introduce a stuffed animal or a lovey. Angel Dear Blankies are a hit at our house. Get it embroidered with your child's name to make the transition even more special for a toddler.
6. One Cool Cup
If you're weaning around the 9-month mark, introduce a sippy cup instead of a bottle. That way you won't be re-weaning again in a few month's time. For toddlers, try a special new cup. Pick one with an interesting feature—a straw, a clip, a beloved character jumping across the side—and definitely get it in a favorite color. Some parents swear by Nuk Active Cups which come in girl's and boy's designs, but whatever model makes it into your home, let your child pick which feeding to substitute with a glass of milk or warm water each day until you've dropped at least one of your regular feeds.
7. In the Mood for Food
While you're gradually reducing the amount of breast milk in your child's diet, keep introducing new solid foods. Offer new fruit, vegetables, meat, and grains, one at a time. This is the time to get your child excited about food, not to mention the pleasure of sharing a meal together. On that note, try to feed your baby the same foods you're eating. (Just reserve a bit of tonight's veggies before adding any seasonings, grind up, and serve.)
8. Too Much Milk?
If you're suffering from engorged breasts, help is on the way. Try ice packs, Ibuprofen or a combination of the two. As a last ditch effort, break out your breast pump and use the expressed milk in your baby's next bowl of cereal.
9. Talking Turkey
Going cold turkey? It's definitely straightforward but there can be drawbacks to this method. Your baby may not be ready to switch to a bottle (or stop drinking milk all together) and your breasts will almost certainly suffer from engorgement if you go from heavy nursing to nothing all at once. It's more common for mothers of children well past the one-year (or two-year) mark to resort to this method. If this sounds familiar, try Nuk Warm or Cool Relief Packs to soothe tenderness.
10. Tender Is the Night
The last thing you want is to replace snuggles with screaming. If your toddler's habit is feeding before bed, try introducing a new stuffed animal, night light, or a special bedtime book. Even new sheets or a comforting new pillow could shake up your evening routine enough to drop a feed at that time.
11. Toddler Trouble
For this age group, weaning is basically a matter of habit rather than one of nutrition. If your child is over 1 year old, eating and drinking a variety of foods but reluctant to give up the breast, try switching your habits one at a time but do it slowly. And don't expect it to be effortless. The only thing toddlers like less than being told what to do is being told no. Don't feel guilty. Hold your ground. And think of it this way: you'll enjoy nice lingerie again. Soon.