Illness & Conditions - Special Health Issues
What is weaning?
Weaning is the term used to describe the process of switching a baby from:
Your baby will go through one or more of these weaning processes. All types of weaning usually work best when they are done gradually—over several weeks, months, or even longer.
Weaning a baby from the breast is a big change for moms as well as for babies. Besides affecting you physically, it may also affect you emotionally.
Some moms feel a little sad to lose some of the closeness that breast-feeding provides. But you will also have more freedom, because others can feed your baby. Don't be surprised if you feel both happy and sad that your child is becoming more independent.
How do you know if your baby is ready to wean?
Signs that a baby is ready to wean often appear after the baby has learned to crawl or learned to walk. Your breast-feeding baby may suck a few times and then stop nursing. He or she may just start to lose interest in your breast.
Bottle-fed babies who are ready to wean may start spitting out the nipple or throwing or hiding the bottle before it is empty. Your baby may show more interest in drinking from a cup.
When is the best time to wean?
When to start weaning mostly depends on how ready you and your child are to start weaning.
Some breast-feeding moms aren't ready to give up the closeness that breast-feeding brings. So they may delay weaning, even though their child is ready. Other moms are ready to wean sooner or have responsibilities or life changes that make it necessary.
There is no right or wrong time to start, and there's not a certain amount of time to take, except that it's best to wean your baby from a bottle by 18 months of age. Also, try not to start weaning when your child or your family is under stress. Stress can range from cutting a new tooth to moving to a new house or starting a new day care program.
What is the best way to wean a baby?
Gradual weaning is best for both babies and moms. Look for signs that your baby is ready. When you are both ready, try dropping one feeding every 5 to 7 days. This will help give you and your baby time to adjust to new ways of feeding. If you are breast-feeding, gradual weaning helps keep your breasts from becoming too full, a problem called breast engorgement .
How do you meet your baby's nutrition needs while weaning?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following: 1
You can also give your baby breast milk from a cup or a bottle.
What if your baby does not want to be weaned?
Sometimes a mother wants to stop breast-feeding but her baby seems to want to keep it up. If you can, keep breast-feeding a while longer. Try offering your milk or formula in a cup or bottle before you breast-feed or between breast-feedings. There are also different bottle nipples you can try.
Some babies grow attached to the bottle and do not want to give it up. Don't let your baby crawl, walk around, or go to bed with a bottle. Nighttime feedings are often the hardest to give up. Try replacing that feeding with new habits, such as reading a book or looking at the stars together.
Frequently Asked Questions
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
What Is Expected
Weaning is usually a gradual process. It starts when you begin feeding your baby in other ways than breast- or bottle-feeding. And it ends when the child no longer breast-feeds or takes a bottle. This process may last several weeks, a few months, or more than a year.
Your baby may begin eating solid foods at 4 to 6 months of age. At this point, you may want to offer cup-feeding to supplement breast- or bottle-feedings. Over the next 6 months, your baby may show signs that he or she is ready to wean.
It is important to switch gradually to the cup. Although some mothers stop breast- or bottle-feedings abruptly, the baby may not be ready. Babies find comfort from sucking and also may need the closeness and comfort breast- or bottle-feeding provides. Always think about your baby's emotional needs, age, and readiness as well as about your own needs, when switching from breast- or bottle-feeding to a cup. Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) may tolerate abrupt weaning better than babies.
Weaning from breast-feeding
Start by replacing one daily breast milk feeding with a bottle or cup of formula. Pick your least favorite feeding. Every few days, replace an additional breast milk feeding until your baby is fed only with formula. (Use milk instead of formula if your baby is age 1 year or older.)
When you start to wean your young baby from the breast, replace your breast milk with enough iron-fortified infant formula to make up for fewer nursing sessions. After your baby stops breast-feeding, give him or her at least 16 fl oz (500 mL) to 24 fl oz (750 mL) of formula each day. When your baby is 4 to 6 months of age and older, give solid foods high in iron and vitamin C. Babies at least 12 months of age can also have cow's milk.
The following tips may help you wean:
Weaning from bottle-feeding
Your bottle-fed baby should continue to get nutrition largely from formula until he or she is 12 months old. After that, allowing your child to continue drinking from a bottle may lead to problems such as baby bottle tooth decay .
These suggestions may be helpful when you are trying to get your baby to stop taking a bottle.
Promoting Healthy Growth and Development
It's important not only for you to give your baby nutritious foods and drinks but also for you and your baby to interact with each other during mealtimes. These things help your baby's mind and body grow. Breast milk (with supplements) and formula give babies all the calories and nutrients they need until they are 6 months old. After that, babies need other nutrients and energy from solid foods. You can wean gradually or abruptly in order to get your baby what he or she needs for growth. When you make choices about weaning, always think of your baby's emotional needs, age, and readiness as well as your own needs.
The weaning process
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breast-fed for at least a year and as long after a year as mother and child desire. 1
When you have decided that you and your child are ready to give up breast- or bottle-feeding, develop a plan for what you will do. Talk with other family members and get their help.
In general, you can start giving your baby solid foods at 4 to 6 months of age. Feed your baby at the table with the rest of the family. Follow your doctor's advice on when and what to feed your baby. 1 Usually, the more solid foods a baby eats, the less breast milk or formula he or she needs, and the easier it is for your baby to switch from the breast or bottle. Be sure your child gets the recommended vitamins and minerals for children.
Weaning from breast- or bottle-feeding can be done gradually or abruptly. Watch for signs that your baby is ready to wean. To gradually stop breast- or bottle-feeding while you offer cup-feeding and/or solid foods, give up the least important feeding first, which is usually the midday one. Then stop the late afternoon and morning feedings. Stop the most important feeding (the one that provides the baby the greatest emotional comfort) last: this is usually the first or last feeding of the day. Whether you are weaning or not, the last feeding should gradually be moved up so that by 4 months it is no longer at bedtime and other soothing rituals can be established. Pay attention to whether your baby is sucking for comfort or hunger.
Tips for using a cup
Strive to have your baby using a cup instead of a bottle around 1 year of age. And help your child to start using a lidless cup by age 2. To help get your baby learn to use a cup, try these tips:
And to help prevent injuries from using bottles and cups during unsteady walking, have your child stay seated while drinking.
A gradual weaning slowly reduces the number of breast- or bottle-feedings. One feeding is eliminated every 5 to 7 days, giving the mother and baby time to adjust. Gradual weaning helps maintain emotional attachment, prevents breast engorgement for mothers who are breast-feeding, and allows the baby to learn other ways of eating. Gradual weaning is generally planned to suit both the mother's and child's needs.
Gradual weaning is best for both you and your baby. It is recommended for babies unless the mother has a medical condition that does not allow it.
Abrupt weaning is a sudden end to breast- or bottle-feeding and can be hard for both the mother and the child. The breast-feeding mother may experience painful breast engorgement and has an increased risk for a breast infection ( mastitis ). Both the mother and the child may miss the emotional attachment and closeness of breast- or bottle-feeding.
Your child may respond to abrupt weaning by:
Times you may not want to wean
You may not want to wean your baby:
Weaning a toddler
Gradual or abrupt weaning may work for 1- to 2-year-olds.
You may find the following suggestions helpful as you switch to other types of feeding:
As your baby learns to feed himself or herself, keep in mind that your job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods but your baby will decide how much to eat. This is sometimes called the division of responsibility.
When to Call a Doctor
Talk to your child's doctor about weaning if:
Who to see
Health professionals who can deal with your concerns about weaning include:
A well-baby checkup is a good time to ask questions about weaning. During this checkup, your baby's doctor will:
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: November 4, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding (2005). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 115(2): 496–506.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.