For breastfeeding mothers, weaning can be an emotional time. Breastfeeding is hard work, and many new moms are ready to get back a little freedom and personal space. However, mothers can also experience anxiety about how weaning will affect their child or their special bond. Plus, there are practical concerns like how to reduce milk production gradually and avoid engorgement. Fortunately, with some good advice and a plan in place, weaning can be done in a way that is gentle for both mother and baby.

When to Wean

When to wean is a personal decision for each mother. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. After that, the AAP encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding in combination with solid foods at least until the baby has reached their first birthday. Mother and baby can continue for as long as they like, but many moms who successfully breastfeed until age one choose to wean sometime during the next year.

Mother nursing a new baby. Jenny Elia Pfeiffer / Getty Images


How to Know if Your Child is Ready

Though it's not always possible, the weaning process can be easier for both parties if baby is the one to initiate it. Some mothers may notice that their child begins to show less interest in breastfeeding after they start solids, which usually happens around six months. As they approach their first birthday, babies may shorten the length of feedings or drop feedings on their own. This sometimes happens because they become more efficient when breastfeeding, but it can also signal a readiness to begin weaning.

Experts recommend nursing at least until baby turns 1. Ceneri / Getty Images


Talk to Your Pediatrician

Before you make any major change that could affect your baby's health, it's always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician, especially if you are weaning before your baby turns one. Ask the doctor how to ensure that your child will continue to get appropriate nutrition and about any recommended vitamin supplements like vitamin D drops.

Talk with a pediatrician about your child's nutrition. GeorgeRudy / Getty Images


Dropping a Feeding

One of the easiest ways to start weaning is to drop one feeding at a time, gradually reducing the number of daily feedings. For example, instead of nursing around midday, offer your child some finger foods and a cup of milk if they are over one, or a bottle of formula or expressed milk if they are younger. See how they respond to the skipped feeding — they may be ready to drop it.

Kids who are ready to eat may be ready to start weaning gradually. encrier / Getty Images


Watch for Cues During Feedings

Whether you nurse on demand or keep a schedule, you generally know that your child will want to nurse upon waking, before their nap, or at other typical times. When weaning, pay attention to how your child behaves before and during feedings. One technique many parents use is "don't offer, don't refuse." If your child doesn't really ask for the feed or is content with a very brief one, they may be ready to drop that feeding.

Older kids may become distracted during feedings. Simon Ritzmann / Getty Images


Gradually Shorten Feeding Sessions

If your child isn't ready to completely drop a feeding session, try nursing for a shorter amount of time. Sometimes children are really seeking comfort and closeness instead of nourishment and will accept a short nursing session along with some extra cuddles and attention. This will also help your body gradually decrease production to avoid issues like engorgement, later.

Cuddles are important. VioletaStoimenova / Getty Images


Drop the Nighttime Feed Last

If you are gradually cutting down the number and length of feedings, consider making the nighttime feed the last to go. Most toddlers are very attached to the pre-bedtime feeding, making it the most emotionally difficult to drop. To avoid creating a sleep association, move nursing to the beginning of the bedtime routine instead of ending with it, and gradually shorten the feed until your child is ready to drop it.

Kids are often most attached to the bedtime feeding. fotostorm / Getty Images


Illness and Teething

When trying to pick the right time to start, watch out for weaning pitfalls. For example, it's best to wait a while before trying to wean if your child is ill or teething. Nursing is a major source of comfort, especially when a child isn't feeling well. Plus, antibodies in breastmilk can help protect your child from germs or fight off an infection.

Illness makes trying to wean harder. ArtistGNDphotography / Getty Images


Other Weaning Pitfalls

If your child is hitting another major milestone, it may not be the best time to wean It's common for children to experience small regressions in other areas when they are about to start doing something big like walking or potty-training. Children may have less tolerance for weaning at this time since they are focused on the new milestone. Also, you may want to wait if your family is experiencing a big change like moving or starting daycare. Your child may crave the familiar comfort of nursing until the transition is over.

Children in daycare. FatCamera / Getty Images


Take Care of Yourself

During the weaning process, it's important for mothers not to overlook self-care. Weaning gradually makes it less likely that you will deal with painful engorgement, but cold compresses and anti-inflammatory medications can help if it does happen. Be prepared for significant hormone changes too; some moms experience anxiety or depression after weaning. While this is difficult, it is normal. Having a group of supportive friends can make a big difference during this time, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

Get support from other mom friends. kohei_hara / Getty Images


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