How to wean your baby from breastfeeding?

Returning to work after breastfeeding is an emotional time for most mothers. You've given breastfeeding your best shot and just when you were getting to enjoy your “baby time” you have to make another disruptive change in her life.

But, it has to be done if it has to be done, right? 

Read on to know more about how should you wean and when. 

When to wean your baby off breast milk?

Weaning your baby means stopping breastfeeding completely. Instead of breast milk, you introduce her to a diet of solid foods or formula according to her age or even feed her expressed milk using a pump.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP, you should breastfeed your baby exclusively for six months, after which you can start her on a combination of solids and breast milk until she is one year old. 

The longer you feed your baby breast milk, the better it is for her immunity and overall growth. 

Weaning is less of an emotional drain if your baby herself leads the way. Called baby-led weaning, this can happen any time after she starts eating solids, between 6- 12 months. 

Mother-led weaning is when you decide to start weaning because you're going back to work or want your life back. When it's your idea, weaning can take a lot of time and patience. Expect a bumpy ride ahead.

Tips to wean your baby

Don’t bang your head over this one- just follow this plan:

1.    Start by replacing one breastfeeding session a day with a bottle-feeding one.  Your baby may not cooperate, but persist- if she refuses the bottle, try again at another feeding time, or have someone else in the family offer her the bottle. Try to be out of the house when she bottle feeds as she can smell you even when you are in the next room and she may refuse the bottle. 

Try to give her some TLC while she bottle-feeds as she may be missing skin-to-skin contact the most. This will reassure her.

2.    Don’t rush your baby- Give her enough time to get used to the bottle. Don’t rush yourself either. Reducing feedings one at a time over a period of weeks makes your milk supply diminish gradually. This reduces breast engorgement and mastitis. 

The minimum age for weaning is three weeks. Don’t even try to wean your baby before this as she can fall sick.

3.    Shorten nursing time- You can cut down the time your baby is on the breast. If she usually nurses for ten minutes at a time, try five.

Bedtime feedings, however, may be harder to shorten because they're usually the last to go.

4.    Postpone and distract- Try postponing feedings and offer a bottle instead. Also, distract your baby with a different activity. 

5.    Rely on the tried-and-true "don't offer, don't refuse" method- In this, you nurse when your child expresses interest and you don't initiate a feed. You just let your baby take the lead here. Though not a quick weaning strategy, this one ensures that your baby's nutrition needs are met.

Whatever you do, don’t ever try the 'cold turkey' approach to weaning. This can mean spending a weekend away from your baby to end the breastfeeding relationship as this can be traumatic for your baby.

Introducing the bottle

Your baby uses different mouth and tongue movements while sucking milk from a bottle than breastfeeding, so it will take her some time to get used to the change. Try these tips for a smooth transition:

•    Give her a bottle in the evening after her regular feeding with a small amount of breast milk to get her used to the new nipple. 

•    Try a slow-flow nipple- The regular nipples on feeding bottles can flood infants with milk. Replace the nipple especially if your baby gags while using a bottle.

•   Try putting a few drops of breast milk on your baby’s lips or tongue before slipping the bottle's nipple into her mouth. 

If you're returning to work, start bottle-feeding at least two weeks before your return date so you both have time to adjust to the new schedule. 

Going back to work after giving birth can feel overwhelming as you are still adjusting to a new normal. If and when you feel guilty, remember: Your baby will be proud of you someday.

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi