For some new moms, this can be a challenging time, because they’re unsure of whether their baby is ready to stop breastfeeding or how to actually wean their baby.
Every mother and baby are different — there is no specific age when the weaning process should begin. Your baby’s temperament and needs, along with your life circumstances, are all factors that can affect when you stop breastfeeding. For example, you might be going back to work soon. This can make it challenging for some babies to get all their nourishment from breast milk.
Average age to stop breastfeeding
There is no average age when people stop breastfeeding, but pediatric nutritionists think that at around six months babies begin needing more nutrients, such as iron and zinc, than breast milk can provide. This is a good age to begin introducing other foods into your baby’s diet to ensure the proper development of your baby, which can make it easier to wean your baby.
Although it is generally recommended that a baby is exclusively fed breast milk or formula for their first six months, when to stop breastfeeding is a choice you can make based on whether you feel ready to or not. Some people continue breastfeeding into their child’s second year or even longer.
Mothers generally start to wean their babies from breast milk at some point during their first year. These are some common reasons for stopping breastfeeding:
- Wanting to get to back to work or school.
- The baby doesn’t seem satisfied by breast milk alone.
- Beginning a round of medication that can pass through the milk affect the baby.
- For some, breastfeeding can be very uncomfortable, or it irritates their bodies.
- The amount of milk being produced might not be enough for the baby. Supplementing with other foods can solve this problem.
- Difficulty latching onto the nipple can make it hard for a baby to get enough food from nursing alone.
- Sometimes a baby can lose interest in breastfeeding, leading the mother to stop and introduce other foods to the diet.
- Some mothers follow cultural norms and practices of society that dictate what age to stop breastfeeding.
- You might be trying to get pregnant again. Breastfeeding can be a natural contraceptive method.
Weaning a baby off breast milk goes much more smoothly when it’s done gradually. Sometimes, though, circumstances arise that make it necessary to stop giving your baby breast milk immediately. Doing this is sometimes referred to as stopping breastfeeding cold turkey.
Even though it might be necessary, stopping cold turkey can carry some risks. What happens when you stop breastfeeding abruptly varies from person to person, but it is possible that the mother can get engorged breasts or breast infections such as mastitis. In addition, the baby can become malnourished. It’s best to avoid stopping cold turkey if at all possible.
If you need to stop breastfeeding cold turkey, there are some things you can do to stop breastfeeding comfortably and with minimal risk:
- Try to only pump a little milk from the breasts. Pumping more can stimulate milk production, causing more discomfort from engorgement.
- Gently massage your breasts to reduce the likelihood of clogged ducts and infection.
- Keep in mind too that breastfeeding is about more than just food for baby.
- Take doctor-approved birth control to manage the lactation.
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Ideally, weaning your baby can be a gradual process. Doing it gradually can help prevent stress and other complications that can arise from stopping cold turkey.
If you’re wondering how to switch your baby from breastfeeding to solid foods, here are some handy tips to stop breastfeeding more effectively:
- Substituting a bottle of formula for breast milk if your baby is less than a year old can help your body begin to reduce its milk production.
- As your baby continues to develop and learn new skills, you can replace the bottle with a sippy cup so that the baby can learn to feed independently.
- Pureeing food in a blender or food processor makes it easier to incorporate it into your baby’s diet.
- Mixing the pureed food with breast milk can make it tasteless foreign to your baby.
- As the months go on, introduce more solid foods into the diet and reduce the quantity of breast milk.
- Providing nutritious foods like meat, fish, eggs, and fruits can help your baby stay healthy and continue to develop. Cooking or blending these foods to a soft consistency can make it easier to eat.
- Gradually change your feeding routine to include more foods and less breast milk so that your baby doesn't expect to breastfeed every time they eat.
Sometimes a mother is ready to start weaning their baby off breast milk, but the baby doesn’t want to stop nursing yet. There are a lot of ways you can encourage your baby to move from breastfeeding to solid foods.
If you have an older baby, you can try engaging them in an activity like playing games, reading to them, or playing with another adult when they want to breastfeed. This might take their mind off of feeding.
Sometimes, however, your baby might not stop breastfeeding because of an underlying issue such as a recent illness. They may be feeling vulnerable, and breastfeeding can help a baby feel safe and close to their mother. If this is the case, you might consider postponing weaning for a little while until your baby is fully recovered. And if the weaning process is not going smoothly, it’s okay to try again later. The important thing is to find a balance that meets the needs of you and your baby.