Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice, nor should it be considered as such. If you have any concerns about your or your baby’s health then consult a healthcare professional.
I have just finished weaning off breastfeeding with my 10-month-old. It’s been a bit of a bittersweet process, as he’s my youngest and I know that this is the last time I’ll ever breastfeed. I guess I’ve had mixed feelings about it. Which is funny as J has made weaning off breastfeeding really easy, whereas it was a total struggle with my eldest, L.
Having done it twice, however, with two very different babies, I’ve picked up a few tips for making the process a bit easier, so I thought I’d share some ideas for how to wean from breastfeeding.
When to wean your baby off breastfeeding
There’s really no right or wrong answer with this and it’s important that you make the choice that’s right for you and your family. The World Health Organisation recommends continuing breastfeeding until your child is age 2, or even longer if desired.
You don’t have to wean your baby from breastfeeding, even if you’re returning to work. Some mums choose to express whilst working so that their baby can remain on breast-milk and your employer has a legal obligation to support this choice. You can read more about the UK law around breastfeeding and employment here.
Some babies also choose to increase their night-feeds after mum returns to work and take in more calories overnight to make up for less milk during the day. If this works for you and your baby, then great!
Other mums might decide to wait until their baby self-weans and you can read about this process here.
Once you decide the time is right for you, then go for it. For me this was at 7 months with L, as I didn’t want the bother of expressing when I went back to work and I was desperate to keep her sleeping through the night so I didn’t want to restart night feeds. With J it was ten months, mainly because I went back to work later.
Only you can know when the time is right for you, so if you’re ready for weaning off breastfeeding then read on for some advice to make it easier.
Get your baby used to a bottle or cup as early as you can
Some babies accept a bottle or cup more easily than others. Some mums skip the bottle stage altogether and just go straight to milk from a cup, particularly if the baby is over six months old and is drinking from a cup during weaning. The video above gives the NHS advice on cup feeding babies.
The longer you can give your baby to get used to a bottle or cup before they ‘need to’, the better, as unfortunately some babies take to a bottle or cup more easily than others!
L drank water from a cup independently from when she was seven months old, but absolutely refused to accept formula in it. She would drink cow’s milk in a cup from when she was a year old, but she seemed to consider formula as a ‘bottle only’ drink and eventually we just had to accept that.
Getting L to take a bottle at all was a struggle. She took bottles of expressed milk regularly from early on as I found it difficult to get started with breastfeeding. However we didn’t keep it going after her weight stabilised and it was then really hard to get her to take a bottle again.
We started trying a few months before I was due to go back to work and it was an immensely stressful process. For weeks she just briefly sucked the teat of the bottle and then pushed it away when she realised it wasn’t her dummy (pacifier).
At this point, you can either start buying loads of different bottles and teats to try (all of them seem to claim that your baby will definitely take this one) or do what we did and persevere. We weren’t keen on spending a small fortune on bottles for L to refuse, so reasoned that as she had accepted Philips Avent natural bottles as a baby, she would again.
NUK, Philips Avent natural, Medela calm, Lansinoh mOmma, MAM and Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature bottles are all designed to mimic breastfeeding and thus make weaning off breastfeeding easier. Try as many as you like, but please don’t feel you have to buy a specific brand to get your baby on to bottles, perseverance will usually work in the end!
We continued offering L bottles of expressed milk several times a day despite a few weeks of her drinking nothing or only a few sips and finally, she just started accepting the bottle more and more often!
It’s also worth different people trying to feed the baby – L wouldn’t take a bottle from me, but eventually accepted it from my husband. She seemed to find it frustrating to be offered a bottle of expressed milk by me as she knew breast-milk was available ‘at source’ and so saw no reason to tolerate it in a bottle (she’s a bit stubborn that way)!
J was a lot easier as he had a bottle of expressed milk every night from when he was a few days old, so he was more used to the idea of bottle-feeding!
Weaning the baby who won’t take anything other than breast-milk
We were elated when L started accepting breast-milk, but about six weeks before I planned to return to work we tried to change her on to formula. Not only did she absolutely refuse to drink more than a mouthful of formula, she was annoyed enough by our attempts to refuse even expressed milk for a week!
We got around this by getting her back on bottles of expressed milk first and then very slowly introducing a bit of formula. We spent about ten days very gradually increasing the proportion of formula to expressed milk – initially 140ml of breast-milk with 10ml of formula, then 120ml of breast-milk with 30ml of formula and so on.
I don’t know if this is an ‘official’ method of weaning off breastfeeding, but it worked well for us and got L used to the taste of formula gradually.
J, who is just a bit more laid-back about things, drank a bottle of formula down the first time we offered it to him, which was both a blessing and mildly insulting after all the effort I’d been going to to express and breastfeed! He did go through a spell of formula refusal when he was unwell, but we just kept offering it to him and he accepted it again when he felt a bit better.
Weaning down breastfeeding once your baby is taking some milk
Once both my kids were accepting bottles of formula, we started gradually replacing breastfeeds with bottle feeds. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, we replaced the last evening feed first as our babies tended to be more docile and accepting when half asleep!
If possible, it’s best to gradually reduce breastfeeding to give your body (and your baby) time to adjust and to reduce your milk supply. There may be situations where this isn’t possible or where a woman chooses to stop breastfeeding abruptly. The main risk with this is of blocked ducts and mastitis.
Your body is the best guide to this, stopping breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful or severely uncomfortable. If you notice your breasts becoming hard, shiny, tender or lumpy then either feed or express from that breast until the breast feels comfortable again. This happened to me when weaning L, but resolved quickly after I fed her from that side.
If an area of your breast becomes tender, red and hot or if you develop a fever then you may be developing mastitis. Continue to express or feed from that side and if it doesn’t improve contact a healthcare professional for advice.
You may have a bit of leakage from your breasts whilst weaning off breastfeeding, so it’s worth wearing some decent breast pads for the first few days.
It will happen when you’re both ready
If you have a deadline that you’ve set yourself for getting your baby on to milk from a cup or bottle, it can be really stressful if it feels as though you aren’t making any progress and your little one just wants breast-fed. However, healthy babies won’t let themselves starve!
Your baby will eventually start accepting a cup or bottle (some only do this when they realise that mum isn’t around and there’s nothing else on offer) and it can be a case of just waiting them out.
I really hope that you’ve found this guide to how to wean from breastfeeding helpful. Please leave me a comment below if you have any questions or any other tips to help mums in the same situation!
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