About weaning off breastfeeding
Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding your child.
Some children are more attached to breastfeeding than other children are. They’ll all wean in their own time. But if you don’t want to wait for your child to wean on their own, weaning can happen when you’re ready.
Weaning: planning ahead
Weaning is likely to be a big change for your child. For many older children, breastfeeding is more about security and comfort than about food, so weaning can be quite stressful.
This means it’s probably best to avoid weaning when there are other major changes in your child’s life – for example, toilet training, starting child care or moving house.
A few weeks or months before you start weaning, it’s a good idea to start talking with your child about what will happen. This will give your child time to get used to the idea and can help to make the change easier.
When you’re weaning older children off breastfeeding, a good way to start is to never offer a breastfeed, but never refuse.
Here are more tips that can help. You can start with the tip you think will suit your child best, or use a few if that suits you both:
- Drop one breastfeed at a time, and wait a few days before you drop the next one. This will also be easier on your breasts, which might get engorged if you stop too suddenly.
- Consider dropping daytime breastfeeds first, then gradually drop any bedtime or night-time feeds – these are probably the ones that give your child the most comfort.
- Introduce a few limits, like not breastfeeding when you’re out, or feeding only after lunch during the day.
- Introduce activities and outings into your daily routine so your child is too busy and distracted to think about breastfeeding.
- Occasionally replace a breastfeed with a ‘grown-up’ alternative. Your child might be excited about having a special but healthy drink like a babyccino at a café when they’d normally be at home having a breastfeed.
- Try the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. This involves leaving your child with someone they’re comfortable with at times when they’d normally have a breastfeed. Your child will be less likely to miss breastfeeding if you’re not around.
- Avoid dressing and undressing while your child is around, and wear clothes that make it hard for your child to get to your breasts – for example, dresses rather than separates.
- If your child wakes in the night for a breastfeed, try to let your partner or someone else settle your child with a cuddle or a cup of water.
Children over 12 months of age can be weaned to pasteurised full-fat cow’s milk from a cup. If your child is allergic to cow’s milk or has lactose intolerance, talk to your GP or a dietitian about alternatives. Your child can also have tap water. Children don’t need formula after 12 months.
Weaning off morning and night feeds
Your child’s last remaining breastfeeds might be at bedtime and first thing in the morning.
To drop the morning feed, try to be up and dressed before your child wakes, then offer your child breakfast.
To drop the bedtime feed, a change of routine can help break the old routine. You could try a sleepover with grandparents, or your partner could read stories to your child instead of a breastfeed.
If your child is used to being fed to sleep, change the routine by offering a story after the feed, as an incentive to stay awake.
Feeding in another room, and not just before bed, can also help break the association between feeding and sleeping. Once you’ve broken the association, over time you can drop the feed.
When weaning your child off night feeds, make sure bedtime still involves a relaxed, warm routine with lots of cuddles.
It also helps to talk with your child about the changes. For example, you could say, ‘We only have a breastfeed when the sun is up again’.
If you’re feeling a bit sad about the last breastfeed, that’s pretty normal. It might help to remind yourself that you’ve done a great job giving your child a healthy start to life.