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Weaning Breastfeeding

There comes a time when a mother and child’s breastfeeding relationship will come to an end.  This is a very personal decision that a mother must make for her and her child.   This decision can come with a lot of mixed emotions – but rest assured, this is completely normal!  

When to Wean

There is no right time to wean – it is a personal choice that a mother must make for a variety of personal reasons.  

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their infants for 6 months, when iron-fortified solid foods are started.  At this time, natural weaning begins as the child starts eating more foods instead of drinking breast milk.  It is recommended to continue breastfeeding for at least one year, and possibly even longer.  

How to Wean

Once your baby starts eating solids foods around 6 months of age, the weaning process has naturally begun.  As your child obtains more calories from food as they near 1 year of age, they will be consuming less breast milk.  If you and your child enjoy breastfeeding, there is no reason to stop breastfeeding.

Gradual Weaning

The easiest way to wean is gradually – following your child’s lead.  As children learn to drink from a cup, become more physically active playing, and less willing to sit and nurse they will eventually stop nursing altogether.  Children who wean this way will naturally stop nursing between 2 and 4 years of age. 

Sometimes weaning must be directed by the mother rather than by the child.  It is still important to make weaning a gradual process, rather than abrupt.  This can last weeks or even months, depending on circumstances.  

Consider the following for mother led weaning:

  • Substitute the least favourite feeding first with expressed breast milk, formula or other complementary foods.  Mid-day feeds are often the first to go.  You may need to have someone else offer that feed until your child accepts it. 
  • Once that feed is going well, you can substitute the next least favourite feed.  Continue doing this at your own pace
  • Wait several days between dropping feeds to avoid engorgement.  You may want to wait several weeks to allow your baby to adjust.  Generally, the slower the wean, the better.  
  • If your goal is to stop breastfeeding and pumping, you can relieve the pressure of engorgement by pumping a small amount until your breasts adjust to making less milk.
  • Give your child lots of cuddles and love during the weaning process.  
  • Consider changing routines around the times of the dropped feeds as a distraction. 

Do Not Abruptly Wean 

Stopping breastfeeding cold turkey is not recommended.  This can be very upsetting for your child, and can also cause you to be very uncomfortable.  Engorgement is likely and puts you at risk for complications such as plugged ducts or mastitis.   

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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