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When and how you wean your child is a very personal decision and may be determined by many factors, including when and if you decide to return to work, your health or that of your child, or because you or your baby just feels it’s time. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life and then providing a combination of breastmilk and solid foods until your baby is at least one year old, there is no “right time” to wean. In some cases, your child may decide he or she is ready to wean sooner than you are, or you may be ready before your child.

Some experts recommend weaning around your child’s first birthday because he or she is more likely to accept change at that period in their development than a 2-year-old. But whenever you decide to wean your child, experts agree that it should be a gradual process and you should be flexible and attentive to your child’s needs. Unless you must abruptly stop breastfeeding because of illness or prolonged absence, sudden weaning can cause engorgement and possible mastitis (a breast infection) and emotional trauma for your child.

Weaning can be an emotional process for you, as well as your child. You may mourn the fact that your little baby is growing up and will never rely as fully on you again, and your child may feel insecure about losing his or her special relationship with you as well. These feelings are normal and should subside in a reasonable amount of time. However, if weaning becomes a struggle and your child is showing significant stress, he or she may not be ready. Many children feel especially insecure if there has been change in the family recently (such as moving to a new house), or if they have been sick recently or are teething. If your child is displaying significant anxiety over weaning try postponing it for another month (if possible) and try again then. And remember that weaning doesn’t have to be completed all at once. Many mothers stop nursing during the day, but continue with nighttime feedings for several more months.

Tips for Weaning

Try removing one nursing session each week until your child is completely weaned. The mid-day feeding is usually the easiest to cut out first, while most experts recommend removing the bedtime feeding last, as children are usually emotionally attached to this feeding and mothers enjoy it the most.

Another approach is the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method in which you offer the breast only if your child asks to nurse or shows a desire to. Many children are too busy exploring and playing to stop to nurse and this can make the transition easy and natural. You can also try shortening each feeding by a couple of minutes and offering your child a nutritious snack to supplement the abbreviated feeding.

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