First Time User? Sign Up Now
First Time User? Enroll now.
Home > Health Library > Weaning
Weaning is the term used to describe the process of switching a baby from:
Your baby will go through one or more of these weaning processes. All types of weaning usually work best when they are done gradually—over several weeks, months, or even longer.
Weaning a baby from the breast is a big change for moms as well as for babies. Besides affecting you physically, it may also affect you emotionally.
Some moms feel a little sad to lose some of the closeness that breastfeeding provides. But you will also have more freedom, because others can feed your baby. Don't be surprised if you feel both happy and sad that your child is becoming more independent.
Signs that a baby is ready to wean often appear after the baby has learned to crawl or learned to walk. Your breastfeeding baby may suck a few times and then stop nursing. He or she may just start to lose interest in your breast.
Bottle-fed babies who are ready to wean may start spitting out the nipple or throwing or hiding the bottle before it is empty. Your baby may show more interest in drinking from a cup.
When to start weaning mostly depends on how ready you and your child are to start weaning.
Some breastfeeding moms aren't ready to give up the closeness that breastfeeding brings. So they may delay weaning, even though their child is ready. Other moms are ready to wean sooner or have responsibilities or life changes that make it necessary.
There is no right or wrong time to start, and there's not a certain amount of time to take, except that it's best to wean your baby from a bottle by 18 months of age. Also, try not to start weaning when your child or your family is under stress. Stress can range from cutting a new tooth to moving to a new house or starting a new day care program.
Gradual weaning is best for both babies and moms. Look for signs that your baby is ready. When you are both ready, try dropping one feeding every 5 to 7 days. This will help give you and your baby time to adjust to new ways of feeding. If you are breastfeeding, gradual weaning helps keep your breasts from becoming too full, a problem called breast engorgement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:footnote 1
You can also give your baby breast milk from a cup or a bottle.
Sometimes a mother wants to stop breastfeeding but her baby seems to want to keep it up. If you can, keep breastfeeding a while longer. Try offering your milk or formula in a cup or bottle before you breastfeed or between breastfeedings. There are also different bottle nipples you can try.
Some babies grow attached to the bottle and do not want to give it up. Don't let your baby crawl, walk around, or go to bed with a bottle. Nighttime feedings are often the hardest to give up. Try replacing that feeding with new habits, such as reading a book or looking at the stars together.
Weaning is usually a gradual process. It starts when you begin feeding your baby in other ways than breast- or bottle-feeding. And it ends when the child no longer breastfeeds or takes a bottle. This process may last several weeks, a few months, or more than a year.
Your baby may begin eating solid foods at about 6 months of age. At this point, you may want to offer cup-feeding to supplement breast- or bottle-feedings. Over the next 6 months, your baby may show signs that he or she is ready to wean.
It is important to switch gradually to the cup. Although some mothers stop breast- or bottle-feedings abruptly, the baby may not be ready. Babies find comfort from sucking and also may need the closeness and comfort breast- or bottle-feeding provides. Always think about your baby's emotional needs, age, and readiness as well as about your own needs, when switching from breast- or bottle-feeding to a cup. Toddlers (ages 1 to 2) may tolerate abrupt weaning better than babies.
Start by replacing one daily breast milk feeding with a bottle or cup of formula. Pick your least favorite feeding. Every few days, replace an additional breast milk feeding until your baby is fed only with formula. (Use milk instead of formula if your baby is age 1 year or older.)
When you start to wean your young baby from the breast, replace your breast milk with enough iron-fortified infant formula to make up for fewer nursing sessions. After your baby stops breastfeeding, give him or her at least 16 fl oz (500 mL) to 24 fl oz (750 mL) of formula each day. When your baby is 6 months of age and older, give solid foods high in iron and vitamin C. Babies at least 12 months of age can also have cow's milk.
The following tips may help you wean:
Your bottle-fed baby should continue to get nutrition largely from formula until he or she is 12 months old. After that, allowing your child to continue drinking from a bottle may lead to problems such as baby bottle tooth decay.
These suggestions may be helpful when you are trying to get your baby to stop taking a bottle.
It's important not only for you to give your baby nutritious foods and drinks but also for you and your baby to interact with each other during mealtimes. These things help your baby's mind and body grow. Breast milk (with supplements) and formula give babies all the calories and nutrients they need until they are about 6 months old. After that, babies need other nutrients and energy from solid foods. You can wean gradually or abruptly in order to get your baby what he or she needs for growth. When you make choices about weaning, always think of your baby's emotional needs, age, and readiness as well as your own needs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed for at least a year and as long after a year as mother and child desire.footnote 1
When you have decided that you and your child are ready to give up breast- or bottle-feeding, develop a plan for what you will do. Talk with other family members and get their help.
In general, you can start giving your baby solid foods at about 6 months of age. Feed your baby at the table with the rest of the family. Follow your doctor's advice on when and what to feed your baby.footnote 1 Usually, the more solid foods a baby eats, the less breast milk or formula he or she needs, and the easier it is for your baby to switch from the breast or bottle. Be sure your child gets the recommended vitamins and minerals for children.
Weaning from breast- or bottle-feeding can be done gradually or abruptly. Watch for signs that your baby is ready to wean. To gradually stop breast- or bottle-feeding while you offer cup-feeding and/or solid foods, give up the least important feeding first, which is usually the midday one. Then stop the late afternoon and morning feedings. Stop the most important feeding (the one that provides the baby the greatest emotional comfort) last: this is usually the first or last feeding of the day. Whether you are weaning or not, the last feeding should gradually be moved up so that by 4 months it is no longer at bedtime and other soothing rituals can be established. Pay attention to whether your baby is sucking for comfort or hunger.
Tips for using a cup
Strive to have your baby using a cup instead of a bottle around 1 year of age. And help your child to start using a lidless cup by age 2. To help get your baby learn to use a cup, try these tips:
And to help prevent injuries from using bottles and cups during unsteady walking, have your child stay seated while drinking.
A gradual weaning slowly reduces the number of breast- or bottle-feedings. One feeding is eliminated every 5 to 7 days, giving the mother and baby time to adjust. Gradual weaning helps maintain emotional attachment, prevents breast engorgement for mothers who are breastfeeding, and allows the baby to learn other ways of eating. Gradual weaning is generally planned to suit both the mother's and child's needs.
Gradual weaning is best for both you and your baby. It is recommended for babies unless the mother has a medical condition that does not allow it.
Abrupt weaning is a sudden end to breast- or bottle-feeding and can be hard for both the mother and the child. The breastfeeding mother may experience painful breast engorgement and has an increased risk for a breast infection (mastitis). Both the mother and the child may miss the emotional attachment and closeness of breast- or bottle-feeding.
Your child may respond to abrupt weaning by:
You may not want to wean your baby:
Gradual or abrupt weaning may work for 1- to 2-year-olds.
You may find the following suggestions helpful as you switch to other types of feeding:
As your baby learns to feed himself or herself, keep in mind that your job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods but your baby will decide how much to eat. This is sometimes called the division of responsibility.
Talk to your child's doctor about weaning if:
Health professionals who can deal with your concerns about weaning include:
A well-baby checkup is a good time to ask questions about weaning. During this checkup, your baby's doctor will:
American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3): e827–e841. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Age eight months through twelve months. In SP Shelov et al., eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 249–284. New York: Bantam.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Age one month through three months. In SP Shelov et al., eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 193–216. New York: Bantam.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Diagnosis and prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children (0–3 years of age). Pediatrics, 126(5): 1040–1050. Available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/126/5/1040.
Brazelton TB (2006). Touchpoints, Birth to Three: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Greer FR, et al. (2008). Effects of early nutritional interventions on the development of atopic disease in infants and children: The role of maternal dietary restriction, breastfeeding, timing of introduction of complementary foods, and hydrolyzed formulas. Pediatrics, 121(1): 183–191. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/1/183.full.
Keim SA, et al. (2012). Injuries associated with bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups in the United States, 1991–2010. Pediatrics, 129(6): 1104–1110.
Trahms CM, McKean KN (2012). Nutrition in infancy. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13 ed., pp. 375–388. St Louis: Saunders.
Wagner CL, et al. (2008). Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 122(5): 1142–1152.
Current as of:
November 7, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of:
November 7, 2018
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
UNC Medical Center
101 Manning Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
UNC Health Care Citrix
UNC Medical Center Intranet
Copyright 2019 UNC Health Care. All rights reserved.