Breastfeeding can (and should) be a beautiful time of bonding with your baby and appreciating all the work your body can do. Most of us who breastfeed overcome struggles and persevere through illness and ailments. The amount of work and dedication we put into nursing our babies for months or even years can make it hard to let it go. So how do you know when your little one is ready to start weaning? How do you know if you are ready?
*I’m going to share what was true for me personally while recognizing this might not be the case for every nursing mother.*
I’ve nursed two babies. Both experiences were very different and lasted different lengths of time. My first easily weaned at fifteen months. One day he nursed for the last time and never asked again. My next nursling was still going strong at twenty-three months and I was ready to be done. I had to be more conscious about my decision to wean. But each time, I watched for sings and weaned gradually.
I always nurse on demand until after their first birthday with solids foods being introduced at six months. After they turn one and I know they are eating a full balanced and nutrient rich diet (with a few Oreo cookies scattered in), I look for signs that they are ready to cut back on the frequency of nursing. If my child doesn’t nurse as long, gets distracted more easily, or doesn’t ask for milk as consistently, then I look for sessions to cut out. I will gently tell them no if it’s not convenient for me such as when I’m making dinner or if I am not wearing a breastfeeding friendly outfit. Often this just postpones the nursing session a little. How they respond to this gives me a clue about how ready they are. If they can be easily redirected with a snack, drink, or playtime, I make more of an effort to keep saying no to that nursing session.
Usually around this time is when our daycare stops giving them bottles full-time so during the work-week they are not having milk around the clock, only in the mornings and evenings. Because of this, I start eliminating our day-time feeds first.
I intentionally say no if it is close to a meal knowing they are not hungry, but rather looking for comfort or connection. I offer snuggles or playtime instead. I continue to nurse after long periods of separation if they ask. If they don’t ask, I don’t offer.
Our first-thing-in-the-morning feeds and our sleepy-time (naps and bedtime) feeds always last a little longer even once my babies are fully day-weaned.
For our morning feeds, I start offering food as soon as my little one wakes up and asks to nurse. Most of the time, by this point, he is much more interested in solid food anyway. After a few days of casually redirecting, I draw a harder boundary often saying something like “Milk is only for sleep time now.” And after a few days, they usually stop asking. Once in a while, my current youngest will ask for milk if he sees me getting dressed. I just tell him the milk is all gone now.
Because I choose to nurse my babies to sleep, bedtime is always our last session to go. When I decide we are ready to cut out a sleepy-time feeds, I ask my husband to take a more active roll in the routine. I will do pajamas and a book with some snuggles and then my husband will take over and rock to sleep. If my little ones asks for milk, I gently tell him milk is all gone.
Once you’ve decided to wean and have set the boundaries around nursing, you might wonder if you made the wrong choice or if “Maybe just this once” will be OK. While it is your body and your baby, and you can certainly change your mind if you want to (only you know if you and your baby are really ready!) I want to encourage you with this:
Children push boundaries. It’s what they do and how they learn. But parents hold the boundaries. It’s how we keep them safe and teach them to understand the world. If your child pushes your weaning boundaries by crying, throwing a fit, or asking again and again to nurse, that does not mean you made the wrong choice. If you have full confidence in your choice to end your breastfeeding journey, and you really believe your baby was ready, there is no reason to feel bad or guilty, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.
Trust yourself here, Mama.
You know your baby best.