Frequently Asked Questions - Weaning
Questions cover if, when, and how, to wean
Ideally, breastfeeding continues until the baby outgrows the need. Your baby is an individual and will outgrow breastfeeding at his own pace, which may be different from other babies you know.
There is no age at which a baby has to wean. Research by anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler suggests that the natural age range for weaning is between 2.5 and 7 years. This is consistent with LLLC experience that most babies will choose to wean somewhere between those ages.
Your breastmilk continues to be a highly-nutritious, easily-digested food even as toddlers or young children add other foods to their diets. There is no age at which breastmilk loses its nutritional or disease-fighting value. The antibodies in breastmilk actually increase after the baby is 12 months old. This provides added protection for toddlers who have more opportunities to pick up germs. In addition, glands in the breast can produce antibodies against illnesses the toddler is exposed to.
Many toddlers and preschoolers nurse primarily for comfort and to “touch base” rather than for food. However, breastmilk can still contribute significant nutrition and calories to the toddler’s diet. Also, many mothers find that a short nursing session will defuse a tantrum, cure a “boo-boo” or soothe hurt feelings. Breastfeeding is an important mothering tool that can work magic in stressful situations.
Very unlikely. Occasionally, a baby who has been nursing well will suddenly refuse the breast for no apparent reason. This is called a nursing strike. It is very rare that a baby will wean on his own during his first year, and weaning usually happens gradually. On reviewing the situation, a cause for the nursing strike can sometimes be identified. Common causes include: an earache or stuffy nose, a scary sound that happened while breastfeeding, a different lotion or deodorant, too many bottles or pacifiers or a recent change in routine. Nursing strikes can last from 2-4 days.
During the time that your baby is refusing to nurse, you will need to express your milk either by hand or by pumping, in order to maintain your milk production. Do this as frequently as your baby would normally nurse. If your baby has refused several feedings, you can offer your expressed milk in a cup. Avoiding bottles and pacifiers is recommended during this period in the hope that your baby's sucking urges will encourage him to start nursing again.
Spending lots of time skin-to-skin with your baby can be very helpful. You can also try:
- taking a warm bath together
- making the breast available while baby is sleepy, especially when he is just waking up
- singing to or rocking your baby while holding him skin-to-skin
- nursing in a different position or location
Do not try to make your baby breastfeed; rather just hold him (skin-to-skin when possible) and let him take the lead when he is ready to try again.