Weaning a baby can be difficult. Especially if you’re nursing. They get so attached to their food! And that’s fine, totally normal. It can even be hard for mom, who all of a sudden realizes that they are losing their “baby.” You probably have these reminders throughout the baby year as your little one crawls, gets the first teeth, and so forth. But definitely walking and weaning are the two big landmarks that denote the baby year being over.
There is nothing magical that happens at 12 month, but many moms decide to wean their baby from breast or bottle around that time. Biology dictates that the first year, more or less, is when the baby gets the most benefit from the special constitution of breastmilk or formula. Lots of moms wean before or after this time, and you should do what’s right for you and your family. I’m not going to go into the philosophy of when you should wean because people feel so differently about it. But to put it in perspective, weaning shouldn’t be the most passionate thing in your life. At some point, you just have to do it. Here are some things I learned:
If you are weaning a baby from the bottle, the easiest thing is to move their formula to a sippy cup first. Once they are ok with the sippy cup, and they are at least a year old, then start diluting the formula with milk. The pediatrician recommends whole milk, but you can use rice, soy, almond, oat, or whatever- milk. Introducing other liquids into their diet at this time (if you haven’t already) can also help… water, diluted juice, etc. This will help lessen the attachment to the formula.
When I weaned my first baby, he was on formula and I started with doing half milk, half full-strength formula in a sippy cup. You can always start with a different dilution if you want. Then when he was happy with half and half, I started diluting the amount of formula I mixed in. I think I had two scoops in a regular size sippy cup with half milk, and I then moved to just one. When he was happy with that concentration, I lowered it again until he was on just plain milk. I think I started this process at eleven months, and it took maybe until thirteen or fourteen months to get him down to normal milk. It wasn’t too difficult because he’d been on the sippy cup for several months already and I gave him formula only at mealtimes (4 times a day) so he was kind of full and happy with the taste of his food (not focused on his drink). I gave him other liquids in between meals if he needed a drink.
Another thing that helped was not falling into the “bottle before bedtime” routine. I think he would have been more sensitive to his weaning process if he’d still been getting a bottle the last thing before bed. I would suggest doing something else to pacify. I used to give some water and a “cookie” so he felt privileged instead of deprived. I did notice that in the beginning, he seemed mildly addicted to the formula so I tried to go slowly on him until his system didn’t need it anymore.
If you are weaning from the breast, you can’t dilute breastmilk (unless you are expressing it and putting it in the sippy cup), so the easiest thing to do is start cutting back the number of feedings. Save the first and last feedings of the day, for last and work on cutting down the number of feedings during the day. Some people do the sippy cup thing and if that works for you, then that’s great. I’d follow the same routine as the bottle weaning above until the toddler was on milk alone. But for most people, that is too much work and what the baby really clings to is the sensation of nursing, not just the breastmilk itself.
I weaned two of my breastfeeding babies around nine months, so the process of weaning them entailed not just getting them off the breast but onto formula. That was very tricky and I don’t recommend it. Babies know their stuff, and most of them want nothing to do with formula when the breastmilk is available. I had to slowly wean them onto formula by doing the reverse process as I described above–by giving them sippy cups of rice milk and slowly adding formula into it until they were drinking formula alone. They were just too young to take off breastmilk and put on regular milk—they needed the benefits of formula until they were a year old. (Incidentally, I weaned them because I got pregnant again and my milk supply dropped drastically, not because I didn’t want to keep nursing them.)
So hopefully you don’t have to do that. If you can wean your baby from the breast onto regular milk, you might have more luck because various milks taste more like breastmilk than formula. Sometimes babies will drink lowfat milk before they drink whole milk because the consistency and smell is more similar. Other times they take to soy or non-lactose milk, especially if it is vanilla flavored or something appealing. (You can wean out the vanilla later, pretty easily.) I started with cutting out the mid-morning feeding first because that was the easiest. I just gave food and a little soy or rice milk instead. By the afternoon, the babies really wanted to nurse again, so I kept that feeding in for quite awhile. I tried to drop the late afternoon feeding next because that was always the hardest feeding for me to do, with dinnertime approaching. I think I tried to give the baby a graham cracker and put them down for a quick nap instead. So you can see that a lot of the weaning process depends on how many times you are feeding already… I think I was generally weaning from five or six feedings a day. I dropped the first quickly, the second sort of quickly, and tried to get to three feedings (morning, noon, night) as soon as I could. It took maybe a month, and a lot of effort (substitution).
By the time I was on three feedings a day (and pregnant), my milk supply was low enough that dropping the midday feeding wasn’t too difficult. If I fed the baby solid food first and put them to the breast afterwards, there wasn’t enough milk to sustain them for more than a couple minutes anyway. They’d suck a bit and then jump off. Then I’d supplement with some more rice milk. I kept the wake-up and bedtime feedings going for at least another month just to keep peace; the baby really wanted to nurse those times and I couldn’t deal with getting off on the wrong foot in the mornings or having a huge bedtime battle in the evenings. At some point, I just started shortening the amount of time they were at the breast at those times, and I basically got it down to two minutes or something like that (followed by a real breakfast or graham cracker at night). Then the last little bit to get off completely just happened on its own. They were successfully weaned by eleven months.
My third nursing baby is still nursing, at nine months, and I am not pregnant, so I plan to keep nursing her until the year mark and wean her somewhat like the process above except without the introduction of formula. If I end up doing something different, I’ll let you know =)
You can always pray that your baby will wean itself too! I have known some moms with that situation, and they were either rejoicing or horrified =)