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What’s the Right Age for Weaning Baby?

Posted: Breastfeeding » Weaning | August 1st, 2004



By Kerry Luskey

Many mothers assume that at one year of age, her baby no longer needs to breastfeed and the weaning process should take place. This idea is often promoted by pediatricians who say that at a year, your baby should be switched to cow’s milk and drinking from a cup. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages breastfeeding even beyond a year: “It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.”

More and more research is coming out on the benefits of continuing to breastfeed your baby, even after they may no longer solely depend on it from a nutritional standpoint. With this information in mind, when is the right time for you to approach weaning from breastfeeding?

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Weaning is individual
For every mother, the answer weaning baby will be different.

Many factors come into play with the decision to wean your baby: work obligations, family support, the baby’s personality and health status, and his facility with solid foods are just a few things that influence the weaning timetable. You must look at your own situation and make a decision on weaning based on what’s right for you and your baby. In addition, there are different advantages to weaning at different times.

Weaning during the first year
It’s recommended that you nurse your baby for at least one year. If weaning takes place before a year, you may have to supplement with infant formula, which has its own disadvantages (see The Deadly Influence of Formula in America).

One common reason for choosing to wean before a year is when a mother who works working outside the home has a difficult time with pumping and keeping up with her baby’s milk needs. An alternative to complete weaning that many women find workable is “combi-feeding” – supplementing with formula while at day care, and breastfeeding when the mother and baby are together. Breastfeeding does not have to be all-or-nothing.

Weaning between 1 and 2
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 17% of U.S. mothers are still breastfeeding their babies at a year. Weaning at this time has its advantages. Babies are often more receptive to weaning during this stage and may wean with little encouragement on mom’s part. Their increased mobility and new-found sense of freedom often distracts babies, which mothers can use to advantage to wean with little fuss.

Waiting to wean until the baby is 18-24 months has some unique advantages. Toddler breast milk contains an increased concentration of antibodies, which helps protect your child as he goes out into the world and interacts with other children (which often leads to increased illness). At this age, breastfeeding is usually much more than just nutrition. It’s also a great way of reconnecting with your child and relaxing together in a shared moment of closeness. As such, breastfeeding is a wonderful parenting tool to help tame toddler tantrums.

Weaning beyond age 2
Once you get beyond 2 years of age, you’ll be able to take a whole different approach to weaning. At that age, children are more verbal, and you can directly discuss nursing and weaning with them. It becomes more of a mutual decision-making process, with some compromise and reasoning on both sides. Setting limits and “bargaining” can facilitate the weaning process at this age with little or no struggles.

The ideal time to wean looks different for every mother. Regardless of when you choose to wean your baby, you can be satisfied with the knowledge that you provided your child with the best start in life.

© Kerry Luskey

Kerry Luskey is a breastfeeding counselor, nursing student and herbalist.

5 Responses to “What’s the Right Age for Weaning Baby?”

1 Kimberly Hasapes says:

Thank you so much for the information. My baby is 17 months and I “usually” only breastfeed him at night. I have been thinking about weaning him completely. He is not happy about it at all. I no longer feel so much pressure to stop after reading several articles on this website. Thanks again!

2 ondrei says:

Thank you for your articles, my toddler is 18 months and insist on being breastfed several times throughout the day. She normally relaxes and goes to sleep once she’s on. Everytime she see my breast she gets excited and tries to latch on calling them her ba-ba.
I have decreased her times throughout the day with distraction but once she loses excitement for her toys she will wine to come back. My husband can put her to sleep without problems but if I am in the bed she wants to nurse to sleep. Well I have printed a copy of your article for my husband although he doesn’t seem to mind me breast feeding, I know he is not aware it is normal for me to continue.
thank you

3 Reshemah Spurlin says:

Thank you. My son is 16 months and he is not happy about the weaning process. Usually he only nurses at night and during the night, but lately if we’re home all day he wants to nurse. I am a nurse, and I work three 12 hour days, as soon as I step in the house he grabs my breasts and starts to rub his eyes. My husband & my mother think I should have weaned him by now. Again, thank you for this article.

4 C.Ann says:

I am so glad to read these posts. My baby is 10 months & I have been feeling lately, pressured to stop her nursings. But when she nurses she is so calm & content that I’m just not ready to quit.

I really needed to read this today & wanted to say thank you to everyone.

5 carol says:

my little one Keron is 23 months old i tried one night to wean him but the following day he cried teribly. I felt so sad and am still continuing giving the breast for some more weeks.

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