Nursing is a selfless and perfectly nutritious way to feed babies. However, at some point, the mom who has spent countless hours with a nursling attached to her will likely feel done.
After all, there have been endless sleepless nights, soreness in all the wrong and most uncomfortable places, milk leaks or maybe a lack of milk, inconvenient pumping sessions, awkward and unflattering nursing attire, food elimination and menu changes, and tons of other struggles, annoyances, and inconveniences for breastfeeding moms. Sure, nursing is immensely rewarding, but it’s got to end eventually—no mama can go on forever!
The problem is, just because a mom is done with nursing, that doesn’t mean her baby will agree. Whether she is trying to wean onto a bottle of formula or trying to get a toddler to give up a once-daily nursing session, a mama has her work cut out for her if the baby isn’t on board with her plans.
However a nursing mom is feeling, it could be that her baby simply isn’t ready to stop nursing around the clock—or even just a handful of times per day. So how can a mom tell that her baby isn’t ready to stop breastfeeding? There are lots of signs—here are 20 to look out for.
20 Not Yet Sleeping Through The Night
Most parents know that babies don’t tend to sleep through the night for a while. After all, that’s why most moms and dads are told to prepare to be zombies for a few years! And while some babies will start sleeping through the night practically from day one, it’s not common. It’s more common for a baby to continue to wake during the night until they’re at least six months old or longer, and even then, they might sleep for a long stretch and then eat before going back to sleep for few more hours. Therefore, a baby who’s younger and not sleeping through the night still needs to nurse frequently.
19 They’re Not Interested In Food
Modern studies have suggested that babies need to meet an array of milestones before they’re developmentally ready for table food. And for most babies, those milestones are typically met around six to eight months of age. But if a baby is that age and still isn’t interested in eating table food, weaning is probably way off. Even for an older baby—say a year old or more—breastmilk still provides plenty of nutrition (up to 60 percent of a two-year-old’s nutritional needs, too!). So if a baby is not interested in table food, that’s a sign that they aren’t ready to wean and still need the calories and nutrients in breastmilk.
18 The Pincer Grip Isn’t Perfected
One of the milestones that babies need to meet in order to be able to safely nosh on table food is mastering the pincer grip. A pincer grip means the way that babies pick small bits of food up in between their fingers. Some babies learn this early, while others take a bit longer. But if a baby isn’t able to grasp and pick up small bits of food—or try to grab at pureed or chunky baby food—that’s a sign they’re not ready to wean. After all, if they can’t get the food in their mouths on their own, they’re not developmentally prepared to be eating solid food at all.
17 Picky About Table Foods
Another table food-related sign that babies aren’t ready to wean is that they’re picky about what they’ll eat. And that doesn’t mean picky in terms of they don’t like one type of food. What I mean is babies who can’t eat certain types of foods because the purees make them gag, or they aren’t able to swallow properly. Being able to mouth on and swallow table food is a prerequisite to weaning since babies need another source of nutrition to cut out breastmilk. Therefore, a baby who is picky about textures or can’t properly eat from a spoon likely isn’t ready to wean.
16 Skips Healthier Food Items
Although a baby being picky can sometimes mean the texture of a food isn’t easy for them to nosh on, sometimes little ones are legitimately particular about their flavors. Some babies might avoid veggies, for example, and only agree to eat fruit purees on a spoon or bits of fruit on their high chair trays. For little ones who outright refuse veggies, they’re likely not ready to wean as breastmilk provides a complete nutritional profile. If you cut out milk and don’t add in nutrient-dense and healthy food like veggies, protein, and grains, then your baby won’t be getting everything they need.
15 Real Foods Cause Tummy Trouble
For babies who have started solid food, no matter how old they are, having lots of tummy troubles could be another sign that it’s not time to wean. After all, breastmilk is easy to digest for babies, barring any allergies or sensitivities, so it’s the ideal meal for a baby of any age. If a child is starting to eat table food and getting constipated or having another reaction to solid food, it’s probably not a good time to wean. After all, the breastmilk keeps things moving—so without it, feeding and potty time won’t be pretty. It’s probably better to keep table food to a minimum and the breastmilk at a maximum until the baby’s ability to digest solid food improves.
14 Formula Isn’t Favorable
Some mamas aim to wean from breastmilk to formula. And although this is most common for younger babies when moms are either struggling with milk supply or opting to discontinue nursing for another reason, some moms of older babies wean to bottles, too. Sometimes it just comes down to mamas wanting their bodies back! Either way, if a baby is trying out formula and it’s not sitting well with them, that could be a sign that the baby just isn’t ready to wean off breastmilk. The two milks are very different, so a baby who nurses without issues may not take to formula as well as a mom might expect.
13 Doesn’t Drink Much Else
Another sign that the baby isn’t ready to wean is if they don’t consume a lot of liquids. Breastmilk has the perfect balance of hydration and nutrition, and babies who are exclusively breastfed don’t need any supplementation in terms of water or juice. So if a nursing baby doesn’t drink anything other than breastmilk, that’s a clear sign that it’s not yet time to wean. After all, a baby who refuses a cup or other format of water or other liquids may wind up experiencing health problems if they continue to refuse to drink after their milk supply is cut off.
12 Mealtime Is Full Of Food Allergies
There’s been a lot of discussion about which foods are ideal starter foods for babies beginning to try table food. But even though things like bananas, avocados, and rice cereal are common suggestions, that doesn’t mean they’ll work for every baby. Some babies—especially younger ones below six months or so—may have a reaction to the foods they try. Especially in families who have allergies already, or babies who have reacted to something in their moms’ milk, allergies can mean a baby isn’t ready to wean. After all, if their mama’s milk isn’t causing issues, why rock the boat until it’s really necessary?
11 Won’t Eat When Mom’s Away
A lot of babies who nurse are very picky. It can be tough to get them to take a bottle—even if it’s breastmilk in the bottle—as they’re so familiar with nursing from mom. But a baby who refuses to eat while their mama is gone is very strongly attached to her, and the food source. So weaning a baby who doesn’t want to be away from the milk makers isn’t really a great idea. After all, if you cut out breastmilk, the baby may refuse to eat altogether—at least for a while—and then everyone is in for lots of crying and stress.
10 Mom Can’t Leave The Baby
Whether or not the baby eats when the mama is away isn’t always the only issue. If a baby gets really upset when their mama leaves, even if they later eat whatever’s offered, it’s a sign they’re not ready to wean. After all, a healthy attachment to their mama is a good thing in a baby, so cutting off their milk—one form of bonding and attachment—is a negative overall. If the mom can’t be with her baby all the time, the least that the mom and baby duo can do is nurse whenever they’re together to make up for the time apart.
9 Refuses A Cup (Or Can’t Use One)
Similar to babies who refuse to eat while their mom is gone, some babies just refuse to try a bottle or cup no matter what. So even if a mom is trying to get her baby to get used to a cup or bottle for mealtimes, there are no guarantees things will go smoothly if she weans first. After all, weaning is a big transition for a baby (and a mom!), so trying to learn a new way to eat or drink at the same time can be stressful. Ideally, the baby will learn to use a cup before weaning starts. That way, you can offer tempting sips of something else instead of letting the baby nurse.
8 Mom Still Makes Lots Of Milk
Plenty of mamas start weaning their babies when they notice their milk supply waning. After all, it’s hard work to maintain a full milk supply, especially if you have to pump or be away from your baby. So if you’re still making a ton of milk and maybe even leaking from time to time, that’s a good indicator that the baby is not yet ready to wean. In general, your body produces milk to meet the baby’s demand. So if the baby is hungry enough that your body is producing that much milk, it likely means your kiddo needs it to feel full and satisfied.
7 Baby Turns To Mom For Comfort
While formula fed babies might be more likely to attach to a lovie like a pacifier or blanket, many breastfed babies turn to their moms for comfort. Every time they get hurt, feel tired, or just feel a little intimidated, their mom is there with lots of milk to make things better. But as babies grow, they learn that mom will always be there, so they get more comfortable moving farther and farther away from her. But if a baby still turns to their mama via nursing for comfort all the time, that’s a sign they’re not quite ready to wean.
6 The Tot Is Under Age 1
Although a lot of babies wind up seeming uninterested in breastmilk as they grow, that doesn’t mean it’s time to wean. Many babies go through “nursing strikes,” phases where they’re not as interested in nursing. This often happens because a baby has so much going on in their little world! Anything from having a growth spurt to sprouting a new tooth to getting too distracted to latch on for long can lead a mama to think her baby is ready to wean. But if a baby is under a year old, it’s not usually weaning for real—it’s usually a phase, and it’s not time to put the milk makers away just yet.
5 Teething Is Tough To Get Through
Just as teething is a scenario where a baby might temporarily stop nursing, it can also be a time when a baby nurses more. So if a baby is turning to nursing comfort while waiting for a tooth to erupt, that can be a sign that they’re not ready to wean yet. Milk is food, sure, but it’s also a bit of a distraction from when a baby has an owie. And teething can be frustrating and uncomfortable for babies. If they’re relying on nursing for comfort, it’s not a great idea to cut them off through weaning off of breastmilk.
4 Waking To Eat All Night
Although we touched on younger babies who don’t sleep through the night already, here we’re talking about babies who just want to snack at night. Whatever age or developmental phase they’re in, babies who wake at night to nurse are doing so for a reason, and they’re probably not ready to wean. It may be that their mom is gone throughout the day so they’re reverse cycling—eating more while she’s home—or it could just be that they’re checking to see that she’s still there. Plus, nursing means the baby is getting food, and most parents don’t deny their kiddos sustenance, even if it’s nighttime and a bit inconvenient.
3 Still A Baby (Even If They’re A Big Sibling)
This one is less of a “sign” and more of a scenario, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Although some moms are extremely uncomfortable nursing a baby while pregnant, most doctors agree that it’s perfectly safe if a mama is having an otherwise normal pregnancy. But for some reason, lots of mamas think that just because a baby is going to be a big brother or sister, it’s suddenly time to wean. But actually, continuing to nurse can help the baby transition from baby to big sibling, especially if you’re able to tandem nurse the older baby alongside your newborn too.
2 Attempts To Wean Are Tough
Another clear sign that the baby isn’t ready to wean is if a mom’s attempts are particularly tough. If a mama decides she’s going to wean the baby and starts trying to cut nursing sessions short or skip them altogether but the baby responds poorly, that’s an indicator it’s not yet time. Sure, babies may resist change, but if a mama sees her little one getting super upset at being refused some milk, or if their behavior changes in a negative way, that might mean they’re just not developmentally or emotionally ready to let go of nursing. Give it some time, and then try again—gently.
1 Baby Keeps Asking
Even if you’re nursing a child who’s old enough to speak, they may not be ready to wean when you are. Of course, the biological age of weaning worldwide is said to be somewhere between four and six years. That may be bad news for mamas nursing toddlers, but it gives some perspective on why so many one-year-olds aren’t ready to give up their milkies yet. Biologically speaking, there are a ton of benefits for toddlers to nurse past one year or even beyond two years. So if your little one keeps “asking”—whether with words or just by helping themselves under your shirt—it’s a sign they’re acting on biology and aren’t ready to wean.