The process of establishing good breastfeeding is sometimes long and arduous, but once it's up and running moms often come to really value the time they spend nursing their baby. Other moms feel like it's a chore they just have to do. All moms, regardless of their feelings about nursing, wonder when is the right time for baby to wean and move on to other ways of feeding. There's not always consistent information around when the right time is, and who should initiate the weaning—mom or baby.
Experts often tell mothers to wean when baby seems ready, but this vague advice is confusing. There are a number of physical signs that a baby or toddler will give when he is ready or when it's safe to wean. Weaning too early can cause problems. Waiting too long to wean isn't physically badx to the child, but might be a source of stress or tension for mom and child. Whether mom or baby is leading the way down the weaning path, mom should keep her eye out for key signs that both she and baby are ready and making the adjustment as well as possible. Here are 20 physical signs baby is ready to stop breastfeeding.
21 Chew On This
Baby's first molars generally come in around the one year mark. Many moms are still nursing at that time and want to continue, but as more teeth designed for the chewing and grinding of food come in, breastfeeding often tapers off. When baby is chewing on the tip, however, it means he is not actively nursing, according to Breastfeeding Basics. Baby might not be hungry enough to nurse, or might be “nursing” more for the comfort of it. He may also just not be interested in it, but mom is so used to the routine she just put baby on the chest without noticing if he even wanted it.
20 Distraction Action
Once a baby has entered the toddler stage, she's often on the go every waking moment. It can be hard for her to settle down for a nursing session. If she's constantly wiggling so much that she can't maintain a latch, or seems more interested in playing with the chest she's supposed to nurse on, then she might be indicating that her need for nursing is fading, as per The Natural Child Project. As toddlers get older, nursing is often more about the sense of closeness, but as she becomes more interested in playing and the world around her, she may be less willing to sit still long enough.
19 Skip To My Meal, Lou
Once toddlers have learned how to self-feed and have shifted to getting more of their daily nutrition from sold foods given at meals, they often slowly discontinue their breastfeeding. Moms may even be unwittingly contributing to the weaning process by offering cups to the toddler, according to PhD in Parenting. When toddlers wean is sometimes a complex process. They are often incorporated into the family meal time at this point, and if they aren't presented with a cup, they may ask for one. This makes breastfeeding less and less about nutritional need, and at this point many toddlers wean.
18 Sit Up, Stand Up
Sometimes weaning will happen before the baby self-weans. Moms are often anxious during this process, but they cannot continue whether because of illness, returning to work, or something else. In younger babies, there are important signs to note before taking away the breastfeeding or bottle and giving him foods. Doctors, experts and moms agree that baby should be able to sit or stand before going through the weaning process, as per HiPP Organic. Generally, by the time baby can reliably hold herself up sitting or pull herself up to stand, her digestive track is mature enough to handle solid foods, and she'll also be able to swallow safely.
17 Scaling Back Production
As babies begin to eat solid foods more often and in greater amounts, they can also experience a drop in the amount of breastmilk mom produces. Because they aren't relying solely on breastfeeding for their nutritional needs, the breastmilk production may be scaled back. Sometimes this reduction in breastmilk amount can frustrate nursing toddlers, according to Verywell Family. Some are happy to continue nursing, enjoying the reduced amount more as a snack than a meal, while others find it an unsatisfying endeavor. Every child is different, so some may figure out quickly that solid foods hit the spot better. Mom's milk production will start to reflect that preference.
16 We've Got A Biter
Nearly all babies bite when nursing at some point to try it out. Moms often think they've gotten past the biting stage, only to encounter it again with a nursing toddler. Biting during nursing can be due to teething, or signify a poor latch because the little one has a stuffed nose, explains Today's Parent. Some toddlers may bite simply to get a reaction from mom, or out of frustration because they aren't getting much breastmilk. Toddlers can be told and taught not to bite, but if mom is initiating the breastfeeding session when her toddler is more interested in eating solids, he may tend to bite.
15 Playtime At The Breastmilk Corral
One day mom will look down towards her chest, see baby's feet instead of head, and wonder when nursing became acrobatic playtime. Enthusiastic movement or baby's tendency to lift mom's shirt up or pop off the chest and re-latch, exposing mom to everyone might make public nursing very difficult, according to Kelly Mom. Mom can firmly instruct her toddler, but many will just skip public nursing, which often ends up moving both mom and baby into the process of weaning. If baby isn't even really nursing but is just wanting to be close while playing, then baby might be uninterested in actual nursing.
14 Grasping Little Hands
Self-feeding is a critical milestone that babies should reach before they are weaned from breastfeeding or bottle. When a baby is reliably able to grasp a piece of food or cup and bring it to his mouth, then he is far more likely to be able to get the nutrition he'll need once he's cut back on breastmilk or formula, as per MedicineNet. While parents are probably feeding pureed or soft foods to baby already at this point, waiting until baby can reliably pick up objects is helpful, as he is more likely to be eating a more nutritionally-complete variety of food.
13 On The Go Tot
Although in many parts of the world children breastfeed until the age of four or five, it's a much rarer occurrence in countries like the US. If a mom is one of the few who has maintained a breastfeeding relationship with her toddler, she may find the single biggest factor in the weaning process to be the introduction of preschool, according to Aha! Parenting. As toddlers grow older, that old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” kicks in, and there's just too much to do at preschool to think about one missed nursing. Dropping one or two feedings at a time can help accelerate the weaning process.
12 She Asks For A Cup
Some parents begin to introduce a cup to baby around the one year mark. It can take some time for a toddler to master handling a cup without spilling it everywhere, but by the age of two, many have got the knack. Toddlers are also extremely observant and begin to notice how other people eat and drink. If a little one hasn't started on a cup but is old enough to ask for it, she's ready to start drinking from one, as per WebMD. Moms will probably notice that baby will want fewer bottles or nursing once he's got the hang of using a cup and can satisfy his thirst.
11 Happy And Stable
After a certain point breastfeeding becomes more of an emotional connection than a nutritional one for a toddler. Mothers who continue to breastfeed past the second year often notice that the role of nursing changes for her and her child. There may come a time when she needs to wean her toddler, or she notices that her toddler seems to be weaning himself, and that may be tied to his emotional well-being, according to The Attached Family. Children who experience more instability or anxiety might struggle to wean, while children who generally feel secure and stable, or feel emotionally connected to mom wean more successfully.
10 A Toothy Issue
Babies can continue to nurse or bottle-feed well after teeth start coming in, but many parents don't take the bottle away at nap or night time, and this can lead to cavities and even tooth decay for some toddlers. Even if baby isn't falling asleep with a bottle in her mouth she can still get cavities, as per Mouth Healthy. Sugars present in formula can cause tooth decay if parents aren't cleaning baby's emerging teeth. While breastfeeding does reduce the likelihood of tooth decay, baby's oral hygiene can't be overlooked. If a cavity or decay occurs, it can make it painful for baby to nurse, which could cause weaning to occur.
9 Swallowing Solids
A baby might be old enough to swallow a spoonful of cereal at six months, but that's not the same as being able to gum or chew a more solid mouthful and successfully swallow it. Pediatricians say that parents who want to introduce solid foods by means of baby-led weaning may want to wait until closer to nine months, as per Parents. By around nine months, babies have gotten much better at chewing and effectively moving solids to the back of the mouth. Once he's gotten the technique of eating solid foods down, moms usually note that the breastfeeding dynamic changes drastically as baby acquires tastes for new foods.
8 Sensory Overload
One reason that many women struggle with maintaining breastfeeding is that their baby may struggle with sensory processing or sensory integration. This can lead to weaning prematurely. Babies can have difficulty when they are overstimulated by touch, are easily distracted by lights or sounds, or when they can't handle hunger to the point that they are stressed out and can't settle down enough to breastfeed, according to Breastfeeding Support. The nursing mother may not realize what is prompting the baby to turn away from breastfeeding or may become frustrated or discouraged, causing the weaning process to happen much earlier than she intended.
7 Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
When the decision is made to wean and the toddler is still breastfeeding, one way to help make the transition less stressful is to make it less visible. Toddlers have visual associations with breastfeeding, so not showing the chest to the toddler is one way to prevent her from thinking about breastfeeding, as per raisingchildren.net.au. Moms often dress or undress in front of their children, but during weaning might want to keep her top covered around the toddler. If the toddler associates nursing with specific times of the day, mom could stay out of sight and make sure the toddler is with another caregiver during those times.
6 Holding Her Head Steady
When moms are ready to introduce solid foods doesn't always correspond when with babies are ready. There are certain physical abilities a baby must have in order to reduce the risk of not being able to swallow and make learning to eat solid foods safer. In addition to being able to sit unassisted, baby should be able to hold his head up without wobbling, according to The Bump. If baby doesn't have the strength or control to hold her head steady, she may get food lodged in her throat in the process of swallowing. Most babies have the strength to hold their heads steady and sit up by six months of age.
5 He Said No
Many moms nurse well into toddlerhood and truly love the connection that breastfeeding them has established. Sometimes it's not the mom who is initiating weaning but is rather trying to continue the nursing relationship even after the child is ready to move on. If the toddler can say no or consistently turn away when breastfeeding is offered, it's a sign he's ready to move on, as per Balanced Breastfeeding. Moms might not be emotionally prepared for the end of breastfeeding, and can sometimes create a tense situation when they try to force the nursing to continue. If the child can articulate that he isn't interested, that's a clear sign.
4 Growing Bigger
More and more doctors are encouraging moms to breastfeed for as long as possible but at some point every child weans. If weaning sooner rather than later, moms usually look for signs, like the ability to sit or stand, hold his head up, and chew or swallow. Nursing may taper off naturally after solid foods are introduced, or mom may need to cease nursing. As breastfeeding decreases, moms should look for signs of continued growth in baby, according to Today's Parent. If baby continues to grow and thrive, it means she's getting enough nutrition. If baby develops serious gastrointestinal issues or stops growing, it's possible it was too soon to wean her.
3 Drooling At The Sight
Babies and toddlers will not only begin to notice the food that people eat around them, but they may also start reaching for it. Many moms have observed their toddlers showing a lot of interest in food and what others are eating, even to the point of salivating when they see or smell something they like, as per ABC Kids Inc. When a child is responding to foods and is not just able to bite, chew and swallow but actively wants to, that's a good sign that he's ready to eat more solids, which will likely cause at least some drop off in nursing and eventual cessation.
2 The Breastmilk Of Discontent
Moms might be surprised to learn that the taste of their breastmilk changes from day to day. It's not only what mom is eating that can affect the taste of her breastmilk, but her hormones play a role as well, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hormone fluctuations around mom's period can cause taste changes, as well as mom becoming pregnant again. A baby or toddler may completely refuse breastfeeding if he doesn't like how it tastes. Sometimes he will resume nursing again after a period of time, but toddlers may refuse breastfeeding and never come back to it, especially if they were only nursing occasionally.
1 A Pregnant Pause
Sometimes mom gets pregnant while still nursing her toddler. While some moms successfully nurse their toddler throughout the pregnancy and beyond, for many the pregnancy ends up speeding up the weaning process. Pregnancy hormones can change the taste of the breastmilk, and if mom starts producing colostrum, some toddlers also find it off-putting, because it's saltier than regular breastmilk, as per Australian Breastfeeding Network. Some moms may actively wean their toddler even if he doesn't mind the change in taste because she finds herself over-exhausted or stretched too thin. If she's not able to consistently maintain good nutrition, she may feel too worn out.
References: Breastfeeding Basics, The Natural Child Project, PhD In Parenting, HiPP Organic, Verywell Family, Today's Parent, Kelly Mom, MedicineNet, Aha! Parenting, WebMD, The Attached Family, Mouth Healthy, Parents, Breastfeeding Support, raisingchildren.net.au, The Bump, Balanced Breastfeeding, Today's Parent, ABC Kids Inc., Mayo Clinic, Australian Breastfeeding Network