How Long Should I Breastfeed and How Do I Wean?
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.
How long should I breastfeed?
Experts recommend that you feed your baby only breast milk until he or she is 6 months old. Breastfeeding for the first 6 months can decrease your baby's risk for illnesses. These illnesses include respiratory (lung) infections, allergies, asthma, and stomach problems. Your baby will need a vitamin D supplement soon after birth. Talk to your healthcare provider about the amount and type of vitamin D supplement that is best for your baby. Experts also recommend that you continue to breastfeed your baby until he or she is at least 12 months old after he or she starts eating solid foods. You can breastfeed longer if you choose to.
What is weaning?
Weaning means that you breastfeed your baby less or you stop breastfeeding him or her. Weaning starts naturally when your baby begins to eat solid foods. He or she will start to breastfeed less during this time.
When should I begin weaning my baby?
Talk with your healthcare provider about the best time to wean your baby. The following are general guidelines:
- Introduce solid foods at about 6 months. Your baby may show signs that he or she is ready to start eating solid foods. He or she may watch others with interest when they are eating and reach for the food. He or she should be able to hold his or her head up and sit in a feeding chair or infant seat.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about formula. Your baby needs nutrients from breast milk until he or she is at least 12 months old. If you stop breastfeeding your baby before he or she is 12 months old, you will need to bottle-feed him or her formula. Make sure the formula is fortified with iron.
Why should I avoid early weaning?
- Early weaning may cause digestive problems. Your baby's digestive system is not ready for solid food until he or she is about 6 months old. He or she may also have an increased risk for celiac disease. This is when the body cannot process gluten, a substance found in wheat and other grains.
- Early weaning may increase your baby's risk for skin problems. An example is eczema. Eczema causes skin swelling, redness, and itching.
- Your baby may be at risk for increased weight gain later in life. Breastfeeding allows your baby to stop feeding when he or she is full. Babies who drink from a bottle may drink more than they need because they are encouraged to drink the entire bottle. Some formulas also have more calories than breast milk.
- Your baby may develop nutrition problems. Early weaning may cause your baby to drink less breast milk. Breast milk provides the right balance of nutrients that your baby needs.
What can lead to early weaning?
You may want to wean your baby from breast milk early if you are having problems. Most of these problems can be fixed to allow breastfeeding to continue. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are thinking about weaning early for any reason.
- You develop any breast problems. It is normal to have sore nipples during the first 1 to 2 weeks of breastfeeding. After the first week of breastfeeding, this discomfort should decrease. It should not hurt to breastfeed. You may also develop a plugged duct. A plugged duct is a milk duct in your breast that is blocked. This may cause tender lumps in your breast. Engorgement may occur 3 to 5 days after you give birth. The breasts become swollen and painful. This can make breastfeeding uncomfortable. Talk to your healthcare provider if you develop any of these breast problems.
- You think your breast milk supply is too low. You may feel that your breasts are not making enough milk to satisfy your baby. Most mothers do make enough milk for their babies, even if they think they do not.
- You do not have enough support. It may be hard to keep breastfeeding if you do not have support. Talk to your partner, family, and friends about the benefits of breastfeeding.
- You need to return to work. Breastfeeding may be hard for women in the workplace. Check with your supervisor about providing time to nurse or express milk at work.
- Your baby has a health problem. When your baby has health problems, it may be harder to breastfeed. This may occur if your baby is in the hospital for a while after birth.
Why is it important to give my baby solid foods after he or she is 6 months old?
- Your baby has new nutrition needs. Your baby needs other foods to meet his or her nutrition needs when he or she reaches 6 months of age. He or she needs certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, to allow for normal growth and development.
- Your baby learns eating skills. Your baby will learn to move food in his or her mouth and chew. He or she will also learn to hold and use a spoon to feed himself or herself.
- Your baby learns to try new tastes and textures. This helps your baby learn to eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups. This will help him or her get all the nutrients he or she needs when he or she is weaned from breast milk or formula.
How do I introduce solid foods to my baby?
- At 6 months, give him or her solid foods 2 to 3 times each day. Good first foods to give your baby include rice cereal and pureed vegetables and fruit. Mash or puree all foods given to your baby until he or she is 8 to 9 months old.
- At 6 to 9 months, change the texture of his or her foods. Start to give him or her mashed food that has soft lumps. The lumps help him or her learn to eat foods with more texture. You can also start to give him or her soft finger foods, such as small pieces of banana. At this stage, your baby may start learning how to feed himself or herself. Continue to give him or her solid foods 2 to 3 times each day. You can also give him or her liquids in a cup with a lid. Your baby will still continue to breastfeed about 4 to 6 times each day.
- At 9 to 12 months, feed him or her solid foods 3 to 4 times each day. You can also give him or her 1 or 2 healthy snacks. Start to give him or her other finger foods, such as bits of low-sugar cereal or pieces of cracker. Give him or her minced and chopped foods. Focus on giving him or her foods that your family eats. This will get your baby used to eating the types of foods your family enjoys. At this stage, your baby may start using a spoon to feed himself or herself.
- At 12 months, your baby should eat mostly table foods. Do not give him or her foods with a high choking risk. Some examples are hard, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and hot dogs. When your baby is 12 months old, you may start to give him or her cow's milk. Do not give your baby cow's milk before he or she is 12 months old. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about healthy foods you can feed your child.
What problems may happen when I start to wean my baby from breast milk?
- You may develop plugged ducts, engorgement, or an infection. To prevent these problems, slowly increase the amount of time between feedings. It may also help to express milk between feedings.
- Your child may resist weaning. He or she may not want to give up breastfeeding. To ease your child into weaning, slowly introduce the cup or bottle. You may also want to keep nursing at certain times, such as before your child naps. Depending on your child's age, you may need to explain to him or her why you are breastfeeding less often.
Where can I get support and more information?
- American Academy of Pediatrics
345 Park Boulevard
Itasca , IL 60143
Phone: 1- 800 - 433-9016
Web Address: http://www.aap.org
- La Leche League International
957 North Plum Grove Road
Schaumburg , IL 60173
Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
Web Address: http://www.lalecheleague.org
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- You feel you are not making enough breast milk for your baby.
- You have nipple pain or your nipples are red, dry, cracked, or bleeding.
- You have a fever or your body feels very achy.
- One or both of your breasts is red, swollen or hard, painful, and feels warm or hot.
- You have engorgement that does not get better within 24 hours.
- You have questions or concerns about breastfeeding or how to wean your baby.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan how you are going to wean your baby. To help with this plan, learn as much as you can about weaning. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have. You and your healthcare provider can work together to plan the best way to wean your baby.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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