I was confident I would stop breastfeeding my son by the time he was 6 months old, but Bode had other ideas. When it came time for weaning off breastfeeding and to introduce a bottle, he pushed, screamed, and absolutely refused to take it. I tried different nipple flows. I gave him a sippy cup. My husband attempted to give him formula. Nothing worked.
On the rare occasion when I had to go to out for the day, leaving him for eight-plus hours, he would refuse to drink until I got home. This went on until Bode was 14 months old. Then, during a hot day at the park, I reluctantly handed him the untouched sippy cup I always had on hand. To my surprise, he grabbed it and drank it down in one gulp. After that, I started to reduce breastfeedings and within two weeks he was weaned. “Sometimes, a child is not developmentally ready to say good-bye to the breast,” says Terriann Shell, director of professional development at the International Lactation Consultant Association and mother of seven. “When you least expect it, they surprise you.”
Because I work from home, I had the luxury of waiting for my bottle-resistant child to take to a sippy cup. But for many moms, the choice to continue breastfeeding is not an option. Whatever your situation, follow these basic steps to successfully wean even the most reluctant of babies.
The weaning off breastfeeding process
Start trying to wean your child two to four weeks before you actually want to stop breastfeeding. If he is under a year, switch to formula. Babies over one year can take two-percent milk. “If your child is not growing well, or is less than the fifth percentile for weight, you should see a pediatrician to evaluate,” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta-based pediatrician and co-author of Food Fights.
Some babies will take the bottle right away; others will need a little gentle nudging. Replace his least favorite feeding first. Usually, this will be a daytime feed when there are other more interesting things going on. “Try wrapping the bottle in something you’ve worn so the scent is familiar,” Shell says. And it’s also a good idea to feed baby a little food before you give him the bottle so he won’t be starving. “You can even take the edge off his hunger with a little breast first,” Shu says. Many moms think if they wait until their baby is really hungry, he will be more likely to take the bottle, but the opposite is usually true.
Be patient and your child will eventually take the bottle or cup. He may drink less for a few days, but soon he will realize he needs to start getting liquid from a source other than you. Babies don’t need as much fluid as you may think: A 6-month-old baby requires 24 to 32 ounces of fluids a day. But baby food is full of water, so if she’s eating solids, she will get some fluids that way. You can also try mixing formula into her cereal. “Babies won’t starve themselves,” Shu says. “If he seems satisfied, is peeing, pooping, and growing, you don’t have to worry.”
Easing the Pressure
Remove one feeding every two or three days so your milk supply can diminish naturally. If you do become engorged, express a small amount milk to make yourself feel more comfortable. If you are really uncomfortable, holding a cold compress over your breasts with gentle pressure can also help. Believe it or not, placing a chilled cabbage leaf on each breast does wonders for the swelling and pressure of engorgement. Another thing to keep in mind: Sometimes mothers and experience “baby blues” once they stop nursing, so stay aware of your hormonal shifts during this time.
Remember, weaning can be an emotional time for both mom and baby, and when your child rejects the bottle it can make things even more trying. Just be patient, take extra time if you can, and be there to offer your love and support.
When Baby Moves On
Sometimes baby decides to stop breastfeeding before mom is emotionally ready to let go. If your baby suddenly stops, rule out any possible medical reasons. “Sometimes nasal congestion or an ear infection can make your baby turn away from the breast,” says Terriann Shell, director of professional development at the International Lactation Consultant Association.
If baby is healthy and still doesn’t want the breast, try offering it to him when he is half asleep, nurse in a place with no distractions, or increase your skin-to-skin contact time. “Usually babies will come back,” Shell says. Or, you can accept that your child is ready for a sippy cup and look for alternative ways to bond, such as reading or singing. “Remember, breastfeeding isn’t the only way to be close with your child,” Shu says.
Nancy Ripton is a freelance writer and co-founder of the pregnancy and parenting website JustTheFactsBaby.com. She is expecting her second child in November and hopes things will be easier with weaning the second time around.