When to wean

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

When Stephanie Walters realized her 2-month-old daughter preferred the bottle to the breast, the Gahanna mom was disappointed.

She had hoped to nurse her fourth child a little longer, but Fiona, pictured here with her mom, always wanted a bottle after breastfeeding.

"I remember thinking it was kind of silly. I'm doing double duty," she said. "I was sad that it went so fast."

Still, Walters said, she was glad to provide Fiona and her other three children with the healthy start that breastfeeding provides.

In the U.S., weaning often happens when children are about 6 weeks old because that's when many moms return to work, said Cindy Jensen, a lactation consultant at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Jensen encourages nursing as long as it's "mutually desirable" for mother and child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005 began recommending that mothers nurse their babies exclusively for six months. Previously, the academy called for breastfeeding the entire first year.

"That's still a recommendation," Jensen said. "(But) we wouldn't want a mom to feel like she has to keep going."

Most moms wean before their babies reach 6 months old, Jensen said: In Ohio, 30 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding their babies at the 6-month mark and by baby's first birthday, 12 percent are.

No matter when they choose to wean, moms need to take their time doing so. Rapid weaning will put them at risk for engorgement and/or breast infection, said Tiffany Rumbalski of Dublin, a local leader for the La Leche League, an international breastfeeding advocacy group.

A slow transition also is good for the child who has grown used to the skin-to-skin contact that nursing provides, Rumbalski said.

And moms should always do what they're comfortable with, Rumbalski stressed. "Any breastfeeding is a great accomplishment," she said.

Weaning Basics

When mom initiates weaning, the goal is to eliminate one breastfeeding every few days:

  • If the infant is younger than 6 months old, replace the feeding with a bottle.
  • If the infant is older than 6 months and eating solids, ask your pediatrician if a bottle or food should replace that feeding. When the child initiates weaning, the goal is to follow the child's lead:
  • If weaning occurs before the first birthday, mom may need to use a breast pump to help her reduce her milk supply more slowly.
Whether mom or child initiates the weaning, remember to spend time cuddling with your child. Nursing wasn't just been about the nutrition but also the comforting contact.

Weaning Resources

Healthy People 2010 Breastfeeding Objectives

"How Weaning Happens" by Diane Bengson

"The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning" by Kathleen Huggins and Linda Ziedrich

American Academy of Pediatrics

La Leche League of Ohio

Consumer Reports review of breast pumps

Age Appropriate

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