Weaning is an important step in your life – both for you as a mother, and for your baby. It marks the end of your wonderful and emotional breastfeeding journey, and raises many questions: When should I stop breastfeeding? How long does the process last – and what is the right, most natural way to stop breastfeeding? How does rapid weaning work while ensuring milk ducts do not become blocked – and what other challenges might I face? In this article, we focus on these issues, and also provide useful tips and advice on getting through this special phase of the mother-child relationship.
First the most important thing: There is no ideal or right time to stop breastfeeding. The recommendation from the World Health Organization and other authorities is that babies should be exclusively breastfed during their first six months. After all, breast milk is a true superfood, perfectly tailored to the needs of babies, and constantly adapting.
Solids should be introduced from the start of the seventh month of life as the need for iron, zinc, and vitamins B and D increases from this time onwards, and it is easier to meet these needs through complementary feeding. Particularly suitable at first are fruit and vegetable puree of various kinds, and in different combinations, with potatoes, cereals, as well as potatoes, meat, and fish, being added later. The first pureed food marks the start of weaning, and is a special step in your journey together.
You can continue breastfeeding while your baby is getting used to the new food, because according to the WHO, it is advisable to keep feeding babies breast milk until at least two years of age, together with other foodstuffs. However, it is up to you and your baby alone to decide how long breastfeeding should continue.
Certain behavior on the part of your baby can indicate that your child is “ready” to be weaned:
Similarly, if you are looking for an answer to the question of exactly how long weaning lasts, it is safe to say: There isn’t one, as it varies from baby to baby. If your baby has older siblings, it may be that they had a mouthful or two of solids off their sibling’s plate, and so got used to pureed food more quickly.
Weaning generally lasts several weeks to several months, depending on how quickly your baby accepts a wide variety of solids. After all, this phase is also an exciting one for your baby, when the old routines slowly fade away and they are gaining new impressions and experiences. The gastrointestinal tract also needs a certain amount of time to get used to the new foods and for digestion to become established.
There are different methods of weaning, which you can choose according to your individual needs and preferences. A distinction is generally made between two common approaches:
This method includes a slow and gradual reduction of breastfeeding over a certain period of time. Start by replacing one breastfeeding session with solids, and gradually increase this until breastfeeding stops completely.
Sudden weaning is a faster method, where breastfeeding ends the next day. This can be a challenging experience for some mothers and babies, as it is such an abrupt transition. During this process, it is important to be there for your baby with a lot of love and understanding, and to replace the lost breastfeeding sessions with plenty of cuddles. Sudden weaning is necessary, for instance, if you are taking certain medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding.
The weaning process can be associated with different challenges. It is the physical and mental barriers that mothers face when weaning that are of the greatest concern:
As your body adapts to the new situation, you may experience breast tenderness and pain, especially with sudden weaning, but also with natural weaning – and you may suffer with blocked milk ducts. Blocked milk ducts happen when your breast is not emptied completely during breastfeeding, and the milk that is left behind cannot drain away. As a result, the milk ducts become blocked, which is unpleasant and painful. Blocked milk ducts are especially common at the start of breastfeeding, as the baby cannot yet manage to drink all the milk, and empty the breast.
But blocked milk ducts may also occur when weaning. This is hardly surprising: After all, you have produced milk constantly over the past few months. Now that you are gradually replacing breastfeeding with solids, your body first has to get used to a reduced demand for milk. This generally happens automatically, but it is also safe to say: Every body is different, and reacts differently to changing circumstances.
The following tips may be useful for weaning without blocked milk ducts, or for clearing existing blocked milk ducts:
Summarized here once again are our best tips and tricks to make natural weaning – ideally without blocked milk ducts – go smoothly, and to make it easy for you and your baby to get through this special time together: