If you’re a mom, even a brand new one, I’m sure you’ve thought about weaning. Moms often get caught up with the idea of weaning from a number of things. The most common that you hear about, of course, is breastfeeding. But breastfeeding isn’t the only thing that you’ll have to wean your baby from. Some of the most common weaning worries are related to weaning from breastfeeding, weaning off of the bottle, weaning off of the pacifier, and weaning from common sleep associations.
We have to worry about weaning our small babies off of so many different things as they grow that it can be overwhelming. You’re not alone if you fear that weaning from breastfeeding seems impossible, weaning from the pacifier seems inconvenient, or you feel like you don’t know where to start with taking away the bottle. Most moms come across these issues at one time or another.
Why is this such an issue? Well, because if we give our babies full reign over when they stop a habit that they are used to, it can take years longer than what is comfortable for us as moms. Most of the time your baby needs a little assistance in moving on.
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Weaning Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult
I feel like parents are often told the lie that everything should happen right now. We want sleep training to last exactly 3 days, we want our baby to learn how to breastfeed on the very first night, and we want our baby to sleep in their own space as soon as they arrive home.
I’m sorry to break the news to you, but most of the time, it just doesn’t work out like that. If you slow down and allow yourself to accept that things take time and your baby needs to be at a certain developmental level to achieve the milestones that you want for them, you will be a happier mommy.
Try to accept that everything that you want for your child, they have to learn. Babies don’t automatically know anything other than “suck and cry”. Teach them, mommy! Don’t leave your baby to learn anything on their own. Don’t expect them to just know anything. Every day that you accept that your baby is learning at her own pace and will eventually understand what you’re teaching her, is another day closer to your goal.
It’s important to take your child’s needs into account as you wean. Babies are usually emotionally connected to the thing you are trying to wean from. Even though you know that they will be fine after they wean, they don’t know that. It is a loss for them and it’s hard. I think the loss feels greater as your child gets older so my opinion is to wean as soon as you feel that it’s the right time for both of you. If you do it gently and over time, it is a whole lot less painful than it seems.
9 Tips To Weaning Gracefully
These 9 tips work for weaning from anything you are trying to move away from. Whatever phase of weaning you are in right now, whether it is weaning from breastfeeding, weaning from the pacifier, taking away the bottle, or changing sleep associations, you can take these tips and apply them to your situation.
I have weaned from all of the things I just mentioned with these methods and they were all fairly painless. I will offer some specific examples within each step, but remember that you can use these methods with all types of weaning, not just the examples that I give.
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Tip # 1: Do It Gradually
I am a fan of “the slower the better” approach to make weaning easy on everyone. When you take it nice and slow , it not only will be gradual enough that you baby hardly notices the change, but also YOU will hardly notice the change.
If you were to ask me how long it took me to wean my son from anything including breastfeeding, bottle use, pacifier use, or sleep associations, I would not have an answer for you. I never had an experience that went something like this “I got my baby to ________ in just three days!”. No, instead, as my baby grew, he reached new milestones and as his needs changed, our routine changed with him. This helped me wean him from things one step at time.
Thinking about it this way, I guess you could say that it took me 10 months to wean from the pacifier because I started to wean him from “awake-time” use when he was 4 months old and he was completely off of the pacifier all together by the time he was 14 months old. It took me 12 months to wean from breastfeeding because my son gradually took less and less feedings as he grew older and he was weaned off of the breast at 12 months old. Are you catching my drift? Weaning isn’t something you do over the weekend. It’s something you teach your baby to do over time as he meets new milestones and his needs change.
Drop one feeding at a time and continue this way until it is comfortable for both of you. There is no set time that you need to complete weaning by. Seriously. You don’t have to take away a feeding every three days or anything like that. Take away a feeding every “however long you feel comfortable with”. If you have given yourself a date or an age in mind that you want your child to be completely weaned by, then start the process early to be as gentle on your baby and on yourself as possible.
Tip # 2: Don’t Offer and Don’t Refuse
When you are ready to wean your baby from something and you’ve decided that taking it slow is the best way to approach it, the first step is actually not to “take it away” at all. Hear me out, I promise. Using this method, you are not calling extra attention to what you are taking away. By telling your child that they are not allowed to have something, you are bringing more attention to it than necessary. Just start “forgetting” about it every now and then.
During the times during the day that you are used to sitting down and nursing, just skip it. Don’t sit down, don’t mention it, and don’t offer it. You can start a new task, talk to her about something distracting, offer food or a sippy cup, do whatever you need to to avoid offering the breast. If your baby still asks to nurse by pulling on your shirt or whatever she normally does to show interest in nursing, go ahead and give it to her. Having to ask for it without it being offered makes it easy for your baby to forget.
When the time comes during the day that your baby is used to taking the pacifier, just don’t offer it. Skip it completely (and follow the other advice listed below) and see what happens.
We started to “forget” about the binky in the car pretty early on. If my son would fuss or have problems in the car we would try to distract him with something else like a book or a toy but we wouldn’t give him the binky unless he really needed it. Eventually he no longer expected the binky in the car and we moved on to the next phase, which was forgetting about the binky during sleep times.
Tip # 3: Start With The Least Noticeable Change
It would be a lot more difficult to take away something that he loves the most, don’t you think? Start small when it comes to weaning.
Don’t try to take away the bedtime feeding or the morning feeding as a first step.
The best thing you can do is drop the least favorite feeding first. This typically means mid-day feedings. If it’s during the day, offer a bottle or a sippy cup with water or milk to replace nursing. When this becomes the new “normal” and he no longer expects or remembers that there was a feeding missing, you can move on to the next feeding to drop.
Continue this pattern until all you have left is one feeding. For me, the last feeding to go was the morning feeding. It was my favorite feed by far. We weaned off nursing to sleep far before we weaned from breastfeeding all together so he did not need me to nurse him at night to get the comfort that he craved. Mornings, on the other hand, were a different story. He had been away from me all night long and needed a little extra snuggles and attention in the morning. We kept this feeding longer than all the rest and only stopped when we were both ready.
If your baby is using the bottle as comfort before bed, as many babies do, this should be the last bottle to go. It’s much easier to offer a sippy cup throughout the day when you’re on the move and eating meals than it is to offer a sippy cup before bedtime.
The very first (and very early) weaning from the pacifier should be “casual” use. This means that you are no longer giving the pacifier for “awake-time” comfort. If your baby likes to watch TV with a pacifier in his mouth or just sucks on it as he is pushed in the stroller, that’s the first thing to go. The second thing to go is the “fussy” use. This means that at any time during the day when your baby is “fussy” and you just plop a pacifier in his mouth, needs to go away ASAP. You can use other methods to calm him down throughout the day. Keep taking away uses for the pacifier until he is only using it to sleep. Removing the pacifier for sleep is much harder than taking it away during the day. So save that one for last.
Tip # 4: Introduce Alternatives Early
If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I am all about a solid routine. I’m not talking a strict schedule, but a routine that is easily recognized and expected by your baby. If you have a really good routine in place, you will be able to sub-out certain parts of your routine with your baby hardly noticing because she has all the other factors that she is used to.
Sleep association example:
If baby is used to having mama rock or nurse him to sleep every night, introduce someone else every now and again even before you’re interested in weaning. Allow Daddy, Grandma, or even a babysitter to put the baby down to bed every now and then so that mama isn’t the only way that baby knows how to fall asleep.
Make the snuggling with a lovey more obvious, introduce a new bedtime event such as reading, telling a story, or Eskimo kisses in place of when you normally put the binky in his mouth. Soon he will get used to the Eskimo kisses in the rocking chair and forget about the binky. This isn’t something that will work in three days or anything like that. This is something that will ease your baby off of his addiction gently and slowly.
This one is pretty obvious, and to be honest, pretty darn easy. Every time that your baby is used to taking a bottle, try to sub it out for a sippy cup. Continue to put in it what he is used to having at first. If he is expecting a bottle with breast milk, give a sippy cup with breast milk instead. Try not to introduce a sippy cup for the first time when you are already ready to start weaning off of the bottle. Remember that you should be intruding a sippy cup for practice really early–I’m talking like four months old. They won’t be using a sippy cup for nutrition or hydration at this point. It will just be for fun and practice. But if you are introducing this substitution early, when it comes time that you are actually substituting it out, your baby won’t be completely confused.
Tip #5: Give It Less Time (Or Give Less Of It)
This works like a charm. At least it did for us. When you limit the amount of time or amount of substance that you allow with the thing that you are weaning from, their need for it decreases at the same rate.
As we were trying to wean from the bottle (which was probably the easiest of all of our weaning endeavors), all we had to do was give him his bottle at his usual times with less and less milk in it over time.
That doesn’t mean he was going hungry. When he would finish the bottle, we would offer a sippy cup with the rest of his portion a little while later. Since my son had been using a sippy cup for play and practice since he was around 4 months old, by the time we wanted him off of the bottle when he turned one, he was familiar with the cups that we were giving him.
Sleep association example:
If you are trying to wean your baby off of rocking to sleep or any other sleep association, this is FOR SURE my preferred method. I rocked my son to sleep for a long time (and I still rock him. Just not all the way to sleep). When I decided that it was time that he was capable of putting himself to sleep, I started rocking him for less and less time. For example’s sake, let’s say that you rock your baby for 15 minutes.
If you are rocking your baby for 15 minutes to get him all the way to sleep, start rocking him for ten minutes instead. Continue to use all other sleep associations and continue your usual bedtime routine so that he doesn’t notice the difference as drastic or jarring. Continue to decrease the time that you rock him until it is short and sweet and completely not required for sleep to happen.
That’s the main thing.
The goal isn’t that you never rock your baby to sleep. The goal is that you won’t have to rock him in order for him to fall asleep. I reached that goal because I continued to rock him for less and less time until eventually I was putting him in the crib awake. Soon, he began to get used to it and never knew the wiser.
Tip #6: Continue Your Routine
I truly believe that my son became an excellent sleeper (after having months of what seemed like no sleep at all) because we were consistent with our routine.
If you are using the E.A.S.Y routine (which I highly suggest), weaning (from anything) is just simpler, I swear.
With a good routine, you will have every opportunity to replace whatever you are trying to wean from with something more acceptable to you.
If you are weaning from breastfeeding, instead of nursing when baby wakes up from a nap, give a bottle when he wakes up.
If you are weaning from the bottle, give him a sippy cup. The routine is what he’s used to. He’s used to getting milk when he wakes up from sleep. He might be confused and resistant for the first couple of days, but it shouldn’t be the end of the world since he’s still getting what he wants…just in a different form.
If you are weaning from the pacifier, at the time that you usually plop a binky in his mouth, substitute that step with something else that will distract him such as giving his favorite stuffed animals kisses or snuggling with a lovey.
Sleep Association Example:
When you usually do “the thing” that helps your baby get to sleep, do something else. Don’t just skip it completely yet. If you want to wean from the swing, sit in the rocking chair. If you want to wean from rocking, sit in the rocking chair without rocking.
My favorite example is weaning from the swaddle.
When you wean from a swaddle, it can make for a few really difficult nights. But there comes a time when you know that it is safer if you take him out of the swaddle. In our family, the swaddle was part of our routine so we needed to replace it with something else before he was able to wean completely. First we transitioned to this magical contraption that I absolutely loved and then when that was no longer needed, we made another transition to a simple sleep sack. When the sleep sack was no longer needed, he was at the age where I was comfortable giving him a small muslin blanket to replace it.
See what I did there? My son never noticed that something was being taken away because the change was gradual and it was always replaced with something more acceptable to me.
Tip #7: Take Cues From Your Baby
Pay attention! Don’t just shrug off signs that your baby might be getting on the weaning train. If your baby is forgetting about a nursing session, let it pass. Give her a snack to nibble on or a sippy cup with water to take it’s place. If the baby is drifting off to sleep in your arms without the pacifier, leave it out. Don’t continue to encourage the item that needs weaning just because you aren’t 100% certain you’re ready to wean. One time here and there won’t change the world as you know it, but it will allow your child to experiment with life without the thing he’s used to.
Your baby might surprise you. Take the hint. Take things away when they are no longer needed (before they become a habit even harder to break)
Tip #8: Timing Is Everything
There is no rule regarding what is the right time to wean a baby from something. You have to find the right time for you and your family. That being said, there will be times that will be easier for you, and times that will be harder. You have to pay attention to the signs that your baby is showing you in order to pinpoint exactly what time will be easiest to wean.
My advice to you regarding timing is mainly two things:
- Don’t be afraid. If you feel that it is time for you to wean from something, then do it. Don’t avoid weaning from something because you fear the process. Take the advice listed in this post and go slowly- one step at a time. Weaning can be painless if you do it right.
- Don’t force it. I don’t want you to think that just because “that mom over there” has weaned her child already means that you should also wean yours. Don’t wean your baby from something just because you’re worried that you’re taking too long compared to someone else. Just go with the flow, wean slowly, and listen to the cues that you and your baby are ready.
Tip #9: Stick To Your Guns
The worst thing to do when you’re weaning is to track backwards. No! Don’t ruin your progress! It is easy to assume that your baby is fussy tonight because she wants her binky even though baby has been falling asleep without the pacifier for the past 3 nights. Don’t do that to yourself. If your baby has been doing fine without the pacifier, rocking to sleep, nursing, or whatever else, don’t assume that any bad day or sleepless night is because of “that thing”.
I was tempted multiple times to give in with the pacifier at night. Every once in a while, soon after we weaned from the pacifier, my son would wake in the middle of the night. He hadn’t done that in months! So I would start to panic and assume that he was waking because he didn’t have his pacifier. That was all in my head. He was fine. Babies wake in the night sometimes.
Don’t sabotage yourself by giving back the thing that you have successfully taken away. If you have decided that you need or want to wean at this point in time, your baby is showing you signs and cues that he can do it, and you’ve started the process, just remember that the light at the end of the tunnel is reachable. You are almost there if you just hang tight!
“Weaning” Doesn’t Mean Weaning From Mom
Remember that through a weaning process, your baby might be feeling a loss. Don’t forget that affection, cuddles or any type of love that you normally give to your baby should still be given abundantly throughout any weaning process. You don’t have to separate yourself from your baby in any way when you start to change their routine. Help them remember that when they lose something, or something get’s taken away, they still have you.
I firmly believe that sometimes your baby does need more love and attention from mommy than other days. My child has been sleeping 12 straight hours at night after falling asleep independently for over a year now. I still pick him up if he’s crying in his crib. Why? Because it’s unusual. It means something is wrong. Babies aren’t robots. Just because I taught him how to sleep on his own, and how to fall asleep without me, doesn’t mean he doesn’t need me every once in a while. I will even rock him completely to sleep if he isn’t feeling good.
These things won’t ruin any progress that I’ve had. These things are just nature. They are what I am meant to do as his mother.
Good luck, mama! Weaning can be hard and exhausting sometimes but I hope these tips make things go a little more smoothly. Let me know what has worked for you in the comments!