mum feeding baby by bottle
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Tips for weaning baby off the breast

How long you want to breastfeed your baby is a completely personal choice. There is no right or wrong time to stop but when you do decide to move on from breastfeeding, making the transition to bottles or cups can seem daunting.

It might be tempting to try to stop suddenly and all at once but this can be quite traumatic for both you and your baby and is likely to leave your breasts feeling engorged and uncomfortable. It can also put you at risk of mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breasts. 

If there is no medical or practical reason why you have to stop breastfeeding immediately, it is usually more effective to wean your baby off the breast gradually.

Drop a feed at a time and replace it with formula if your baby is under 12 months. Spending some time offering a combination of breast milk and formula milk will help your little one get used to the idea.

If your baby breastfeeds as part of their bedtime routine, this feed will probably be the most challenging to replace so drop feeds at other times first. Once your baby is used to having bottles at other times of the day, they may be more likely to accept one at bedtime too.

It is a good idea to wait a few days before dropping each feed as this allows your milk supply to gradually reduce and gives your baby time to adjust to the changes. This does mean the process will take a while but should make it easier for both of you.

If your child is over the age of one, you don’t need to worry about replacing breastfeeds. Just make sure you are giving your toddler plenty of fluids in addition to their meals.

How to make stopping breastfeeding easier

  • Ask your partner or another loved one to give formula feeds initially if possible. If you offer your little one a bottle or cup, they are more likely to feel frustrated as they will be able to smell your breast milk.
  • Wear a top which is difficult for your little one to access. Depending on the age of your child when you decide to stop breastfeeding, they may attempt to help themselves to feeds and latch on themselves. Wearing a sports bra and a top or dress with a high neck at times of the day when you don’t want to breastfeed can help avoid this.
  • Using distractions when your little one asks for a feed can help. Divert their attention away from breastfeeding with something positive and then offer them their milk in a bottle or cup or if they are a toddler, you may want to offer them a healthy snack instead.
  • If you are weaning a toddler or older child off the breast, you may want to start the process by adopting a policy of ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’. If you don’t mention breastfeeding to your child or offer a feed, you may well find that they naturally reduce the number of times they breastfeed. It can also be helpful to make some changes to their usual routine so they are less likely to think about the fact they would normally have a feed in that situation.
  • If your breasts are feeling too full, you might want to express a little to ease the discomfort. However, only express just enough to reduce the engorgement. Your milk supply will gradually reduce as you drop feeds and your body realises there is no longer a demand but this can take time.

Sign up for a free online antenatal class