Deciding when to wean baby off breast is a very personal choice for mothers and their children.
"If a mother and baby are finding breastfeeding mutually beneficial they can continue breastfeeding as long as the mother and baby desire," registered nurse and lactation consultant Hillary Sadler told TODAY Parents. "However, there are times when breastfeeding for a longer duration might have a negative effect on the mother and/or the baby."
What is the best age to start weaning a baby? There’s no hard-and-fast rule.
Sadler emphasized to TODAY that when the mother’s mental health is being affected, it’s time to consider weaning.
"Sometimes mothers become overwhelmed and the continuation of breastfeeding might negatively affect the mother-child relationship," Sadler explained, adding that breastfeeding is a full time job for mothers.
Tips for weaning baby
A gradual wean will be easier on a mother's mind and body. Stopping abruptly puts moms at risk for clogged ducts, engorgement, and mastitis.
Drop overnight feeds first.
"I typically recommend dropping any overnight feeds first," Sadler said. "Prolactin levels — the hormone responsible for making milk — are higher in the middle of the night, (so) dropping overnight feeds first, if you’re still breastfeeding overnight, will help decrease your supply."
Drop one feed every three to five days.
"It takes your body about three to five days to adjust to the 'message' you send it today," Sadler explained. "You want your body to adjust before dropping the next feed."
Sadler said some women will be able to wean faster than others, depending on how much milk is in the body.
Have a plan for feeding baby.
"If your baby is less than 12 months old, it’s important to start supplementing with formula as you begin decreasing feedings from the breast," Sadler said. "Breastmilk or formula is your baby’s primary source of nutrition during the first 12 months of their life."
Make sure to manage your symptoms.
Sadler said some moms may experience engorgement or clogged milk ducts.
"Engorgement is your body’s way of telling your breasts that you don’t need the milk anymore," she said. "The key to preventing mastitis when weaning is to 'manage' the engorgement."
Expect to be on an emotional roller coaster for a few weeks.
A mother's hormones will fluctuate as they wean.
"One minute you might feel excited about the weaning process and the next minute you might be feeling sad this season is coming to an end," Sadler said.
Don't forget: You are in control.
"It’s really important that you are the one making the decision to wean," Sadler said. "Don’t let outside voices or other standards guilt or pressure you into weaning. Even when you’ve decided you’re really ready to wean there will be days you question your decision. It’s really important that it’s your decision."
Ask for help if you need it.
"Working one-on-one with a lactation consultant is really helpful during the weaning process, because every woman is different, and the weaning process will look different for each person," Sadler said.