Here’s how to wean from breastfeeding to whole milk in just 4 weeks, plus tips to manage breast discomfort and recognize milk allergy.
If you’re a first time mom, you’ll likely have lots of questions about breastfeeding and weaning.
When should I start?
How much milk does my child need?
Will it be painful?
Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered!
Below, you’ll find the best tips and tricks for how to wean from breastfeeding to whole milk, our gentle method to wean a child in just 4 weeks, and tips to make it easier for mom!
When should you wean from breastfeeding to whole milk?
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continued breastfeeding while introducing complementary foods for the first year of life.
And according to the latest breastfeeding statistics, the World Health Organization encourages breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond.
However, when you choose to wean is a personal decision.
It’s important to listen to your body and follow your baby’s lead.
Some children are ready to wean earlier than others and may start showing interest in solid foods on their own.
While others may take a little longer.
According to the CDC, children under 12 months of age who are ready to wean, should transition to infant formula.
And children 12 months or older can transition to whole cow’s milk or fortified, unsweetened soy milk.
If you don’t have strong feelings either way, a baby’s first birthday is a good time to start. Babies who continue to breastfeed for meals once they hit 1 year may start to lose weight because breast milk alone can no longer provide all of the calories and nutrients they need.
If you have a bottle-fed baby doctors also encourage transitioning from a bottle to a sippy cup at this time to avoid “milk-bottle cavities” and tooth decay.
Signs Your Baby is Ready to Wean
Here are some signs your baby is ready to wean:
- They’re disinterested or fussy when nursing.
- Their nursing sessions become shorter.
- They’re easily distracted while nursing.
- They “play at the breast” (pulling off and on or biting).
- They nurse for comfort without actually drawing any milk.
Partial Weaning vs Full Weaning
Weaning doesn’t have to be all or nothing!
If you or your baby aren’t quite ready to give up nursing altogether, you can try partial weaning.
This is when you chose to only nurse at certain times of the day.
Many women keep morning and night nursing sessions and drop daytime feedings so they have more time to do other things.
This may also make eventual full weaning easier on your child.
Do what feels right for you!
How much whole milk does a baby need when weaning?
At one year of age, your child will need around 16-24 ounces of whole milk a day, including yogurt.
And at 2 years old, that number goes down to no more than 16 ounces a day.
Unlike breastmilk or formula, cow’s milk does not provide all the nutrients a child needs, and it’s meant to be supplemental to other solid foods.
You can also offer small amounts of water, but their main source of liquid should be milk.
Tips for Weaning to Whole Milk
How to Wean from Breast Milk to Whole Milk
The weaning process may look different from mother to mother and child to child.
However, it’s usually best to make it a gradual process rather than cold turkey.
This will give your baby time to adjust and your milk production will slowly decrease over time.
Our Gentle Weaning Technique
Here’s the gentle weaning technique that our family uses. It’s worked well for each of our 4 children, and the process only takes about a month.
We start weaning our children at 11 months, but you can choose to start at 12 months or later.
At this time, I’m nursing 4 times a day following our baby’s sleep schedule.
Our technique is to replace one breast milk feeding with whole milk every week until they’re completely weaned. So it will take 4 weeks to wean.
I start with the easiest feeding to replace which is the late afternoon, then lunchtime, then morning, then night.
You can provide the milk in a cup if your child was never introduced to bottles.
We use the 360-degree cups first. Then I teach them how to use a straw.
This method is what works best for our family and may not be for everyone.
Other Weaning Methods
Alternatively, you can start offering milk as a beverage alongside your child’s solid foods.
If you choose this option, you can slowly shorten your nursing sessions so your milk production slows and eventually stops. If there’s little to no breast milk for baby, they should become disinterested in nursing.
Or, you can eliminate one nursing session at a time until you’re no longer nursing.
Keep in mind that it’s easier to drop daytime feedings.
Nighttime feeding is usually a big source of comfort for babies and toddlers as part of their bedtime routine.
Other daily routines are more easily disrupted.
Start during the day and eliminate the bedtime feeding last.
Tips to Make the Transition Easier
If you have an older baby you can help them get used to the taste of cow’s milk by adding it to complementary foods.
Use it to mix oatmeal and cereal, stir it into pureed fruits, and cook with it when making homemade weaning muffins or cookies.
You can also mix the cow’s milk with your baby’s formula or breast milk to get them used to the taste.
More tips and tricks:
- When it’s feeding time, distract your child with a fun game or activity. Or tell them you’ll nurse them a little bit later.
- Warm up the whole milk to make it more similar to the breast milk they’re used to.
- Offer extra snuggles and bonding time to compensate.
- Lay them back while offering them the sippy cup to simulate the breastfeeding position.
- Share feeding duties with your partner if your child gets upset when you won’t offer the breast.
How To Manage Breast Discomfort When Weaning
As you begin to nurse less frequently, you’ll likely experience breast engorgement until your milk supply decreases, especially if you cut off feedings cold turkey.
And you may experience feelings of anxiety and stress.
Remember to take things slow and practice self-care.
If you get a blocked duct, try using an electric or manual pump like the Haakaa to get things moving again.
You can fill a silicone breast pump with water and Epsom salt (which has anti-inflammatory properties). Then attach it to the breast and let the gentle suction work its magic.
Many women also use cold cabbage leaves to reduce pain and swelling.
How To Identify Milk Allergies
It’s important to watch for food allergies as your child tries any new foods. And that includes cow’s milk.
This is especially true if any family members have a known food allergy.
Allergens may be hard on a child’s digestive system and some foods may even cause reactions like diaper rash.
If you notice any milk allergy symptoms, talk to your pediatrician.
They can help you pinpoint the source of the reaction and suggest milk alternatives if needed.
Milk Allergy Symptoms
Symptoms may include:
- Itching or tingling of the lips and mouth
- Swollen lips, tongue, or throat
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhea or loose stools which may contain blood
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Popular Whole Milk Alternatives
Here are some alternative milk options your pediatrician may suggest:
- Rice milk
- Almond milk
- Soy milk
- Coconut milk
- Cashew milk
After you’ve made your alternative milk choice, you can follow the normal steps for weaning.
RELATED: Can I Give My Baby Coconut?
What To Do with Leftover Breast Milk After You Wean
If you have leftover breast milk, there are several smart and creative things you can do with it!
Breast milk has incredible healing properties, making it a great DIY medicine for mild ailments.
And, you can even use it to make jewelry.
Here are some of our favorite breast milk uses for moms and babies:
- Make breast milk lotion with beeswax, grapeseed oil, and essential oils.
- Use it to heal diaper rash, cradle cap, bug bites, minor scrapes, and sore nipples.
- Mix it with oils to make breast milk soap.
- Make a soothing breast milk bath for your baby.
- Put it in popsicle molds to help with teething.
- Make breast milk jewelry.
- Donate it to a breast milk bank.
A 12-month-old needs 16-24 ounces of whole milk per day. And as your child gets closer to 2 years old, they should drink no more than 16 ounces per day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends transitioning to whole milk, starting at 12 months of age. However, it’s perfectly fine and even encouraged to introduce whole milk starting before a year of age to eliminate allergies.
You can use a bottle warmer or a bowl of hot water to warm whole milk for a toddler. Never use the microwave as it may create areas of intense heat that can burn the mouth.
Breast milk can last in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. So, you’ll need to use or discard breast milk mixed with whole milk within that same timeframe.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line on how to wean from breastfeeding to whole milk:
- When to start weaning is a personal choice between mom and baby.
- However, experts suggest that babies are exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months and that breastfeeding continues for a year to two years or more.
- Babies under 12 months should be transitioned to formula.
- And at 12 months or older, children can transition to cow’s milk.
- It’s usually best to make weaning a gradual process.
- Here are some suggested techniques:
- Replace one feeding at a time with whole milk, starting with the easiest nursing session, and ending with the hardest (usually the nighttime feeding).
- Gradually shorten nursing sessions until your baby is weaned and your milk supply runs out. (All while introducing cow’s milk as a beverage with your baby’s solid food).
- Or, you can eliminate one feeding at a time until your baby is weaned and your milk supply runs out.
- If you experience breast discomfort when weaning, try expressing a small amount of milk using an electric or manual breast pump.
- And if you experience a clogged duct, try using Epsom salt and water in a silicone suction pump or cold cabbage leaves to reduce pain and swelling.
- Look out for milk allergy symptoms like hives, diarrhea, vomiting, and swelling or itchiness of the face.
- If your child appears to be allergic, speak with your pediatrician to find the best cow’s milk alternative. Some options are soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and cashew milk.
If this post was helpful, be sure to check out:
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- The Ultimate list of Mom Hacks
- 115 Unique first birthday party ideas and themes
- 23 Creative monthly baby photo ideas
- 14 Breastfeeding essentials for new moms
- 20 Things to know about breastfeeding
- 40 Breastfeeding tips you need to know
Did we answer all your questions about how to wean from breastfeeding to whole milk? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments!