Common weaning FAQs
Unsure where to start with weaning your breastfed baby? Don't worry, we've got all your questions answered.
all about weaning

Breast milk contains all the nutrients that your baby needs during the first six months of their life, but it is recommended that you start to introduce other appropriate foods from six months onwards. While you may continue to breastfeed beyond two years, as soon as you begin to introduce any food other than breast milk, you'll know that weaning has begun.

Is there a right time to wean?

Current Infant Feeding Guidelines in New Zealand, recommend breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months. NZ Ministry of Health suggests the introduction of solid foods at around six months and continued breastfeeding until the age of 12 months – and beyond, if both mother and infant wish. If you wean your baby off the breast before she is 12 months old, you will need to substitute formula milk until her first birthday. Some experts suggest to wait until this age before you start to wean from the breast, as babies are more open to change, but you will have to take your own circumstances into consideration to decide if this is suitable.

Is there a wrong time to wean?

As long as you are doing what feels right for both you and your baby, there is no wrong time to wean – but experts recommend not to start weaning when your child or your family is under stress. This could be a large family stress like moving homes, or a stressful time for your baby like teething or starting at daycare. If you know that you have big life changes coming up, allow plenty of time for the weaning process – or wait until the stressful period is over. 

How do I begin?

Slowly. You don't want to rush weaning, both for your child's sake and yours – engorged breasts anyone? It's best to gradually reduce the number of breastfeeds your child has each day, and your milk supply will slowly dwindle as you do so. As well as reducing the risk of blocked ducts and mastitis, this will also give your baby time to adjust.

Here are a few tips that will help smooth the process over for both of you:

  • Figure out what feeds your baby is showing less interest in and drop these ones first.
  • You will either be able to drop one feed every few days or only one a week - it will depend on your level of comfort and how cooperative your little one is.
  • Ask your plunket nurse for information on the best drinks to offer your child instead of breast milk.
  • You might want to up the dosage of cuddles your giving your baby to ensure you're still getting plenty of bonding time.
  • Think about weaning into a cup or bottle.

If she is particularly against your attempts to wean, try some of these other ideas to reduce your milk supply:

  • Offer your baby a dummy for extra sucking if she needs it.
  • Give your baby artificial milk before breastmilk, if doing both at the same feed.
  • Offer one breast only at each feed and ensure that your baby has plenty of other drinks.
  • Feed your baby to a fixed routine if this is possible.

Weaning and allergies

Allergy specialists are now suspecting that delayed weaning, a lack of vitamin D from sunlight, and hyper-cleanliness are all participating to increased allergies in children. Some studies suggest that introducing allergenic foods like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, or seafood earlier, may help to prevent food allergies, though further research is required into this. 

It is for this reason that new guidelines on infant feeding have relaxed slightly to allow parents to introduce solids at four or five months, and more research is being conducted in the area. 

Can my baby decide when to wean?

Sometimes, a baby will decide for himself that he has had enough. This is referred to as baby-led weaning.

In some cases, your baby may simply be on a ‘breastfeeding strike’ – when he or she will refuse to breastfeed, after breastfeeding well for months. This could be due to teething, thrush or other common discomforts, illness, a change in breast milk or reduced milk supply.

Breastfeeding strikes (or Breast Refusal) are often short-lived and are not necessarily a sign that your baby is ready to wean. Talk to your GP, Plunket nurse or lactation consultant for advice.

There is also a recent movement that has taken the name "baby-led weaning" and allows children to choose their solids right from the start – no mush, no puree, no ice cube trays. In this case, weaning is used in the sense of adding solid food to a baby’s diet, rather than giving up breastfeeding altogether. 

How do I know if my baby is ready to try solid food?

There are five key signs to tell if your baby is ready for solid foods.

Your baby may be ready for solids if:

  • they no longer display the tongue-poke reflex
  • they are able to hold their head unsupported
  • they watch you eat with interest
  • they indicate, through gestures and sounds, their interest in sampling whatever it is you’re eating
  • they hold their mouth open and imitate eating behaviour

Your baby may NOT be ready for solids if:

They poke out their tongue and push the food out of their mouth. This reflex prevents choking and indicates your baby is not ready for solids.

What if I want to fall pregnant again?

Depending on the age of your baby, breastfeeding could prevent ovulation (though it should not be used as a method of contraception). However, while all women’s bodies are different, many find they can conceive even while they are breastfeeding. Sometimes introducing solids or other supplements to breastmilk is enough to trigger ovulation. With other women, it takes long breaks between feeds, or their baby to start sleeping through the night.

This article was written by Allison Tait and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
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