Toddlers have different nutritional needs than infants. Before 12 months, a baby’s primary source of nutrition is breast/human milk or formula. Around 12 months old, a toddler needs a different balance of nutrients than can be found in infant formula or breast/human milk alone. At this point, solid foods take over as the primary source of nutrition.
This does not mean you have to wean from milk feeds immediately at 12 months old. You have lots of flexibility for when and how you choose to wean from the bottle or chest. Solid foods are simply the priority and primary source of nutrition and weight gain after 12 months, and if your toddler does not have the hunger motivation to learn to eat table food, some weaning might be a good first step to improve eating at the table.
The AAP recommends weaning bottles by the second birthday at the latest, but most medical professionals encourage weaning earlier, between 15-18 months. It is our professional opinion that many young toddlers still need a bit of supplement from bottle feeds as they continue to build the skills for eating; for many kids, we recommend a slow and systematic wean beginning around 12 months, concluding sometime before the second birthday.
Regarding nursing, we believe that lactating parents should be supported to continue nursing as long as it is comfortable and beneficial for both parent and child. Many families are ready to (or need to) wean during the first year or around one year, and others may need help weaning slightly, or timing feeds to help their toddler build hunger for table food.
Weaning should be based on:
Child’s capability of efficiently eating a wide variety of foods to get their daily nutrients and
Child’s capability to drink liquids successfully from a cup to stay hydrated
Parental readiness to move on to a new phase
Giving up the bottle or weaning nursing are big changes and very personal decisions. No one should pressure another person to wean their child before they are ready.
Some common reasons why people choose to wean their child off a bottle or nursing:
They feel the child is ready.
The child stops asking for or accepting bottles or breast/chest feeds.
The child is eating a wide variety of foods.
The parent no longer wants to breast/chest feed or use bottles.
A medical provider recommended it.
They feel it’s the right time.
They feel pressured to wean.
The child is not gaining enough weight or is losing weight.
The child is not interested in solids, and the parent wants to encourage the child to eat more solid foods.
The child is too young. While it is natural for a 9- to 12-month-old baby to start dropping milk feedings, they should not be pushed to do so (except in rare circumstances and only under the supervision of a medical provider). 12 months is the earliest babies should be weaned, though many children at this age will not yet have strong enough chewing skills to eat and consume a wide variety of solid foods to warrant dropping breast/chest feedings and/or formula at 12 months.
The child only consumes purées. If your child only eats purées, they still have a long road to learning to chew. Breast/human milk and formula are a safety net that gives baby plenty of nourishment while they learn the important skills of chewing. Weaning when a child is only eating purées can cause many toddlers to get stuck on purées because they are easily consumed and provide quick calories, while chewable foods take a lot of effort. If you wean a child who cannot consume enough solids, you are often forced to resort to purées.
You’re not ready. Bottle feeding and nursing are soothing for a toddler and often the only time of day when you have a calm, quiet, cuddly kid instead of a busy, active child. If you enjoy nursing or bottle feeding your toddler and it’s not negatively impacting their solid food meals, you shouldn’t feel pressured to wean before you or the child are ready.
Determine how many bottles or nursing sessions are offered each day, and for bottle feeders, many ounces of milk the child is taking. It’s easy to lose track of how many nursing sessions or bottle ounces throughout the day; spend a day or two tracking how much the child takes in.
Implement a daily mealtime schedule, establishing set times for meals and snacks.
Decide on your weaning method. We find two main methods the most effective, all of which are slow and respectful of a toddler’s need for flexibility:
For bottle feeding:
Dropping bottles approach: Cut one bottle at a time.
Decreasing volume approach: Decrease the amount of milk offered in each bottle.
Time of day approach: Choose a period during the day you don’t offer the breast/chest.
Time limit approach: Limit the amount of time your toddler nurses for each session. (15 minutes to 10 minutes or 10 minutes to 5 minutes, etc.). Determine which feeds may be the easiest to drop—first thing in the morning and go straight to breakfast, snack times during the day, etc. Once you choose, begin your wean.
Expect some tears when weaning bottles and nursing. Although it is hard to see your toddler upset, consider holding firm to the boundary and being present to support your toddler and their big feelings. It’s okay for your toddler to feel disappointed and sad. As the caregiver, it’s your job to provide other sources of support and comfort during these big feelings.
If you need more support in weaning your toddler from breast/human milk or formula, including detailed step-by-step instructions, see our guide, How to Wean from Breast or Bottle.
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