Infants: How to wean
Explore tips and suggestions to make the weaning process as seamless as possible for your infant.
Some parents feel that a child needs to be weaned as soon as possible, while others believe that they should wait until their child is much older to avoid pressuring them. So deciding when and how to wean your child from the bottle, pacifier and fingers can be a difficult decision. Often family and friends weigh in with their opinions, which can sometimes add more pressure to parents who may already have a difficult time with the decision. However, keep in mind that it will be most difficult for your child. Sucking on a bottle, pacifier and fingers allows young children to calm, self-sooth and sleep. Sometimes a child will wean themselves, but most of the time parents will have to facilitate the change.
For the first six months, most babies need more sucking than they can get from drinking their milk. The pacifier helps them self-soothe and sleep. Most babies need less sucking after the six-month mark, but still enjoy using the pacifier. They get used to sucking the pacifier while falling asleep, riding in the car and during all sorts of other activities. Some pediatricians discourage using the pacifier beyond 14 to 18 months.
When the time has comes, here are some ways to help your baby limit the use of the pacifier include:
- Allow your baby to calm herself with the pacifier, then remove it when she is happy
- Avoid letting him use it while playing or walking around
- Establish specific pacifier breaks during which the infant can use it; over time, space the breaks further apart and shorten the length of time she has access to it
- Keep the pacifier in just a few locations like a crib or car seat
- Slit the pacifier’s nipple; sometimes the loss of suction causes your baby to lose interest
- Offer alternative objects to satisfy the oral craving like a juice bar or ice pop
Doctors recommend bottle weaning around 12 to 18 months. By his first birthday, your toddler will probably be drinking cow’s milk from a cup and eating many solids. However, if he is drinking most of his milk from a bottle, he is getting most of his nutrition from that milk. You can replace the bottles with solids and milk in a cup. Make the change gradually, eliminating the bottle one at a time.
To help your baby wean more easily, you can:
- Introduce the cup to your baby at 5 months
- Avoid letting your child walk around with the bottle
- Allow a snack or drink at bedtime to help her sleep through the night
- Give all bottles during the day; if he needs a drink at night, offer it in a cup
- Eliminate the lunch bottle first; offer solids and drinks in a cup, gradually eliminating another bottle
- Put only milk in the bottle; juice and water go in a cup
- Change the routine when your baby is ready to give up the last bottle; this will typically be night bottle, so give her the bottle first and continue with the rest of the bedtime routine, allowing her to go to sleep without the bottle
If your child is sucking on his fingers, he has found a clever way to comfort himself: it’s cheap, portable and always handy! Thumb and finer sucking in the first 3 years is not generally considered a problem, however, it may result in crooked baby teeth. If the habit is given up by age 4, it should not affect the permanent teeth.
To decrease thumb sucking, make sure your child has plenty of safe things to play with to occupy her hands. Encourage him to remove his thumb when he is speaking. As she gets older, you can talk to her about the consequences of her thumb sucking. Remember that your child my use this habit as a way to cope with stress and therefore may be a difficult habit to kick, so try to be understanding and supportive.
For more ideas about activities and articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.