Natural Baby Self Weaning Signs from Breastfeeding

Natural Baby Self Weaning Signs from Breastfeeding

My baby began a gradual process of self-weaning from breastfeeding shortly after 12 months of age. This took me by surprise because I always figured I would be the one to decide when our nursing relationship ended. After all, I had heard stories of nursing mothers who had 4-year-olds still breastfeeding.

I wasn’t planning on breastfeeding for that long, but I was considering nursing my son until he was 2 years old since this is the World Health Organization’s recommendation as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation.

So as my breastfeeding journey was apparently coming to an end, the following questions ran through my mind;

  • Why is my baby self-weaning?
  • Is he truly self-weaning, or is something else at play like a nursing strike?
  • Is it normal for a baby to self-wean so young?

Please note that I am sharing what I have learned on my breastfeeding journey, but that I am not a medical professional and always encourage mamas to speak to their doctor and pediatrician regarding their child’s needs.

Baby Self-Weaning Signs

As it turns out, my son had indeed self-weaned from breastfeeding. And in hindsight, I realized that he had slowly been in the process of weaning over a 1 to 2 month period. 

Here is what I noticed and what other mamas may notice when a baby is in the process of gradual weaning;

  • Feeding less and/or having shorter nursing sessions.
  • Eating more solid foods and a wider variety of solid foods.
  • Less interest in breastfeeding.
  • Extra excited to explore and play.
  • Lots of physical movement during nursing sessions and quick to run or crawl away after feeding.
  • Breasts may generally feel less full. If pumping and measuring milk afterwards, you may notice a drop in milk production as your body adjusts to less demand. 
  • Night feeds are few and far between as baby starts sleeping through the night regularly.

Nursing Strike Vs Baby Self Weaning

The first couple of days my baby full out refused to breastfeed, I was certain it was simply a nursing strike that would pass.

After reading up on nursing strikes and ruling one out though, I was left with the realization that my baby had actually self-weaned. Babycenter shares possible reasons for a nursing strike to consider when trying to determine whether a baby is on a nursing strike or is self-weaning;

  • Teething
  • Ear infection
  • Illness (eg a cold or thrush)
  • Reduced and low milk supply
  • A change in the taste of breast milk
  • A change in schedule

None of the above applied to my son (except perhaps the reduced milk supply, but I believe this was my body responding to less demand), so I started to accept the fact that he was truly self weaning from breastfeeding. 

When Can a Baby Switch to Whole Cow’s Milk?

The CDC explains that children can switch from breastmilk/formula to whole cow’s milk after 12 months of age. 12 months old still seems so little, but developmentally, their bodies can generally process cow’s milk after this time. Note though, that the CDC warns against giving cow’s milk before 12 months because cow’s milk will not meet a younger baby’s nutritional needs and it can cause serious problems with their developing intestines and kidneys.

Another option other than introducing cow’s milk is to pump to prevent a drop of breast milk supply and continue offering breastmilk via bottle or sippy cup.

Cow’s Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance

Continuing to produce breastmilk or switching to plant-based milk may be necessary if a child has a cow’s milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Pregnancy Birth & Baby explains that a cow’s milk allergy or lactose intolerance is very common in young children. The CDC offers some guidance on offering plant-based milks instead of cow’s milk so that a child’s nutritional needs are met. The CDC also recommends speaking to a child’s pediatrician regarding any changes in milk options. 

Is it Normal that my Baby Self-Weaned?

At this point in my motherhood journey, I should know that the term “normal” doesn’t necessarily mean all that much when it comes to babies and toddlers. There are general timelines and milestones of child development, but ultimately babies do things in their own time. And the right time for one baby is not necessarily the right time for another. 

What is a Natural Weaning Age?

The first couple of articles I came across when I searched for “normal self weaning age” seemed to suggest that it is not normal for children to self-wean before 18-24 months. These articles suggested that early weaning isn’t true self weaning, and that there is always something problematic underlying the baby’s refusal to nurse in these cases.

I continued searching for more information though, and ended up coming across other sources telling a different story. I also asked friends what their weaning experiences were like, and what I realized, is that everyone has a different story and timeline. The best time and the right time to wean is whatever time is right for you and/or your baby.

Different Weaning Experiences From Real Life Mamas

I have friends who all chose to wean their babies at different times or who had babies that self-weaned. Their timelines ranged between 1 year to 3 years old. And my son’s pediatrician said that some children will breastfeed until 3 or 4 if mom and baby are still both on board. So who is to say that there is a single right age.

I love an article by the HuffPost, What The Emotional Journey Of Weaning A Baby Is Really Like that shares a collection of short writings from women about their weaning experiences. These shared experiences vary widely, from child-led weaning, to mothers actively choosing to wean. And from relief and happiness about weaning, to sadness and physical discomfort.  

Furthermore, Alphamom explains that it is even possible for babies to self wean before a year old, and she shares her personal experience with the process. There is a long string of comments at the end of her post, with women all sharing their individual and varying experiences that I recommend mothers read if they are feeling insecure about their weaning experiences.

Maternal Feelings About Baby Self Weaning

I had a lot of conflicting feelings when I realized my baby had self weaned. It was bittersweet. 

While I had a difficult time with Painful Breastfeeding the first couple of months of my son’s life, I eventually got the hang of it and ended up embracing my role as a nursing mother. 

So once my son had fully self-weaned, I was confronted with the reality that he was becoming a little independent agent. It was both something to celebrate as he moved into a new developmental stage, as well as something to grieve. I was feeling the pangs of how fast time goes by with a baby. 

Celebrating the Weaning Process

As I was sorting out my feelings about my baby self weaning, I realized there were some major perks! Without having to be available to breastfeed multiple times during the day, I felt a renewed sense of independence. 

I hadn’t felt such bodily autonomy since before my son was born. Or maybe even before being pregnant. And there was less to think about logistically as far as timing feeds and trying to schedule activities outside of the home.

Mourning the End of The Breastfeeding Journey

Thinking about the benefits of no longer breastfeeding helped balance out the loss I was feeling; from that literal and figurative attachment I had with my child through breastfeeding. I liked that I could offer him comfort when he would wake up crying in the night. And I liked that during a busy day, we could have a quiet nursing session, and I could just be there with him in those moments. He no longer needed me in this way though, and that was hard to navigate.

Embracing the Growth and Change that Comes with Baby Self-Weaning

Being familiar with signs of self-weaning along with using your mama’s intuition will help you know when your baby is ready to begin a gradual weaning process from breastfeeding. So after ruling out a nursing strike and any underlying issues that may be causing a child to nurse less, there is nothing wrong when a baby over 12 months of age begins to naturally self wean.

Checking in with a pediatrician at the routine 12 month well check appointment is a great way to discuss options regarding breastmilk alternatives. This way, you are ready if and when your child begins the weaning process. 

Congratulations to all the mamas who endured the breastfeeding journey and are witnessing their babys’ beautiful growth and development!

Say hi and share your baby self weaning story in the comments below!


  • Gussi Ochi

    Just another mom learning and growing in motherhood everyday! | BA in psychology, MA in art therapy & counseling, former licensed massage therapist

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