Breastfeeding Information

Night Weaning of Older Babies and Toddlers: Mothers share their experiences

“When will my child sleep through the night?” is a question so many mothers ask. It is a question I have asked. When we hear that our friend’s infant started sleeping for 10 hours a night at five months of age, we sigh a little bit, knowing that very night we’ll be up with our two-year-old who has yet to do it. Some days we can go-go-go on little sleep while other days are not so easy, especially with the myriad responsibilities we have. We wonder if we should night wean, either partially or completely. We wonder what book will have the answer. We wonder if a sleep training method will solve our “problem.” And we wonder these most often when exhaustion and sleep deprivation don’t creep in, but rather pounce.

Why do some people use the expression “sleeps like a baby” to refer to a child or adult who sleeps soundly all night long? When I think of sleeping like a baby, I think of my own baby, who sleeps for 15 minutes and wakes up crying. Then she sleeps for 90 minutes and wakes up crying. Then she sleeps for two more hours and wakes up, you guessed it, crying. And so the night goes on. I want my 17-month-old to STOP sleeping like a baby and start sleeping the way some people interpret the expression: soundly and all night long.

Our story is like so many others. Many mothers have asked themselves and each other what they can do in order to get a full night’s rest. How can we get our children to not need us during these long, exhausting nights? We hear lots of well-intentioned advice: ‘Let your child cry it out.’ ‘Give him a bottle of formula before bed to fill him up so he won’t wake up hungry.’ ‘Have Dad go in and hold her so she gets some comfort, but not breast milk.’

We know that newborns and young babies need to feed at night to get the calories they need. Whether or not to wean or sleep train an older baby or toddler is in part a personal choice (for more on this, see the article on this website “Does Your Older Baby Still Need Night Feedings?”). We must do what is best for our families. Some of us choose to night wean and some of us choose to continue doing what we’ve been doing all along--meeting our child’s needs night after night.

I asked the mothers on the Breastfeeding USA Yahoo chat group for advice on night weaning when I was literally sick from being tired from getting up so often with my little one, who sleeps in her own room. I received both suggestions and support.

Breastfeeding USA provides evidence-based breastfeeding information and support. This article is not based on evidence, but is an example of the kind of support provided by Breastfeeding USA. It is a collection of mother-to-mother wisdom, comments, and suggestions on how to get through the nighttime hours. All comments come from Breastfeeding USA members.

"When [my daughter] hit three, I spent a few days with, ‘Well, mommy didn't get a lot of sleep, so we are playing at home instead of the park.' Sure caught on, since nights she didn't wake me I was little Miss Perky going to the park…"

"Key for us was that *daddy* stepped up to take on the primary ‘night time parenting role.’ Baby realized that daddy wasn't the milk source and was much better at accepting soothing back to sleep by daddy and not me. We waited for a time when baby was healthy and not teething. With one of the kids the first attempt was not good, so we waited and tried again a couple months later. Of course ... both kids continued to wake several times at night until they were two or three years old."

“I didn't night wean. Yes....I offered water instead of nursing sometimes, and when she was actually just thirsty, she was happy with the water and I was happy for the break! There were times when I asked her just to snuggle, and sometimes that was enough (which, I guess, could be considered night weaning). I didn't insist on having my way about it, though. If it was mutually okay, then fine. Most of the time she really just wanted the comfort of nursing. I would remind myself that this won't last forever (although, in my case, it did last for four years, but she is a particularly needy child). I'm very happy that I was able to do that, but not everyone is able to. You have to do what will work for you and your situation.”

“I never considered night weaning. The idea of having to actually become fully awake to deal with a fussy child was not what I wanted to deal with. Guess I am just lazy. I have been caring for kids my whole life, as the oldest of a large family and a frequent babysitter in our apartment buildings. Even those who were "sleep trained" woke at night. So to me, nursing at night was an easy way to get the most sleep. And some of mine nursed night and day even longer than four years. I did, however, always remove my nipple from the mouths of sleeping babies, so they did not get used to just holding it in their mouths.”

“A couple of quick ideas that have worked for moms I know:

  • Move baby IN the crib into your room (less up and down, less wide awake).
  • Move baby IN the crib and sidecar it to your bed (there are lots of safe ways to do this).
  • Make a bed in baby's room for you or your partner to sleep comfortably during the night, and plan on staying there (perhaps you sleep there from 9 pm to 2 am, and he takes over from 2 am to 6 am it'll be a temporary thing).”

“Sometimes, just going to sleep and getting more sleep can help you feel like you can cope longer. I would also add that if you are going to attempt a night weaning plan, first get more sleep, by taking naps and/or going to sleep earlier for a couple of weeks. Feeling centered before you approach something as tricky as changing nighttime behavior can make a person go a little crazy. I’ve heard it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. With persistent people (behaviors) it takes longer. To adequately and sensitively approach a new nighttime routine, you must think about the entire month and make sure that there won't be any visitors, planned vacations, surprise houseguests, etc. Also, I tend to think that spring is a good time to approach something like night weaning. During the winter, when there is the proclivity to catch colds and feel horrible, night nursing often saves everyone.”

"…many mothers will want to know, step by step, how to get a straight eight hours of sleep. I always like to start with smaller steps. So I shot for a straight five hours, understanding that was the definition of "sleeping through the night." I chose my five hours from 11 pm to 4 am. I would actively wake up my babies to nurse at 11 pm and bring them to bed with me so we could all get some sleep. That didn't work for my sister.”

“A friend used a night light on a timer to help manage night needs. In her case, the rule was nursing only when the light is on. I think her daughter was more two to three when that worked. It would probably be harder for a younger baby to get the reasoning, but maybe not.”

"Napping during the day or at least dozing were what helped me survive. I am a night owl, so sometimes flinging the baby at my partner the second he walked in the door and then napping until dinner (I'm blessed to have married a man who loves to cook) would help me get a second wind until my bedtime. And grudgingly for months at a time I would forgo my preferred bedtime and go to sleep with the kids at eight or nine in anticipation of interrupted sleep."

“…there is no single ‘right’ method that will work for everyone.”

“Some things I found that affected my children's frequency of night waking were: food allergies, teething (woke me up all the time when a wisdom tooth decided to erupt at age 40... so I get it now!), overstimulation, food additives, especially artificial colors and flavors, and my nemesis, caffeine, even decaf after 12 noon, kept our youngest awake half the night wanting to nurse every hour.. I think most of us consider (however briefly or not) night weaning when we are exhausted and finding it hard to function. It also helped me to pay attention to colds, changes in routine, etc."

“There is one thing that was also a lifesaver for me. My husband gave me Saturday mornings. When the baby woke for the first time on Saturday, I would nurse then he would take him and play, watch TV, go for a walk, whatever it took (with runs to me when nursing was really necessary), to continue until noon. This allowed me to sleep, bathe, or even grocery shop on my own. There were weeks when I was in countdown mode by Wednesday, but somehow knowing there was a break coming allowed me to cope. This can also be done with a friend if dad is not available or cooperative :)”

“I just came across an interesting piece in a Washington Post health section…It says that in the winter, lack of daytime sunlight makes it harder to sleep at night…They conclude that it is crucial in the winter months to get outside and soak in some natural light. Seems like something mothers and grandmothers have been saying for years--get outside and your child will have a better night's sleep!”

“A good friend had the most startling success story with night waking and food allergies. Her baby was eight months and nursing every hour. She read the book Tracking Down Hidden Food Allergies and put them all on an elimination diet. It turned out to be legumes--all kinds--that irritated her son's system.”

“I think that sometimes there can be anatomical obstructions that create sleep problems. Having a good physical from a qualified doctor who isn't going to peg breastfeeding as the problem is helpful.”

I took all of these suggestions to heart and gave some of them a try. Surprisingly, even though I was hoping to find an effective way to night wean my baby and thereby get more sleep, what helped me most were the comments of empathy, support, and affirmation that getting up to breastfeed was, for us, the right thing to do. Comments like these gave me the strength to regroup and re-energize.

"Now is not forever."

“Even as adults, we all wake at night. Just because you night wean your toddler doesn't mean you will necessarily get more sleep, and it takes away a valuable night parenting tool.”

“How often are new mothers asked, 'When do you plan to make him walk?' Sounds, silly, doesn't it, because we KNOW that babies will walk when their bodies are ready to do so. Same thing with talking. So why don't we believe that they will stop nursing when they are physically and mentally able to do so?”

“The following passage from the chapter 'Getting Enough Rest' of Norma Jane Bumgarner’s book, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler was very helpful to me: ‘First of all, nursing is not the cause of your losing sleep. That is hard to believe when the whole household is quietly asleep—that is everyone but you. The little one nods off, still clinging to your nipple, but like so many mothers who slept well while their small infants are nursing, you find it difficult to sleep while nursing a little child. So you, little one attached, lie grudgingly awake in the peaceful night. Every time you remove your nipple from his mouth, no matter how carefully, he starts kicking and crying. Under these circumstances you are not likely to be very receptive to my suggestion that it is not the nursing that is keeping you awake. Well, technically, you are awake because of the nursing. But I would suggest that in reality you are awake because of being the mother of your child at this time in her life. I would suggest that if you were not lying there half-awake nursing, you would probably be stumbling around fixing a bottle or an apple slice, or rocking and patting, or fumbling among the toys under the bed looking for a lost pacifier. . . .'"

“… if I were to attempt other forms of nighttime parenting (putting my partner on nighttime duty, offering a cup of water versus nursing, etc.), I would still be waking when my son needed me and it would be even harder to get back to sleep. Once I made my peace with these things, I no longer resented nursing at night. For me it was better than the alternative. And at around two-and-a-half years, my son started going all night without nursing all on his own.”

“Lucky for me, I had read Dr. Sears' The Fussy Baby Book about high-need babies and in there he says children aren't really neurologically developmentally ready to sleep through the night until age three…”

“We are all in this together…You have everything inside you that you need to be the best mama to this little person!”

“Most of all we trust one another to reach out, to share, and to ultimately decide what is best for our child, since it is only the family who lives 24/7 with its members that knows what will work.”

“…I just wanted to say I SO feel your pain!”

I am thankful for all of the Breastfeeding USA members who took the time to share their suggestions, their encouragement, and their stories. What I appreciated most was the lack of judgment. No one told me that I should night wean. No one told me that I would be in the wrong to do so. I will continue to turn to Breastfeeding USA members--smart, knowledgeable, experienced mothers.

One thing is certain: Our babies are only babies for a short time. As hard as it is for me sometimes to get up night after night, I keep telling myself that in a few short years she won’t want or need me like she does now. That knowledge reminds me to cherish our nighttime feedings. Currently I still get up when my little one needs me. We have not night weaned.

For those who are interested, the following list contains links to websites provided by Breastfeeding USA members about various methods of helping older babies and toddlers sleep:

Special thanks to the following Breastfeeding USA members, who gave me permission to share their posts: Karen Abraham, Genevieve Colvin, Kathleen Doerr, Celina Dykstra, Donna Gilbert, Ginger Gorrell, Cecily Harkins, Lynn Kutner, Beth Lichy, Penny Piercy, Norma Ritter, Krista Cornish Scott, Patty Spanjer, Ruth Tincoff, Lisa Wilkins.


Bumgarner, N.J. (2000). Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International.

Crook, W.G. (1980). Tracking Down Hidden Food Allergies. Professional Books: Jackson TN.

Sears, W. & Sears, M. (1996). The Fussy Baby Book: Parenting Your High-Need Child from Birth to Age Five. Boston, MA: Little Brown & Company

Copyright Breastfeeding USA, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.

Does Your Older Baby Still Need Night Feedings?

Has somebody told you that your baby doesn’t need to breastfeed at night past a certain age? This age often varies by advisor. However, science tells us that in many cases, this simply isn’t true.

Why? Babies and mothers are different and these differences affect baby’s need for night feedings. Some babies really do need to breastfeed at night, at six months, eight months, and beyond. This is in part because if their mother has a small “breast storage capacity” and tries to sleep train her baby, her milk production will slow, along with her baby’s growth. To find out what this means and if this applies to you, you need to know the basics of how milk production works.

Degree of Breast Fullness
Two basic dynamics are major influencers of milk production. The first, “degree of breast fullness,” refers to a simple concept: Drained breasts make milk faster and full breasts make milk slower. Whenever your breasts contain enough milk to feel full, your milk production slows.1 The fuller your breasts become, the stronger the signal your body receives to slow milk production.

Breast Storage Capacity
This second basic dynamic refers to a physical characteristic known as breast storage capacity, which varies among mothers.2 This physical difference explains why feeding patterns can vary so much among mothers and why one breastfed baby does not need to breastfeed at night while another one does.

Breast storage capacity is the amount of milk your breasts contain in your milk-making glands at their fullest point of the day. Storage capacity is not related to breast size, which varies mainly by how much fatty tissue is in your breasts. In other words, smaller-breasted mothers can have a large storage capacity and larger-breasted mothers can have a small capacity.

Both large-capacity and small-capacity mothers produce plenty of milk for their babies. But their babies feed differently to get the daily volume of milk they need.3 After baby’s first month, a mother with a large storage capacity may notice that her baby:

  • Is satisfied with one breast at most or all feedings.
  • Is finished breastfeeding much sooner than other babies (sometimes just five minutes).
  • Gains weight well on fewer feedings per day than the average eight or so.
  • Sleeps for longer-than-average stretches at night.

If this describes your breastfeeding experience, your baby may already be sleeping for longer stretches at night than other babies you know. But if after the first month of life your baby often takes both breasts at feedings, feeds on average longer than about 15 to 20 minutes total, typically takes eight or more feedings per day, and wakes at least twice a night to breastfeed, your breast storage capacity is likely to be small or average.

Again, what’s important to a baby’s healthy growth is not how much milk he receives at each feeding, but rather how much milk he consumes in a twenty-four-hour day. Breastfed babies of both large- and small-capacity mothers receive plenty of milk, but their breastfeeding patterns will necessarily differ to gain weight and thrive.4 For example, a baby whose mother’s breasts hold six ounces or more (180 mL) may grow well with as few as five feedings per day. But to get this same 30 ounces (900 mL) of milk, if a mother’s breasts hold only three ounces (90 mL), a baby with a small-capacity mother will need to feed ten times each day. (This may not apply in the same way to a mother who’s pumping.)

How These Dynamics Affect Night Feedings

How does this apply to night feedings? A mother with a large storage capacity has the room in her milk-making glands to comfortably store more milk at night before it exerts the amount of internal pressure needed to slow her milk production. On the other hand, if the baby of the small-capacity mother sleeps for too long at night, her breasts become so full that her milk production slows.

In other words, if you are a mother with an average or small breast storage capacity, night feedings may need to continue for many months in order for your milk production to stay stable and for your baby to thrive. Also, because your baby has access to less milk at each feeding, night feedings may be crucial for him to get enough milk overall. Again, what’s important is not how much milk a baby receives at each individual feeding, but how much milk he consumes in a twenty-four-hour day. If a mother with a small storage capacity uses sleep training strategies to force her baby to go for longer stretches between feedings, this may slow her milk production and compromise her baby’s weight gain.

Each mother-baby pair is unique. Babies will outgrow the need for night nursings at different ages, so a simple rule of thumb doesn’t consider either the emotional needs of the baby or his physical need for milk.


1Daly, S. E., Kent, J. C., Owens, R. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (1996). Frequency and degree of milk removal and the short-term control of human milk synthesis, Experimental Physiology, 81(5), 861-875.

2Cregan, M. D., & Hartmann, P. E. (1999). Computerized breast measurement from conception to weaning: clinical implications. J Hum Lact, 15(2), 89-96.

3Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day, Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-395.

4Kent, J. C. (2007). How breastfeeding works. Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, 52(6), 564-570.

2012 Breastfeeding USA, Inc.

Hand Expression

Hand expression is a useful skill for any nursing mother.  It can relieve breast fullness, stimulate milk production, and provide milk for your baby.

Getting Ready
First wash your hands well. Find a clean collection container with a wide mouth, like a cup. Or, you can express your milk into a spoon and feed it directly to the baby. Whenever possible, plan to express in a private, comfortable place where you can relax. Feeling relaxed enhances milk flow.

Find Your ‘Sweet Spot’
There are many ways to hand-express milk. Whichever technique you use, the most important part is finding your “sweet spot,” the area on your breast where milk flows fastest when your breast is compressed. Try different finger positions until you find it. If the dark area around your nipple (areola) is large, your “sweet spot” may be inside it. If it is small, it may be well outside it. When you find your “sweet spot,” you may want to put a small circle bandage on it to make it easier to find it next time.

Do What Works Best
Always do what feels best and expresses the most milk. The following technique combines recommendations from the World Health Organization with other methods:

  1. Before expressing, gently massage your breasts with your hands and fingertips or a soft baby brush or warm towel.
  2. Sit up and lean slightly forward, so gravity helps milk flow.
  3. To find your “sweet spot,” start with your thumb on top of the breast and fingers below it, both about 1.5 inches (4 cm) from the base of the nipple. Some mothers find it helpful to curl their hand and use just the tips of their fingers and thumb. Several times, apply steady pressure into the breast toward the chest wall.  If no milk comes, shift finger and thumb either closer to or farther from the nipple and compress again a few times.  Repeat, moving finger and thumb until you feel slightly firmer breast tissue, and gentle pressure yields milk.  After you’ve found your “sweet spot,” skip the “finding” phase and start with your fingers on this area.
  4. Apply steady pressure on areas of milk in the breast by pressing fingers toward the chest wall, not toward the nipple.
  5. While applying inward pressure on the breast, compress thumb and finger pads together (pushing in, not pulling out toward the nipple).  Find a good rhythm of press—compress—relax, like a baby’s suckling rhythm.
  6. Switch breasts every few minutes (five or six times in total at each expression) while rotating finger position around the breast. After expressing, all areas of the breast should feel soft. This process usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

If Needed, Adjust
Hand expression should feel comfortable. If not, you may be compressing too hard, sliding your fingers along the skin, or squeezing the nipple. If you feel discomfort, review the description above, and adjust your technique. It is important to find the method of hand expression that works best for you. This U.S. video shows a similar method of hand expression that works well for some mothers. This Norwegian video shows another simple hand-expression technique. (Disregard its suggestion you place your fingers on the “edge of your areola, as your “sweet spot” may be inside or outside of the areola.) If you need more information about hand expressing your milk, a Breastfeeding Counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) may be able to help.


WHO (2009) Infant and young child feeding: Model Chapter for textbooks for medical students and allied health professionals. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.


Breastfeeding Your Adopted Baby

Yes, you can breastfeed a baby to whom you did not give birth. In fact, breastfeeding an adopted baby is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is even possible to breastfeed if you have never been pregnant or have reached menopause. Breastfeeding an adopted baby is different than breastfeeding a baby after being pregnant, but it can be achieved through the process of induced lactation.

There are several different methods used to induce lactation when you have not been pregnant. It may also be possible to breastfeed your adopted baby with no preparation at all. However, if you have advance notice that you will have a new baby joining your family, you may wish to explore methods that stimulate milk production before baby arrives. The same methods can be used by traditional adoptive mothers, mothers whose babies were born to surrogates, and even the female partners of birth mothers.

Before learning about the process involved in breastfeeding an adopted baby, consider why you want to do it in the first place. Breastfeeding an adopted baby takes a lot of time and effort, but can be very rewarding. If your wish is to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed your infant, then you may need to adjust your expectations. Establishing a milk supply takes time and you may need to provide supplemental milk for an extended period of time. Adoptive mothers can make enough milk for their babies. For some mothers it may be in early infancy, and for others it can be after their babies are well on solids, or even after one year. Providing all of the milk your baby needs may not happen right away, but eventually you can expect to get there. While providing mother’s milk may be the primary goal for many women in this situation, the qualities of the milk itself are not the only reasons to breastfeed an adopted baby.

How much milk a mother can produce through induced lactation varies from woman to woman and even baby to baby. There is no way to know ahead of time how much milk you will be able to provide for your baby, especially when you first begin expressing milk. It is important to keep in mind that even small amounts of your milk, tailor-made for your baby, will be of benefit. Try to keep your focus on the breastfeeding relationship and not just the milk.

The physical connection of breastfeeding benefits both mother and child. ALL adoptions involve a loss for the child. Even a newborn infant who is placed right into the loving arms of his adoptive parents is being separated from the only mother he knows:

Adoption universally involves loss. Babies recognize their mothers at birth and at delivery healthy babies placed on the abdomen of their mother will crawl up onto her chest and, locating the nipple via its familiar smell, will attach to her breast and suckle. Newborn infants desire to remain with their mother and if removed from skin-to-skin contact with her will give a specific "separation distress cry/call" as an appeal for reunion. Maternal separation is stressful for infants, and all adopted children have experienced the loss of their birth mother (Gribble, 2006).

Breastfeeding places you and your baby in skin-to-skin contact, which is important both to your baby’s development and the attachments between you and your baby. Some of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for your baby are better organization of reflexes, stable temperature, and regulated heart rate. Some of the benefits for you include increased milk production, easier breastfeeding, and better oxytocin release (Moore, Anderson & Bergman 2009).

Research has shown breastfeeding to have positive psychological effects for mothers as well. One study compared mothers’ moods when they alternately breastfed and bottle-fed mother’s milk to their babies. The researchers found a correlation between breastfeeding and a positive mood immediately after breastfeeding, but the same effect was not apparent for bottle-feeding. The researchers suggested that the higher levels of the hormone oxytocin released by breastfeeding may have contributed to the positive mood (Mezzacappa and Katkin 2002). Bonding is a crucial aspect of adoption, and the hormones released during breastfeeding can facilitate that process.

Inducing lactation before your baby arrives
When studying the various methods for inducing lactation, keep in mind that it is equally important to learn as much as you can about how the body is stimulated to make milk by the removal of milk from the breasts. Knowing the natural process of lactation can help you as you work to increase your milk production.

To prepare you can stimulate your breasts by hand or by pump for several weeks or months before your baby arrives. Hand expression requires no equipment and can be used to stimulate milk production.

If you use a breast pump it is recommended that you use the highest quality pump available to you when inducing lactation. The first choice would be a rental-grade pump, which you can find in your local area by contacting your birthing facility and asking what rental pumps are available near you and where. These pumps are often available for rent through hospitals, medical supply stores, WIC, private-practice lactation consultants, online vendors, and even some popular baby stores.

Whether you are using a pump, hand expression, or both, this method is most effective when done as many times a day as a baby would be breastfeeding, at least eight to ten times a day. Combining hand expression and breast massage with pumping has been shown to increase milk production more quickly (Morton, Hall & Wong, 2009). Many women begin to notice breast changes in the first 6 weeks of expression. Mothers may notice breasts that feel larger and firmer, breast tenderness, protruding nipples, and drops of milk.

Another strategy, which can be used in combination with others, requires you to take hormones and/or galactagogues daily to prepare your body for lactation (West, Marasco, 2009). A galactagogue is an herb or prescription medication that increases milk production, likely by increasing prolactin (the “milk making” hormone) levels in the blood. One method is called the Goldfarb-Newman Protocol. It involves first taking birth control pills to simulate pregnancy hormone changes and then both expressing and taking medication that increases hormonal levels.  Herbal remedies such as fenugreek are available over the counter.  You should discuss prescription medications  and over the counter galactagogues with your health care provider. Variations in treatment may be appropriate according to the needs of an individual woman.

If you choose to use herbal or prescription galactagogues or hormones to facilitate lactation, it is important that you work with your health care provider. All of these substances have potential side effects and may be contraindicated for persons with certain medical conditions. Your health care provider can help you weigh any risks and benefits and decide what will work best in your situation. If you have questions about the safety of medications and herbs while breastfeeding or inducing lactation, contact the InfantRisk Center. The InfantRisk Center is dedicated to providing up-to-date, evidence-based information on the use of medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Inducing lactation after your baby arrives
If you do not prepare before your baby arrives, you can still begin breastfeeding and expressing milk right away. You can also discuss the use of a galactagogue with your health care provider.

Some moms use an at-breast supplementer so that their babies can receive supplemental milk through a small tube at the breast. There are two main brands available: the Lact-Aid Nursing Trainer and the Medela Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). Both products work by allowing your baby to get supplemental milk while breastfeeding, but there are some differences in how they work. The SNS allows milk to flow by gravity, and comes with a variety of sizes of tubing for faster and slower flow. The Lact-Aid does not allow milk to flow unless baby is sucking. It is worthwhile to do some research on the pros and cons of these products before investing in one.

A supplementer has dual benefits: the baby gets nourishment, while the mother's breasts get the stimulation needed to begin producing milk.  In fact, some mothers do not use a bottle at all. They find that, if they can get the baby to the breast frequently using an at-breast supplementer and encourage comfort nursing between supplements, they do not need to spend time expressing milk between feedings. Don’t worry about offering your baby a breast with no milk. Keep in mind that babies enjoy comfort suckling and are often offered pacifiers. There is no milk in them, either!

Bringing your baby to the breast

You may be surprised to learn that you can breastfeed a baby or toddler of any age. When thinking about how to get your baby to take the breast and learn to breastfeed, you need to consider the age and experience of your baby.

If your baby is being carried by a surrogate or in an open adoption where adoptive parents have been matched with the birth mother before birth, you may be able to be at the delivery of your baby and put your baby to the breast immediately. Babies are hardwired to breastfeed at birth. If you are able to put your baby to the breast right away then the procedures you will follow will be the same as if you had given birth to your baby, like those described in Baby-Led Latch: How to awaken your baby's breastfeeding instincts.

Even if baby has only had bottles, he may still instinctively root, search for, and take the breast when placed skin-to-skin on his mother’s bare chest. If your baby has a strong preference for bottles, it is still possible to teach him to breastfeed.

When you are working to teach your baby to take your breast, it is important to be patient and relax. The older your baby is, the more time it may take for him to be comfortable being skin-to-skin with you. A child who has experienced neglect or abuse will need time building trust and attachment before he will be ready to breastfeed (Gribble, 2006). There are many ways to get to know your baby and become comfortable being in the close physical contact required of breastfeeding:

  • Spending lots of time lying down with your baby skin-to-skin
  • Taking baths together
  • Frequently carrying or wearing your baby during the day
  • Sleeping near your baby
  • Holding your baby while bottle feeding
  • Sitting baby on your lap while giving solid foods

Maximizing milk production
Perhaps you have been preparing and inducing lactation for several months, or maybe you started when you met your baby. Either way, the key to establishing breastfeeding with your baby is time together. Research shows that adoptive mothers in developing countries are more successful at producing more milk than mothers in the West. These mothers in may have higher milk production due to cultural differences that are conducive to breastfeeding such as frequent breastfeeding and remaining in close physical contact with their babies. Their cultures may be more supportive of breastfeeding as well. Emulating the mothering styles of women in developing countries, and creating a support network for breastfeeding may help to maximize your milk production (Gribble, 2004).

The more your breasts are stimulated, and the more milk you remove, the more milk your body will produce. Be patient; the first milk you may notice will be a few drops, and the increase is very gradual. Nursing as much as possible is the best way to increase production and decrease the need for supplements.

  • If at all possible, feed only at the breast using an at-breast supplementer.
  • Offer both breasts twice at every feeding, and use breast compressions to maximize the amount of milk removed.
  • Encourage comfort nursing between feedings. Offering the breast without supplemental milk flowing provides more stimulation to your breasts and keeps the baby interested and comfortable with nursing at a breast with less milk flow.
  • If baby is unable or unwilling to nurse without the supplementer, consider expressing milk between feedings.

As you are able to produce more milk, you can decrease the amount of supplemental milk your child is receiving. Counting wet diapers and watching baby’s weight-gain will reassure you that your baby is getting enough. One technique for decreasing supplements that can work well is to start by eliminating supplements in the morning, when milk flow is usually highest. Try not supplementing after the first morning feeding. Each time your baby finishes nursing on one side, offer the other side. Keep offering the other breast until baby seems satisfied or falls asleep. Gradually delay the first supplement later and later. When your baby begins to eat solid foods, let the solids begin to replace supplemental milk, not time at the breast.

Finally, make sure you have built a support system. Consider contacting a Breastfeeding Counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to work with you. Read as much as you can about adoptive breastfeeding and induced lactation. The resources below will give you a place to start.

Adoptive Breastfeeding Stories
My Adoptive Breastfeeding Story
Breastfeeding My Adopted Child
We Are Breastfeeding
My Adoptive Breastfeeding Journey
Becoming Nana

Additional Resources
Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation, by Elizabeth Hormann.
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk, by Diana West and Lisa Marasco.
Websites and online articles
Adoptive Breastfeeding Resource Website
Dr. Jack Newman: Breastfeeding your Adopted Baby or Baby Born by Surrogate

Buckley, K. & Charles, G. (2006) Benefits and challenges of transitioning preterm infants to at-breast feedings. International Breastfeeding Journal 1:13

Gribble, K. (2004) The influence of context on the success of adoptive breastfeeding: Developing countries and the west. Breastfeeding Review; 5-13.

Gribble, K. (2006) Mental health, attachment and breastfeeding: implications for adopted children and their mothers. International Breastfeeding Journal 1:5.

Horman, E. (2006) Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby and Relactation. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International.

Induced Lactation and the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols for Induced Lactation. (2000). Retrieved January 20, 2012, from

Breastfeeding Your Adopted Baby or Baby Born by Surrogate/Gestational Carrier. (2009). Retrieved January 20, 2012, from

Mezzacappa, E. S., and E. S. Katkin. (2002). Breastfeeding is associated with reduced perceived stress and negative mood in mothers. Health Psychology 21:187-193.

Moore ER, Anderson GC, Bergman N. (2009) Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants Cochrane Summaries

Morton J, Hall, J and Wong, R et. al. (2009, July, 2) Combining hand techniques with electric pumping increases milk production in mothers of preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology advance online publication; doi: 10.1038/jp.2009.87

West, D. and Marasco, L. (2009) The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. McGraw-Hill.

© Teglene Ryan 2012. All rights are reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of Breastfeeding USA and the author.

How can I tell if my baby is full?

Satiety cues are your baby’s way of showing he is satisfied and no longer hungry. Here are a few cues you might recognize at the end of breastfeeding:

  • Baby’s hands are open and relaxed
  • Baby’s body feels relaxed, “loose”
  • Baby may have hiccups but is calm and relaxed
  • Baby may fall asleep
  • Baby may have a “wet burp” (milk can be seen dribbling out mouth)
  • Baby seems peaceful

Note the newborn's open hand, a signal that he is relaxed and getting full!

More info: Breastfeeding on cue or baby led feedings

References: Wilson-Clay, B., Hoover. K (2005) The Breastfeeding Atlas Manchaca, Texas. LactNews Press


© Native Mothering–All Rights Reserved

What Does Evidence-Based Mean?

Part of the mission of Breastfeeding USA is to provide evidence-based information. What does that statement mean? What is evidence? In the strictest sense, it is information that is backed by solid, peer-reviewed research based on established scientific principles. For a very long time, there was little strong empirical evidence related to breastfeeding, and most of the existing research was concerned with the components of breastmilk. Thankfully, there is now a growing body of research on many aspects of breastfeeding. Sometimes, the results affirm what we already suspected to be true, and sometimes they are surprising. The strongest information is provided by systematic review of randomized, blinded, controlled trials. The problem with waiting for this type of affirmation is that these types of trials are either very involved and expensive or impossible to conduct. Who will pay for this kind of investigation into best breastfeeding practices? And even with the best research, there can be questions about whether the results can be generalized to a large population.

So, what if there is no research on a particular topic? There are many common breastfeeding (and medical) practices that have no formal research to support them. From an editorial in the British Medical Journal in 1996, "The practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research." This article stresses the need to customize the application of new information based on the client's circumstances and preferences. What are the implications for Breastfeeding Counselors? We should use the results of the latest and best research, our own observations, and the experiences of others working with breastfeeding dyads to make decisions when working with mothers and babies.

We have seen the problems inherent in using anecdotal information and poorly-designed research. For example, we no longer advise mothers to toughen up their nipples or to nurse their babies in only a few, very specific positions. Indeed, recent ultrasound studies seem to negate the very existence of the long-recognized milk sinuses that (we thought and taught) babies needed to compress in order to receive milk. Those individuals working with breastfeeding dyads need to more systematically document and share what they are seeing and how mothers and babies respond to various interventions so that we can advance our knowledge of what truly works and what doesn't. Counselors and health professionals should not routinely offer suggestions that many others have found are rarely successful. If we have access to the combined observations of many skilled counselors and health professionals, we can feel more confident in using information that is not backed by formal research. Also, we must be careful to differentiate between observation and interpretation. It is not unusual for two people to witness the same event and have different ideas about what they have seen: does a swaddled baby stop crying because he is calmed and happy or because he is overwhelmed and has shut down?

An evidence-based practice is balanced. We must consider the circumstances, values, and preferences of the mothers we serve as we share our evidence-based information. Without the best current and classic external research, practice and information become outdated and may be ineffective or even harmful. Without clinical and/or personal experience, practice and information risk becoming solely research-dominated and may not take an individual mother's needs into account. Without taking into consideration the mother's values, preferences, and realities of life, practice and information become irrelevant and may become unethical.

Maintaining current knowledge of the latest, peer-reviewed research is very important for anyone who is helping mothers and babies succeed with breastfeeding. In the absence of such research, we can include, thoughtfully, the body of experience that many counselors and professionals have developed in breastfeeding their own children and through helping other dyads. An evidence-based practice not only presents the best information available but also respects the mother's right to evaluate that information and use it to make informed decisions for her family. We must not forget that much of our role as counselors has nothing to do with facts and figures but is instead focused on making a connection with another mother and empowering her to make the best decisions for herself and her baby.

The Cochrane Collaboration is a great resource for finding out more about evidence-based research and practice.


Sackett, D., Rosenberg, W., Muir Gray, J.A., Haynes, R.B., & Richardson, S. (1996). Editorial Evidence Based Medicine: What it is and What it isn't. British Medical Journal 312:71.

Thinking About Weaning?

NOTE: This is the third and final article in a series about weaning.
Depending on where you live, “weaning” may mean either introducing other foods or stopping breastfeeding. In this article, we are talking about weaning from the breast.

You may want to read the previous articles first:
When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other Than Breastmilk?
Good Foods for Babies

Kendra was confused. “Before I had Jason, everyone was after me to breastfeed. They said it would be good for the baby. So why do they now keep asking me when I am going to wean him? Even some of the articles I read say that there is no reason to keep nursing after the first few weeks. Is this true?”

Tanya had a similar question. ”When I was still pregnant with Davy,” said Tanya, “I thought I would only nurse him for a few weeks before switching to formula. But now I have come to realize how much we both love breastfeeding, and I feel sad when I think about stopping. Davy is 9 months old and eating all kinds of other foods as well as nursing. When am I supposed to wean him?”

There is good news for both of these mothers: human milk does not suddenly turn to water after a certain length of time! Mothers can nurse their babies for as long as both they and their children wish to continue. Children will wean all by themselves when they are developmentally ready to do so.

Your milk continues to provide both food and health benefits even after your baby has begun to eat other foods. In fact, it continues to be the most important part of your baby's diet until he is about a year old. Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies continue to nurse until they are at least a year old and that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continuing to nurse for at least two years?1,2

Many mothers are surprised to learn that during their baby’s second year (12-23 months), 15 ounces of their milk provides:

  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements 3,4

Why do so many mothers worry about weaning?

I'll bet you have never heard a mother say, “I will make him walk by the time he is xxx,” or “I will make him talk by the time he is xxx.” We KNOW that you cannot make a baby walk or talk before they are ready to do so! All babies are different, and there is no reason to set an exact date. The same goes for weaning; children wean when they are ready.

What can I say to people who ask when I am going to wean?

It depends who is asking. For example, you could:

  • Explain that breastfeeding is the healthy option.
  • Make a joke like, “Until she goes to an out-of-state college!”
  • Tell them that your doctor recommends natural weaning.
  • Share that natural weaning is a family tradition.

And if all else fails, ask why they need to know!

Weaning is a process, not an event!

As he gets older, your baby will gradually eat more table foods. You will notice that he needs to nurse less frequently or for shorter periods of time. However, babies nurse for many reasons besides the need for food. Even when he becomes a toddler, your baby may still need to nurse when it's time to go to sleep, when he wakes up, or when he has a boo-boo.

There will also be days when he needs to nurse more than usual: perhaps when he is teething or coming down with a cold. Nursing can help him cope with these upsets. In fact, many mothers say they could not imagine getting through the toddler stage without nursing to smooth the way. All too soon, as he progresses in natural weaning, your little one will be too busy exploring the world to nurse as often.

But what if I want a night out with my partner or friends or to go to the gym?

  • You can pump or hand express some milk to leave for your baby while you are away.
  • Be sure to nurse immediately before leaving, so that you both will feel comfortable.

For more information on leaving breastmilk for your baby while you are apart, see our article: Breast vs. Bottle: How much should baby take?

What if I have to go back to school or work?

  • You do not have to wean completely from the breast!
  • You can nurse when you are home and pump when you are away, and your sitter can give your baby your pumped milk.
  • Even if you decide to use formula while you are away, you can still nurse when you are home. Even a little milk is important to your baby's health!

What if I get sick and need to take medicine?

Most medications are safe to use when breastfeeding. For those medicines that are not safe, there is almost always another, safer drug available. Your healthcare provider can look them up online at Lactmed, a free government service, before writing a prescription.

The InfantRisk Center provides answers to questions about the use of drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Call (806)-352-2519 for information about the safety of using drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, chemicals, vaccines, and other substances.

Remember, you can always get a second opinion!

What if I want to have an alcoholic drink?

Here are some things you will want to know:

  • Only a very small proportion of the alcohol will go into your milk.
  • Nurse the baby before having your drink.
  • There is no need to pump and dump, because the alcohol will pass out of your milk in the same way it passes out of your blood.
  • It takes about two hours for complete metabolism of one standard drink (12 oz of 5% beer, or 5 oz of 11% wine, or 1.5 oz of 40% liquor (80 proof) 5
  • If you are fit to drive, then you are fit to nurse.
  • If you are planning on drinking a lot, express your breastmilk ahead of time so that your baby will have milk to drink until you are sober.
  • Be sure to have somebody else care for your baby until you are able to do so safely.
  • Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby if you have been drinking.

What if I get pregnant?

  • It is usually safe to nurse through a pregnancy.
  • According to Lesley Regan, PhD, MD, head of the Miscarriage Clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, the largest referral unit in Europe, and the author of Miscarriage: What every woman should know:

    "Once a pregnancy is clinically detectable, breastfeeding should pose no added risk of pregnancy loss. There isn’t any data suggesting a link between breastfeeding and miscarriage, and I see no plausible reason for there to be a link." 6

  • Many women continue to nurse while pregnant. During early pregnancy, your milk production may go down as the milk changes back to colostrum. Your baby may not like the taste and wean on his own, but many babies continue to breastfeed throughout pregnancy. Some mothers develop sore nipples when they become pregnant. If you have this kind of soreness, you can think about offering shorter nursing sessions rather than weaning completely.
  • It will not hurt the new baby if the older child also nurses. A mother who is “tandem nursing” makes enough milk for both children, just as if they were twins.

But people tell me that weaning will make life easier!

  • As a general rule, babies who are weaning need MORE attention, holding, and comforting!
  • Breastfeeding is much more than food: it is comfort and medicine, too. Your baby will still need to be held and cuddled when feeding. A propped bottle is a choking hazard, and there is a serious risk of aspiration pneumonia.
  • Although some partners start off by doing the night feeds, most don't continue for long, and then it will be you getting out of bed every night to heat a bottle when your baby cries.
  • Your baby is more likely to get sick if he is not getting antibodies from your milk, so you may be spending more time at the doctor's office and need more time off work.

If you need to wean before your baby is ready...

Do what feels right for you and your family. Each mother's circumstances are different!

  • If your baby is under a year old, talk to your doctor about which formula to use and mention any allergies that run in the family.
  • If your baby is over a year old, ask your doctor about using other milks instead of formula. You may be able to go straight to a cup.

Go slowly!

  • Each time you are ready to drop another nursing, let your baby nurse briefly at that feeding before offering the bottle during the first couple of days. This process will help him get used to the bottle more gradually. It will also help to prevent you from becoming over-full and maybe developing mastitis. If you still feel uncomfortable, pump or hand-express JUST ENOUGH to relieve pressure.
  • Let another person be the one to feed him the bottle if you will be only partially weaning. You will want your baby to associate you with breastfeeding only. Be prepared to backtrack. There will be days when your baby is not feeling well and needs to nurse. It is NEVER wrong to listen to your baby! Two steps forward and one step backwards is quite normal.

Bottle feed as much like breastfeeding as possible.

  • Use a slow-flow soft bottle nipple that has a wide base and a shorter, round nipple (not the flatter, orthodontic kind.)
  • Start by resting the tip of the nipple on your baby's upper lip, and allow him to take it into his mouth himself, just as if he was nursing.
  • Keep the bottle only slightly tilted, with baby in a more upright position, so he has to work to get the milk out. If you hold the bottle straight down, the milk will come out too fast, and he may feel as if he is drowning.

Start by substituting a bottle for one nursing a day for about a week. Keep your baby's favorite nursing sessions for the last. Follow your baby's lead as much as possible. For example, if he is sick, you may want to nurse a little more often until he is feeling better again. Unless there is an urgent reason for immediate weaning, it is easier on both of you to go slowly.

Remember, you know your baby best, and you know what is best for your family. Trust your instincts, and you won't go far wrong.

Want to know more about weaning?

Here is a great book:
How Weaning Happens by Diane Bengson

Here are some articles you may find helpful:
“A Natural Age of Weaning” by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet
Comfort measures for mom during weaning


1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP);115/2/496
2. The World Health Organization (WHO)
3. Mandel D, Lubetzky R, Dollberg S, Barak S, Mimouni FB. Fat and Energy Contents of Expressed Human Breast Milk in Prolonged Lactation. Pediatrics. 2005 Sept; 116(3):e432-e435.
4. Dewey KG. Nutrition, Growth, and Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Infant. Pediatric Clinics of North American. February 2001;48(1).
5. Texas Tech University Health Services Center (InfantRisk Center)
6. Flower, H., Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond, 2003.

Good Foods for Babies

NOTE: This article is the second of a series about introducing solids and weaning. You may want to read the previous article first: When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other Than Breastmilk? The final article in this series is: Thinking About Weaning?

As her baby approached his six month birthday, Joanna had lots of questions about starting her breastfed baby on other foods.

“Those jars of baby food are cute but so expensive. Besides, I would really prefer to feed my baby fresh food. Is it difficult to make your own baby food?"

It is very easy to make your own baby food and much cheaper, too. You do not even need special equipment, just a knife, fork and spoon.

“What are some good “starter” foods?”

Most babies like soft fruits and veggies. You can put tiny pieces of ripe banana on his tray, so he can pick them up and feed himself while you eat your dinner. Sweet potatoes are great for babies. Just scrub and prick the skin of the potato and bake it in the microwave until it is soft. After it has cooled down, you can throw away the skin and cut up the soft potato into little chunks.

“I have never heard of babies feeding themselves! I thought you had to feed them with little spoons!”

We used to think it was a good idea to start babies on solid foods when they were very young, maybe even just a few weeks old. Of course, babies that age could only eat pureed foods, which their mothers fed them with spoons. Now we know that babies are not ready for solid foods until they can sit up by themselves and use a pincer grasp with their fingers and thumbs. By that time, they can eat all kinds of things with only a little help from you. Your baby may like sitting in a high chair to eat, or he may prefer to sit on your lap or on the floor.

“Why do so many babies start with cereal?”

Cereal may be traditional, but it is not necessarily one of the best first foods. Iron-fortified rice cereal has been suggested as a first food in the past because of the belief that it was “hypoallergenic” and was a good source of iron. A review of research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) finds those reasons to be invalid. 1 Newer thinking suggests beginning with foods that are naturally nutrient-rich. For example, meat is naturally rich in iron and zinc. In any case, breastfed babies usually get all the iron they need from their mother's milk up until at least six months of age. 2 If your doctor is concerned about iron levels, a simple blood test can be done right in the office.

“So what else could I feed my baby?”

Lots of things! Just make sure the food is soft enough not to catch in his throat and that it is cut into little pieces. So, for example, you will want to offer cooked, not raw, carrots, green beans, and peas.

  • Try ripe avocados, pears, peaches or apples – whatever is in season.
  • Beans can be mashed after the skins have been removed.
  • If you eat meat, you can offer little pieces of chicken or maybe a meaty leg bone (with that thin sliver of attached bone removed).
  • Tofu is an easy, soft food for a meat-free family with no soy allergies.
  • As he gets closer to a year, your baby may also like to gnaw on a heel of whole wheat bread or a piece of bagel.

“Are there foods I should avoid feeding to my baby?”

  • Don't give her anything that could get stuck in her throat, so avoid hard foods like popcorn and nuts and sticky foods like peanut butter.
  • Any “round” foods, like carrots slices or grapes, should be cut into quarters.
  • You may have heard that you should delay potentially allergenic foods, and you may have seen lists of such foods. Current research suggests that there is no benefit or reduction in the development of allergies due to delaying certain foods. 1
  • Never give honey to a baby until he is over a year old because of the risk of botulism (food poisoning).
  • If there are any foods or drinks to which members of your family are allergic or sensitive, talk with your health care provider before offering them to your baby.

“How much food does he need? How many times a day should I feed him?”

Start slowly, just once a day. If you miss a day, don't worry. Table foods may be offered whenever it is most convenient. It is not necessary to stick to a strict daily schedule. At first he will mostly play with his food. If any of it gets in his mouth, consider it a bonus! Start with about a teaspoon of food and add more when he asks for it. You might want to put an old shower curtain under his chair to catch the crumbs. Wait about a week before introducing each new food. That way it will be easy to see if anything upsets his stomach or gives him a rash.

“What about juices? Won't he need extra water too?”

Whole fruits contain fiber and are much more nutritious than juices. It makes sense to either limit juices or even avoid them completely. Some mothers like to offer a little water in a sippy cup with meals.

“Wow, I am excited to start! But I was wondering, if I start on other foods, won't he nurse less often? I don't want to lose my milk, and I am not ready to stop nursing.”

Your milk remains the most important part of your baby's diet until he is about a year old. Always nurse him before offering other foods and afterwards as well if he is interested. Nursing before offering solids will both ensure that baby gets enough breastmilk and maintain your milk production.

Babies need only their mother’s milk for about the first six months. Your baby will continue to receive the same nutrition and protection from your milk as long as you continue to nurse.

The continuing protection from illness is important for your baby, because when babies become more mobile, they are toddling around and picking up all kinds of germs, some of which go straight into their mouths.

It is fun to see your baby begin to explore the different tastes and textures of various foods.

You may also like to read:

Baby Led Weaning and More on Baby Led Weaning

Whole Foods for Babies and Toddlers by Margaret Kenda

Mash and Smash Cookbook by Marian Buck-Murray

Sugar-Free Toddlers by Susan Watson

My Child Won't Eat! by Carlos González, MD

1. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Pediatric News, November 2009: “Rice Cereal Can Wait, Let Then Eat Meat First: AAP committee has changes in mind”

2. Raj, S et al. “A prospective study of iron status in exclusively breastfed term infants up to 6 months of age”, International Breastfeeding Journal, 2007.

© Copyright Breastfeeding USA, Inc. 2012. All rights are reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of Breastfeeding USA and the author.

When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other Than Breastmilk?

NOTE: This article is the first of a series about introducing solids and weaning. The next articles in the series are:
Good Foods for Babies
Thinking About Weaning?

The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months before other foods are introduced. Some babies are ready to start new foods around this time, while others show no interest until they are a bit older. The Recommendations on Breastfeeding by the AAP also state:

“Unique needs or feeding behaviors of individual infants may indicate a need for introduction of complementary foods as early as four months of age, whereas other infants may not be ready to accept other foods until approximately eight months of age.

Introduction of complementary feedings before six months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that lack the protective components of human milk.”1

As you can see, there is no clear cut age when it is best to start solids. The best time to start offering your baby other foods is when he shows signs of being ready.

Of course this time will be different for each baby. We do not expect all babies to crawl or walk or potty train on a certain day of their lives, and we should not expect them all to need solid foods at the same time either. You are the expert on your baby!

Here are some of the signs that your baby may be ready for solids.

He will be able to:

  • sit up on the floor for about ten minutes without support 2
  • use his finger and thumb to pick up toys and put them in his mouth
  • swallow a tiny bit of soft food, like ripe banana, without pushing it out of his mouth with his tongue

At this stage, he will probably also seem to be more hungry than usual. If you have already tried nursing him more frequently, and he still does not seem to be satisfied, he may be ready to start adding other foods to his diet. Babies sometimes also want to nurse more because they are teething or not feeling well or going through a growth spurt, so be sure to rule those things out first.

Mothers sometimes wonder if their babies are ready for solids at about four months because of the way their babies are behaving.

Four months is about the time that many babies start to become more interested in the world around them. They are taking everything in. For example, they may pull away from the breast in response to a sudden noise. They may even try to take the breast with them! They may not seem to be as interested in nursing so often or may learn to gulp down their milk quickly to get back to more fun activities.

These are all normal and common ways for four-month-olds to behave. You may find it helpful to nurse your baby in a quiet, dark room a couple of times during the day in order to avoid distractions. Some mothers like wearing a nursing necklace (beads strung and knotted on extra-strong cord that the baby can hold while nursing) because it can help him stay focused on breastfeeding.

Have you noticed your baby watching you very carefully while YOU eat? Does he pretend to chew? This behavior shows how babies learn and practice, and it is one of the signs that they will soon be ready to start eating table foods.

Just follow your baby's cues and your own instincts.

There is no rush. Nothing magical happens on the very minute/hour/day of the sixth month birthday. A switch does not suddenly turn off and make mother's milk suddenly inadequate! In fact, some babies have no interest in other foods until much later, sometimes not until they are about a year old.

As long as your baby is happy and healthy, gaining weight, and meeting all his milestones, he is doing fine!

Some parents are told that they must introduce solids by a certain age to provide extra iron and prevent anemia. If there is a concern about your baby's being anemic, your doctor can do a simple blood test. It only takes a few minutes to see if your baby has enough iron. It is almost unheard of for a completely breastfed baby to have low iron stores or low hemoglobin values before six to nine months. One study, by Piscane, 1995 3, found infants who were exclusively breastfed for seven months (not given iron fortified cereals or iron supplements) had significantly higher hemoglobin values at one year old than breastfed babies who had received solid foods before seven months. None of the babies who were breastfed exclusively for 7 months were anemic at one year, while some of the babies who did receive solids before seven months were found to be anemic. Research like this suggests that delaying solids can reduce the risks of anemia.

Enjoy this special time with your completely breastfed baby. You may be interested in reading the next article in this series, Good Foods for Babies, where I share some suggested first foods and ways to introduce your baby to the delights of a wide variety of healthy foods.

You may also like to read:

Starting Solids-The Facts Behind Today's Media Hype

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, PEDIATRICS Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005, pp. 496-506 (doi:10.1542/peds.2004-2491)

2. Hassink, Sandra G. MD, FAAPA Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006

3. Pisacane A, et al. Iron status in breast-fed infants. J Pediatrics 1995 Sep;127(3):429-31

© Copyright Breastfeeding USA, Inc. 2012. All rights are reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of Breastfeeding USA and the author.

Disaster Preparedness: Breastfeeding Matters During an Emergency

One of the things that we can depend on, unfortunately, is that disasters and emergencies will continue to happen around the world. From tornadoes and hurricanes to earthquakes and floods to the effects of war, few people are immune to the possibility of dealing with at least one or more of these situations sometime in their lifetime. During a disaster or emergency, breastfeeding becomes even more important and has been proven to save lives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states:

In an emergency
• There may be no clean drinking water.
• There may be no sterile environment.
• It may be impossible to ensure cleaning and sterilization of feeding utensils.

The cleanest, safest food for an infant is human milk.

Below is a list of resources for those looking for detailed information about breastfeeding during emergencies:

Emergency Nutrition Network:

IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network):

American Academy of Pediatrics:


Transcript from WHO podcast from 2009: The importance of breastfeeding during emergencies

Australian Breastfeeding Association:

My power went out and I have breastmilk in the freezer – Help!

Emergency Baby carriers (broken glass is a real concern!)

Breastfeeding USA. All Rights Reserved.

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