Weaning (the process of transitioning from breastmilk or formula to adult/table food) is, like many other things in parenting, something that each diad or triad has to figure out for themselves. There's no "right" answer or way to do it. So if you're reading this looking for advice, please don't feel like this is a prescription for what to do. Just a description of how we did it, in case that's helpful for you and your family.
Miss O was fully breast fed or nursed until I went back to work at 3 months. We did occasional bottles during that time, to get her used to someone else feeding her (see this post for an explanation). But MOST of the food was with me. At 3 months, I started pumping full time at work, which meant hiding out in my office 2-3 times per day with the double pump, so that O could have enough breast milk to last her during the day while she was at day care. We continued on that pattern until 4ish months.
Between 4-5 months, we started giving O "tastes" of foods. she'd lick a carrot (yes, raw) or we'd put a spoon full of something in her mouth for the flavor, knowing she'd push it back out with her tongue. We did this just as she was beginning to sit up supported, such as in a bumbo chair or well supported in one of our laps.
At 5 months, the daycare provider told us "Olivia cries when other babies eat food and she doesn't have any!" I know that her crying was about wanting to be part of the experience, not about hunger. But it made me feel guilty anyway. :-) Thus, even though we never really planned on doing purees at home (which reminds me I need to write a post about baby led weaning), I started sending 1-2 little containers of pureed veggies, fruits, or meats into day care for them to play with. During this process, she still was getting all her required nutrition from breast milk.
Between 6 and 9 months, we started offering solid table foods. This phase of the game took a LOT longer than I expected. I thought my curious daughter would start eating food and really pull back on the breast milk... but no, she didn't. I got more efficient with my pumping, so that I only needed to pump twice daily. But I still was S.O.L. if I couldn't pump the 10-12 ounces she needed during the day. That's why all of you who know me in real life started noticing how much weight I lost around 9 months! I couldn't keep the girl satisfied with enough breast milk!
All of that leads me to the decision process on weaning. By 12-13 months, several things had happened. A, I was SO SICK of pumping at work. B, I'd increased from 20-32 hours, meaning that I'd have to pump even MORE than I used to. C, Olivia had transitioned from day care 3 days a week to being home with our awesome summer nanny 4 days a week. D, she was REALLY doing well with eating solid foods. I could tell that she was doing more than playing with the food, actually eating it. Our grocery bill was going up. Table food was successful. Thus, I decided the time was right to slow down on the breast milk and really increase the solid food intake to meet O's needs. I felt like I needed to do one thing at a time-- night weaning or pump weaning. And since I hated the pump so much... it was what I got rid of first.
The process of weaning from the pump was stressful to me. I didn't know how much to pump, how frequently to pump. I was worried about engorgement. But it all worked out. At 13 months, I started pumping less, but still twice a day. A couple weeks later, I transitioned to pumping once a day but still on both sides. And finally, I started pumping once a day, but only one side (alternating days). At 14 months, I had a couple of really busy days at work, forgot to pump all together, and realized I survived! Thus, I brought the pump home, sterilized it, and sold the darn thing!
Simultaneously, I weaned Olivia off bottles. She went from 3 a day to 2 a day at around 12 months. Then from 2 a day to 2 smaller ones per day around 13 months. Then down to 1 a day at 13.5 months. By 14 months, she was getting a little 2 ounce bottle of breast milk, mostly just because she liked it and not for the calories. Then, of course, I'd stopped pumping. But I had this frozen stash of breastmilk that I'd been managing all along since storing up during my maternity leave. So I decided we should continue with the little "snack bottles" until it was all gone. I started defrosting 2 ounces at a time, and MOST days, O would drink one. Though some times either the nanny or daddy would forget. At this point (we're nearing 16 months), we have one week left with summer time nanny and then O goes back to daycare. The timing is going to work out perfectly, because I have about 8 ounces of breast milk left in the freezer! I can't believe how many transitions are happening this fall. But at the end of next week, no more bottles, no more breast milk in the freezer will be one of them! Crazy, right?
At 15 months, I also started getting tired of night nursing. We were still waking twice per night (midnight and 4ish) to nurse. And though we have a "family bed" and a montessori bed next to it, O can come and go as she pleases, the lack of consecutive sleep had begun to wear on me big time. So, Ben and I flip flopped places in bed and we started night weaning. It's taken about a month to get it down consistently, but O is going from 7pm to 6 am more often than not without nursing. She frequently wakes and cries at which point daddy will soothe her back to sleep with a pacifier, back rub, and some water from the straw cup if needed. But night nursing is essentially done. Even on nights when daddy isn't home, we can get the same pattern with me (though I am more likely to just nurse her if she wakes... I'm lazy when I'm woken out of REM sleep).
All in all, it's been successful and by 16 months, I think we'll be consistently only nursing about twice daily-- morning before day care and evening before bed. I hope we'll continue that pattern and relationship through the rest of this year (up until O's 2nd birthday in April), but I think she'll tell me when she's ready to be done.
How did you and your family decide to wean? Cold turkey? Night wean first then bottle wean? Other?