First, what in the world is weaning and how is it done? When it comes to having a little one, every simple task can feel like treading carefully through armed territory. Weaning is the process of changing a little one's diet from just milk to incorporating solid foods too. It is until there is a bowl of pureed broccoli flying halfway across the room that moms everywhere realize weaning isn't as simple as it sounds.
There are several stages to weaning and a few different types. No one way to wean is better than the other, and it really all just depends on the type of parenting style that Mom feels is right for her little one. Regardless of what Mom decides, the first stage of weaning helps lay the foundations for healthy eating habits and teaches a baby about texture, how to eat from a spoon, and eventually how to chew. Baby-led weaning is a form of weaning in which mothers choose to skip purees and have babies begin eating soft solids directly.
Many nutritionists have said that there are advantages to this form of eating, but it can be hard to tell for sure since every child is unique. This is a really exciting time and should be explored with as the intention of having fun, and as he or she grows, food will eventually provide all the nutrients he or she needs, but weaning is really all about getting them and Moms body used to all the newness that comes with a growing infant.
You're the best judge as to when to wean your child, you don't have to set a deadline until you and your child are ready. And although The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least a year – and encourages women to breastfeed even longer if they both want – only you know when it is time to end your milk journey.
However, do not force your little one to eat solid foods just because you are ready to stop breastfeeding. Other options like formula are available if that is the case. Keep reading for more information on when he or she may be ready.
Expecting overnight results? Don't. Parents.com says when it comes to weaning, it won't happen overnight. Helping your little one kick his or her milk habit can be rough, so the rule of thumb is to go slowly.
This will protect your breasts from engorgement and ease your baby's anxiety. Freda Rosenfeld, former president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association, says you can never go too slowly. Just be sure to drop only one feeding every three or four days so that it takes about two weeks for the entire process. Drop the least preferred feedings first so those in the middle of the day can probably go first.
Don't cut the option of milk off completely and right away. Weaning expert and lactation counselors of WebMD advise that it's a good idea to avoid the 'cold turkey' approach to weaning.
For example, a weekend away from your baby or toddler is not a good way to end the breastfeeding relationship.
Experts say that abruptly withholding your breast can be traumatic for your baby and could cause plugged ducts or a breast infection for Moms. We know that there may come a time when you just want your body back, but cold turkey can really do a lot more harm than good, for everyone involved.
Allergies are totally a possibility now that your little one is eating solids, and they are not something you want to ignore or count out.
Imagine slipping your little one some peanut butter in his or her banana puree for some extra protein only to realize that her face is turning a bit blue. Was it the banana or the peanut butter? More than likely peanut butter but do you really know?
Allergies are real and kind of scary, so take your time introducing new foods. Be sure that one thing is absolutely okay for he or she to eat before introducing something else.
It is possible that during the time it takes to fully wean your little one, he or she may feel neglected by the fact that he or she can no longer nurse. If you are used to nursing your little one for comfort this is a good time to try to find other ways to make him or her feel better.
Read a book, sing a song together, or play outside, instead. If your child cries about "milk", try to stay calm and be firm.
Don't crack. Once you decide it is time to wean your baby reverting to old habits could mean months of more weaning related challenges in the future.
One of the worst times a mom can try to start weaning their child is when they are sick or there is a lot going on at home. Increased tension at home or a little cold or stomach bug can make weaning that much harder.
Infants benefit from the illness fighting properties found in mothers milk. They also enjoy doing what is comforting at times of change, meaning that introducing more change at that time is probably not the best idea.
Have you recently gone back to work? Is your child sick? Is your household going through a major life change? Is your little one going through a new developmental stage? Ask yourself these questions as they can all make it harder to wean.
If you notice that your little one particularly does not like one food the first time you introduced it to him or her, do not give up.
Persistence is key when weaning.
And even if they do not like a food at first, just remember, that's normal! They've never had it before and it may take a few days to decide whether or not they like it. Your baby will naturally be more receptive to sweet tastes at first, but starting with veggies will really benefit their health in the long run.
In fact, research has shown that encouraging veg intake during weaning helps to shape your little one’s food preferences for the future!
If you are used to exclusively breastfeeding, or if your baby still wakes through the night for feedings, do not expect weaning to go very smoothly if you continue these habits. When you begin weaning, milk is still the most vital source of nutrition for your little one.
Consider adjusting you and your baby's milk drinking habits in addition to introducing foods. If your little one is drinking formula, the Department of Health recommends that for little ones ages 6 months to 5 years parents should give foods containing vitamins A, C, and D. Your baby will eventually drop a milk feed when he or she is ready.
When you begin weaning do not start with a different form of milk. Depending on your little one's age, do not start with cow's milk since your little ones digestive system may not be developed enough to break down certain proteins.
As we mentioned before, introducing multiple changes at one time can be very jarring for little ones. Keep the same major source of nutrition, which will be his or her milk, and continue those feedings until he or she is at least 1 year old. Do this at the same time as introducing food as well. This allows for one simple introduction instead of several at a time allowing your baby to concentrate on food and texture.
As we mentioned before, food will not be a replacement for milk until your little one is at least one year of age. When introducing foods be sure to make sure his or her first foods are bland and smooth. Baby rice is a good first food, or you could try root vegetables like potato or carrot, and fruit such as banana and cooked apple or pear.
Once you have weaning down pat and you are nearing the end of milk as the main source of nutrition, BabyCenter suggests including one item of starchy foods, dairy products, meat and fish, vegetables and fruit in your baby's daily diet as these will provide balance and overall nutrition for your little one.
Instead of forcing your little one to wean, make sure he or she is actually ready to eat real food. Ask yourself the following questions:
Can your little one sit up and hold his or her head up steadily? Has he or she stopped tongue thrusting? Does he or she show interest in your food and try to take it off of your plate? Does your little one pick things up and place them in his or her mouth? Does he or she swallow food when you offer it to her or him?
If your little one is demonstrating these signs, chances are he or she is ready to be weaned.
Even exclusively breastfed infants need extra nutrients that breast milk can't provide, like vitamin D, says BabyCenter.
When you begin to wean your child, keep those important missing elements in mind and seek out foods that will provide what he or she needs most to grow up strong and healthy.
If you wean your baby before he or she reaches their first birthday, he or she will need to continue to drink breast milk or iron-fortified formula until he or she is at least one year old. Then once your child reaches toddlerhood, it will be necessary to offer a wider variety of foods with all the necessary nutrients for optimal growth.
Instead of expecting things to change overnight, or continuing to feed your baby round the clock and hoping that he will eventually just wean, consider reducing feedings, instead. BabyCenter advises moms to see what happens if you offer a bottle or cup of milk instead of nursing.
You can substitute pumped breast milk with formula. Reducing feedings one at a time over a period of weeks gives your child time to adjust. Your milk supply also diminishes gradually this way without leaving your breasts feeling uncomfortably full.
This is great for you and baby because we don't want an unhappy mom or a mom in pain.
Instead of ducking for cover and hiding from potential allergens, consider introducing foods to your little one at a time over the period of several days to weed out any food allergies he or she may have.
Avoid foods like salt, sugar, honey, egg whites, nuts, tea, caffeine, and soft drinks in general.
These products can have some adverse effects of weaning like overloading immature kidneys, developing a sweet tooth too early, botulism, salmonella poisoning, or choking.
Weaning should be fun, so try to enjoy this new stage in your little one's life and always ask your general practitioner if you think your little one may have an allergy.
If you are already only nursing a few times a day, try postponing feedings or using a bottle to help wean your baby more easily. If your child wants to nurse, reassure him that you will soon and distract him with a different activity.
To help ease your baby's transition to a bottle, Parents Magazine advises putting a few drops of breast milk on his or her lips before slipping the bottle's into his mouth.
You can also try giving him a small amount of breast milk in a bottle a couple of hours after breastfeeding but before he's so hungry that he's impatient and frustrated.
The closeness that comes with breastfeeding is what moms and babies most often miss when nursing ends. So be sure to shower your baby with lots of extra attention during the weaning process.
"You'll want to substitute nursing with something that feels emotionally equivalent, like snuggling together to read or even horseplay on the floor," counsels Diane Bengson, author of How Weaning Happens (La Leche League International).
Consider looking to your partner for a helping hand as well, if you are feeling particularly lost now that your role as a major nutritionist is over, have Dad put the baby to sleep or do those activities when you typically nurse.
If your baby is ready to wean, he or she will have less interest in nursing, pay attention to these cues. Conversely, if your baby only wants the breast, do not force your baby to do otherwise. The transition should be gradual and one that takes time. According to Diane Bengson, author of How Weaning Happens, babies often seem to lose interest in nursing between 8 and 10 months.
"It's a time when they're taking in a lot of sensory information," she explains, "and this often leads to babies constantly pulling off the breast to look around."
Other signs for losing interest include pushing the breast away or crying for more food.
If you tried to introduce carrots on day one and your little one looked at you like you gave him something inedible, try not to take it personally. Instead try reintroducing that same food again tomorrow, or next week. Once you've established that your little one likes one food or really dislikes a certain food weaning will be much easier.
After a while, you can even combine foods and give him or her a variety of mixed foods to choose from. That's when the fun will really start.
Like we said before, persistence is key! Continue to reintroduce foods in new, fun and exciting ways, consider making sounds, or using colorful bowls that will make eating more enjoyable.
Try to offer fewer feedings at night for your little one to encourage weaning. The gentler you are at reducing feedings, the apter he or she will be to eating foods at other points of the day.
Build up to lumpy textures and frequent food feeds in the beginning. Nursing less at night, and offering food during the day should balance out the new introduction to food.
Always make sure that the food you choose to introduce to your little one is appropriate for his or her age. For example, beets should be avoided until around 8 months of age.
Since we are avoiding any new forms of milk as the first food, try vegetables, fruits, and starches instead. This will give your little one a balanced diet he or she needs.
Remember to include a variety of food stretched out over the course of several days and have fun with it. Weaning is the start of an exciting new love for food and a time when parents help shape the pallet for their children.
Embrace this new journey you are on with your little one and never be afraid to have him or her taste things that maybe even you are not a fan of. You will be surprised at what he or she may like to eat!
References: Baby Center, Parents.com, Cow & Gate and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Department of Health