Weaning is considered the time that your child completely stops nursing and instead receives all of his nutrition from other sources than breast milk. Babies can also be weaned from their bottles but most of the time the term “wean” refers to the ending of breastfeeding.
For many parents weaning can feel like a long goodbye as it involves both a newfound freedom and bittersweet feelings. Just because you stop nursing, however, doesn’t mean that the intimate bond you have with your child will end as well. Instead it means that you are nurturing and nourishing in different ways. This article will share with you the answer to the questions like when you should start weaning and how you should wean your baby.
When to Start Weaning From Breastfeeding
Both parents and health professionals alike often debate about when a child is ready to start weaning from breastfeeding. The consensus is that you should start weaning your child when they are around six months old. In addition, you should pay attention to the signs they are giving you as some can indicate that they are ready for the weaning process. Keep in mind that teething and having a larger appetite do not necessarily mean your child is ready. Instead look for the following signs:
- Your baby is able to stay sitting up and keep his head steady.
- Your baby is able to coordinate his eyes, mouth and hands well enough so that he can not only look at his food but also place it in his mouth all by himself.
- Your baby is able to swallow their food. If your baby ends up with a lot of food around his face, this is usually a sign that he is not ready and instead is simply pushing his food back out.
Experts agree that your child does not need to begin the weaning process until they reach six months of age, primarily because until this point in their life they are able to get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients from breast milk (or formula if that is what you use). Health experts also feel that prior to six months of age your baby probably isn’t physically ready for solid food as his digestive system will still be developing. If you wean your child too soon, it can increase his risk of infections and allergies.
Another factor to consider is that when your baby gets to around six months old, his body will begin to run out of certain important nutrients including iron. When this happens they will need to get nutrients from other sources such as solid foods and cow’s milk (with the cow’s milk being introduced close to the time they turn one).
How to Wean From Breastfeeding
There are several methods for effectively weaning your baby and you should try to do so gradually.
Skip a Feeding
You can try skipping a feeding. To do this, try giving your child some milk (pumped breast milk or formula – or cow’s milk but only if they are one already) instead. The idea here is to slowly decrease the amount of breast feedings over several weeks. This should help your child adjust and help your milk supply slowly decrease, preventing pain or complications.
Shorten Nursing Time
Another option is to slowly shorten the amount of time you nurse for. A good way to do this is to cut down a nursing from 10 minutes to five but then follow it with a delicious and healthy snack (if your child is at least six months). You can try giving them a cup of formula or milk or some unsweetened applesauce.
Postpone the Feedings
The final common method is to distract your child and postpone the feedings. This is an ideal method if you only nurse a few times each day. It also helps if your child is old enough so that you can reason with him. This will allow you to ask them to wait a little longer to nurse and then temporarily distract him for a while.
Follow the Three-Stage-Strategy
This stage lets your baby try out different textures and flavors. To do this, offer him a little bit of food after breastfeeding for the normal amount of time. During this stage most of the nourishment is still from breast milk.
If your baby is able to eat well, try to offer food before you breastfeed him at mealtimes. Eventually try to offer him food before every nursing session.
Over time, start offering your child water instead of breast milk.
Most of the time when weaning you should start your baby off with foods that are pureed and eventually move on to ones that are thicker or lumpier. According to the British Dietetic Association, there are four stages of weaning, each with their own recommended foods.
Stage 1: When your child is six months, try giving him pureed foods (fruit, rice, vegetables, meat, cheese, etc.).
Stage 2: When your child is between six and nine months you can move onto foods with a thicker consistency such as adding cereals, fish or bread as well as finger foods.
Stage 3: When your child is nine to twelve months, try adding more finger foods and give them other items that are minced, chopped or mashed.
Stage 4: At this point (after a year old) your child should be able to eat any foods your family does but with a minced, chopped or mashed consistency. They should also have many finger foods.
Foods to Avoid
- When your child is weaning from breastfeeding, you should avoid giving them salt (either adding it to foods or giving them foods with a lot of it).
- You should also avoid adding sugar; if you want to sweeten food, add formula or breast milk or bananas.
- You should also not give him raw shellfish (a risk for food poisoning) or marlin, swordfish or shark (as they can affect his developing nervous system).
- You can give finely ground nuts at the age six months if there is no family history of allergies and should wait to give honey until they are a year old.
This video shows some great methods for you to easily start weaning your baby.
This video shows some of the same suggestions explained differently as well as additional ones.
How Long does It Take to Wean From Breastfeeding?
Because weaning from breastfeeding is different for anyone it can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months. You should never stop breastfeeding suddenly as this will upset your baby and can cause physical problems for you in the form of engorged breasts and possibly developing mastitis (a breast inflammation). The key is to always wean your child gradually.