Guide to Weaning Your Baby From Breastfeeding

Surprised baby eating messy food
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Weaning is a change from one type of food to another. It's also the term usually used to describe how a child moves on from breastfeeding to either a bottle, a cup, or solid food.

When Should You Start Weaning Your Baby?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and the continuation of breastfeeding along with the introduction of solid foods until your child’s first birthday and beyond. However, the decision about when to wean your baby is a personal one, and it's really up to you. While some women begin to wean right away to prepare to go back to work, others may wait until their children are toddlers before fully weaning.

Sometimes it's the mom who chooses when to start weaning, and sometimes the baby leads the process.

Children are all different, and each one tolerates weaning in his or her own way. Some infants accept weaning easily. They may enjoy trying new foods from a spoon and learning to use a cup. Others are very reluctant to stop breastfeeding and refuse the bottle or any other form of feeding. It can be an easy transition or a very stressful experience.

You may even decide to start weaning only to find that you or your baby aren't truly ready. That's OK. You can always change your mind and try again at another time or try partial weaning. Weaning, just like breastfeeding, doesn't have to be all or nothing. 

The Types of Weaning

  • Gradual weaning: Gradual weaning a slow weaning process. It takes place over weeks, months, or years.
  • Sudden weaning: Sudden weaning is the quick end of breastfeeding.
  • Partial weaning: Partial weaning is a great alternative if you can't breastfeed exclusively but you don't want to give up on breastfeeding altogether.
  • Temporary weaning: Temporary weaning is when breastfeeding is stopped for a short period then restarted. A mother may temporarily wean her child if she has a health issue or needs surgery. 
  • Baby-led weaning: Sometimes a baby stops breastfeeding on his own. However, young infants rarely wean themselves. True self-weaning is usually gradual and happens after a child is a year old. 

How to Wean from the Breast to a Bottle or a Cup

When you're ready to wean your baby, it's best if you can do it in a gradual way. You can start by giving your baby one bottle a day in place of one breastfeeding session. As the days go on, you can slowly introduce more bottles and breastfeed less often. It's easier to replace daytime feedings first, then change naptime and early morning. Bedtime breastfeeding is usually the hardest for an infant to give up, so it's usually the last one to be eliminated.

An infant can drink from a cup at about 6 months of age. If your baby is over 6 months old, you can decide to wean directly to a cup and skip bottles completely. You can wean to a cup in the same way you would wean to a bottle.

Weaning and Your Baby's Age

If you decide to wean your baby from the breast before his first birthday, you will need to give your baby pumped breast milk or infant formula. Your child's doctor will help you decide which formula is the best choice for your baby. After one year, your child can digest whole milk. Again, talk to your baby's doctor when you're choosing an age-appropriate source of alternative nutrition.

When to Introduce Solid Foods

When your child is between 4 and 6 months old, your doctor will advise you to begin introducing him to solid foods. The introduction of solid foods into your baby’s diet may naturally assist the weaning process.

Iron-fortified infant cereal is typically introduced first. Rice cereal is the most common choice since it is easy to digest and the least likely to cause an allergic reaction

If your baby tolerates cereal well, you can start to give her strained fruits and vegetables. Add new foods one at a time, wait a few days between each new food, and keep an eye out for food allergies each time you start something new.

By 7 to 9 months, your baby can begin trying new textures, meats, mashed table food, and finger foods. However, you should avoid nuts, grapes, and small food items that cause your baby to choke. And, you don't want to give your infant honey or whole milk until after her first birthday.

When to Introduce Eggs, Fish, and Peanut Products

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not found any evidence that putting off the introduction of fish, eggs, or peanut products will prevent allergies. So, if you don't have a family history of allergies to these foods, you can begin adding them once your baby is tolerating solid foods after 6 months of age. 

How to Make Weaning Easier

If you are wondering how to wean your child from the breast, here are some tips:

  • Be patient and take a gradual approach if possible.
  • Allow your partner or another caregiver to give your baby a bottle. The child may be more likely to take a bottle from someone other than you.
  • Introduce solid foods at 6 to 9 months of age, during which some children will become more distracted and ready to wean.
  • Introduce a comfort object (a soothing blanket or stuffed toy) to your baby during this time of transition.
  • Spend time rocking, cuddling, and playing with your baby to replace the special time you share together.
  • Keep in mind that as a child gets older weaning may become more difficult. A toddler may be much more reluctant to give up breastfeeding.

Some approaches for weaning are dropping a breastfeeding session every two to five days, shortening the length of each breastfeeding session, or increasing the time between breastfeeding sessions. Oftentimes, afternoon feedings are ideal to get rid of first—children are often active during this time and may not notice the dropped feeding. 

Weaning and Your Baby's Growth and Development

Weaning is an important milestone in your baby's development. Infants will naturally reach for the bottle or the spoon and try to explore foods with their hands and mouth. You should encourage your baby to hold the spoon or try to pick up finger foods. It can be a messy experience, but by supporting this natural learning process, you're helping your baby master early fine motor skills.

3 Reasons to Put Off Weaning

There are a few situations when, if possible, you should wait to wean your child. 

  1. If you have a family history of food allergies, talk to your pediatrician.
  2. If it is a very stressful time for your family, such as when you are going back to work, or you're moving.
  3. If your child is sick, it is better to wait until he or she is feeling better.

What if You Want to Continue to Breastfeed?

The introduction of solid foods is the beginning of weaning, but just because it's time to add other types of foods to your child's diet, doesn't mean that breastfeeding has to end. Breastfeeding along with the addition of other foods is recommended for at least one year. After that, as long as your baby is getting enough nutrition from a variety of foods, you can breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish to continue.

The End of Breastfeeding 

Weaning is a major change, and it can be a great source of anxiety for your baby, and for you, too. You may feel a sense of relief once breastfeeding has ended, but you may be surprised to find that weaning can be very emotional, sad, or even depressing.

The range of feelings that go along with the end of breastfeeding is normal. And, don't feel embarrassed if you need some support. If you don't have anyone to talk to about your feelings, call your doctor's office or visit your local breastfeeding group.

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Article Sources

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