Weaning 101

Weaning 101

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week! One part of the breastfeeding journey that is often overlooked is weaning. As your baby grows, they will eventually need to transition to solid foods. This process, known as weaning, can be both exciting and daunting for parents. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the weaning process.

When to Start Weaning

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. After six months, you can begin to introduce solid foods while continuing to breastfeed or offer formula. While your baby might still nurse or take a bottle just as much as they did before starting solids, technically if they are eating any solids, they’ve begun to wean. The AAP recommends to continue breastfeeding along with solid foods for at least 2 years or as long as is mutually desired by parent and child. But every baby and every parent is unique, and the age of weaning varies widely.

Some babies lose interest in nursing once solids are introduced or mobility increases – they’re too busy to sit down and nurse! Others continue happily into toddlerhood and beyond. Likewise, some breastfeeding parents need to wean for many reasons at any stage (physical or mental wellbeing, logistics, etc.), while others are comfortable to continue nursing for years.

Ultimately, every baby and every parent is different, and your weaning journey will be uniquely yours. Weaning is a personal decision with several compounding factors – health, lifestyle (i.e. returning to work), social, cultural, and more. Western parents tend to wean earlier than the global average. Worldwide, the average age of weaning is about four years old! When it comes down to it, the best time to wean is when it’s best for your unique situation. If you’re unsure what’s best for you and your baby, consult with your pediatrician to determine a good time to start weaning.

Signs Your Baby is Ready to Start Solids

It’s important to note that weaning means the changing of a baby’s diet from breastmilk or formula to solid foods. But your baby might still nurse just as frequently, even with the introduction of complementary foods. Weaning is meant to be gradual for both you and your baby.

Here are some signs that your baby may be ready to start eating solids:

  • They can sit up and hold their head steady
  • They show interest in food and try to grab it
  • They have lost the tongue-thrust reflex, which pushes food out of their mouth
  • They can move food from the front to the back of their mouth and swallow it

How to Start Weaning

There are two main approaches to weaning: traditional weaning and baby-led weaning.

Traditional Weaning

With traditional weaning, you gradually introduce your baby to solid foods by spoon-feeding them purees or mashed foods. You can start with a single food, such as mashed avocados, and gradually introduce new foods one at a time. This approach allows you to control what your baby eats and how much they eat.

Baby-Led Weaning

With baby-led weaning, you allow your baby to feed themselves finger foods. This approach encourages self-feeding and allows your baby to explore different textures and flavors. You can start with soft foods, such as avocado or banana, and gradually introduce new foods. This approach can be messier than traditional weaning, but it can also be more fun and engaging for your baby.

Tips for Successful Weaning

Ideally, weaning happens when both parent and child are willing participants. However, that’s not always the case. Here are some tips to help make the weaning process successful:

  • Start with small amounts of food and gradually increase the amount as your baby gets used to eating solid foods.
  • Offer a variety of foods to help your baby develop a taste for different flavors and textures.
  • Avoid foods that are choking hazards, such as nuts, popcorn, and raw carrots.
  • Offer breastmilk or formula before offering solid foods to ensure that your baby is getting enough nutrition.
  • Be patient and don’t force your baby to eat if they are not interested. It may take several tries before they develop a taste for a new food.
  • Go slow. Drop one feeding at a time as your baby replaces nursing with solid foods and liquids. Weaning too abruptly can lead to engorgement, plugged ducts and eventually, mastitis.
  • If your baby is under a year old, use formula along with solid foods. After a year, you can wean to cow’s milk or another alternative (ask your pediatrician).
  • Offer lots of cuddles when weaning, so your baby understands that the end of nursing doesn’t mean the end of physical comfort. Your relationship is evolving, not ending! Parents of course understand this, but babies often need extra reassurance.
  • Distraction can be a helpful tool during parent-led weaning. Outings, toys, play dates are great ways to keep your baby entertained and distracted from wanting to nurse.
  • If you baby chooses to wean before you’re ready, be gentle with yourself! This can be emotionally hard for parents, but one of the many signs that you’re doing a great job.
  • If needed, pump just enough to relieve discomfort while weaning. As demand decreases, supply will decrease as well. You want to avoid pumping too much to encourage more milk production, but short pumping sessions to take the edge off are a good idea to prevent engorgement.

Conclusion

Weaning can be an exciting and challenging time for parents and babies alike. Every baby’s weaning story will be unique. Some little ones choose to wean on their own, and others need gentle encouragement from their parent. Likewise, some parents choose to wean, while others are surprised when their baby stops nursing all on their own. The end of breastfeeding can cause parents to feel a whole lot of emotions. But it’s important that no matter how you feel, try not to feel guilty. There are so many conflicting pressures on parents around breastfeeding. What’s best for you is best for your baby. Remember to be patient and enjoy this new phase of your child’s development!