Information you’ll find in this article
- Definition of weaning
- The right time to wean your baby
- Signs that your baby is weaning already
- How to wean your baby
- How to care for your breasts when weaning
Weaning is the process of stopping breastfeeding your baby or toddler. It is the process of gradually introducing solid foods to your baby while continuing to breastfeed and eventually leading to the end of breastfeeding.
It is a natural process that all developing children go through and may be sometimes emotional for mother and baby.
When is the best time to wean my baby?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), babies are to be fed only breast milk for their first six months of life and then continue having breast milk alongside other solid foods until at least the age of two. That is to say your child can breast feed for as long as it fits you and your baby!
A baby is introduced to complimentary foods after six months of exclusive breastfeeding because after six months, your baby begins to need higher levels of certain nutrients – such as vitamins B and D, iron, and zinc that cannot be gotten solely from your breast milk. But that is not to say breast milk is irrelevant after six months of age. This is because breast milk isn’t just food, it contains immunity-boosting components that increases when your child is ill.
When to wean your child is a personal decision and shouldn’t be based on what you’re told. Many women choose to wean after their baby’s first birthday. At this age, babies are starting to walk, talk, and eat more solid foods. So they may naturally lose interest in nursing. Other moms breastfeed longer than a year (this is called extended breastfeeding). Extended breastfeeding is a healthy and reasonable option for mothers and children who aren’t ready to wean. All that really matters is what feels right for you and your baby.
Signs that your child may be ready to wean
You’ll know your child is ready to wean when he or she:
- Shows interest in food when others are eating
- Sucking at the breast but not drawing out milk
- Is easily distracted when while nursing
- Opens his or her mouth when food comes close to them
- Can sit up without support, and has good control of neck muscles
- Is requesting a lot more milk feeds than usual
- Is not gaining weight
How to wean your baby
Weaning mostly occur in three ways:
- Mutual decision: This is the easiest way and most comfortable way to wean for both mother and baby, This normally occurs when your baby starts to show signs of readiness as described above.
Natural or child-led weaning: In some cases, the baby makes the decision to wean. Some women find this difficult and emotional as they fear they’ll lose the special bond they share with their child. With this method, weaning can start suddenly and at any time. Babies who are weaned naturally usually stop breastfeeding completely between 2 and 4 years of age. This weaning process is likely to be slow and gradual. Over the months, your child’s feeds will probably become shorter and less frequent, while some mums report their child simply losing interest one day.
- Planned or mother-led weaning: This happens when a mother decides to wean her baby.While it is not the best idea to stop breastfeeding before either mother or child is ready, sometimes it is necessary for a variety of reasons. Some reasons could be health related or maybe you and your child can’t be together for a while.
If your baby has been breastfed until this point, you’ll almost certainly need to express milk to avoid your breasts becoming uncomfortably engorged. Some women find a breast pump easiest for this, while others prefer to do it by hand. Again, only express enough to ease any discomfort – you don’t want to encourage your body to produce more milk.
While your breasts may feel swollen and tender at first, they will adapt. Your breast milk contains something called feedback inhibitor of lactation (FIL). When your baby stops breastfeeding, FIL tells your body to slow production, but it may take a few days or even weeks for your breasts to adjust.
Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to relieve any pain (although ibuprofen has contraindications for those with asthma). Always follow the manufacturer’s and pharmacist’s guidance and consult a healthcare professional about any medications you need to take.
Whichever way the weaning process starts, there are a couple of tips to follow to make weaning easy and comfortable for both mother and child.
- start by cutting out one breastfeed a day and replacing it with a bottle of formula. Make sure the weaning process is gradual – over several weeks, months or even longer.
- Then eliminate one breastfeed every few days (or longer), depending on your comfort and how your baby is coping.
- Engage your child in a fun play activity or an outing during times when you would usually nurse.
- Hold and cuddle your baby if you are feeding from a bottle. This extra closeness will help both of you during the weaning process.
- Let someone else offer a feed to your baby. You can start with a liquid such as expressed breast milk in a bottle or cup.
- If your child picks up a comforting habit (such as thumbsucking) or becomes attached to a blanket, don’t discourage it. Your child might be trying to adjust to the emotional changes of weaning.
Caring for your breasts
- If your breasts are uncomfortable while weaning, try expressing just enough milk so that you no longer feel uncomfortable. Ibuprofen might help. Cold compresses or gel packs applied to your breasts can also be of some comfort.
- Don’t bind your breasts or drink fewer fluids while you’re weaning.
- Check your breasts regularly to make sure you aren’t developing a blocked duct. A block duct will feel like a firm, tender area (the size of a pea) of the breast. Sometimes you can clear it with gentle rubbing or by putting a little bit of pressure on the area. If it’s painful, see your doctor. This is more likely to occur during an abrupt wean.
However and whenever you choose to wean, remember to be patient and flexible with your self and your baby. For a lot of women, as much as they feel fulfilled having helped their little one in reaching a milestone, they still get very emotional about the whole process. Nursing is an intimate activity that fosters a strong bond between mother and child. Expect a wide range of emotions, and know that your child may have them too. Do not be hard on yourself. Take it one day at a time.