How to wean your baby

Written by joanna ehlers
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Wean with love

How to wean your baby
Most children eat solid food and drink from a cup by one year of age. (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Doctors recommend breast milk for at least the first six months to help baby grow.

— Kerri Smith, licensed professional nurse and mum

As a mum and a licensed professional nurse, Kerri Smith has advised hundreds of parents on best weaning practices. "Weaning is a personal choice," she says. "An ideal time to try is at about six months, when solid food is introduced. The baby may be feeling full after a meal and won't be as interested in nursing." Smith goes on to explain that any amount of time spent nursing is beneficial to the child and that many mums choose to wean their babies near the child's first birthday, or when he begins teething. "A toddler may become too big or restless to continue nursing," she explains. "If it is a bonding issue they can still sit together and cuddle or talk and read to ensure that they still have their close one-on-one time." When weaning your baby, make sure you and your child are ready, and be prepared to be consistent.

Wait until you're ready

Your decision to nurse your child is born of a desire to provide the very best nourishment for your baby. When it's time to wean, there's no strict timeline you have to follow: weaning is a process and a personal decision that only you can make. There's nothing wrong with admitting you're not ready to wean your baby, and you should continue as long as you think necessary.

According to the Mayo Clinic, paediatricians recommend nursing babies for the first six months following birth, and combining nursing with solid foods until the age of one. You might notice your baby's eating patterns change when you begin introducing solid foods, but you and your child can continue nursing as long as you both would prefer. Many mums find weaning easier when their babies initiate the process, but you can dictate when to wean too, as long as you're prepared to shower your little one with plenty of attention and affection.

Healthy food first

Your baby has grown so quickly! He's holding his head upright, and he's showing interest in the food on your plate. When your little one begins sitting upright with your support, he's ready to begin exploring the world of solid foods. It's normal for some children to begin showing some disinterest when it's time to nurse, or to be grumpy during a normally scheduled feeding.

Most doctors recommend iron-fortified cereal mixed with breast milk for your child's first meal. To give him the healthiest start, you'll introduce pureed vegetables, fruit and meat. These healthy foods will be introduced one at a time, and you should give your baby an adjustment period of two to three days before you give him a new option. By the time he's a year old, he'll be ready to eat finger foods on his own.

Abide by a schedule

When it comes to weaning, there's no set time frame. Feel free to set goals, however, and keep a calendar handy to plan your strategy. Your child will benefit best from your ability to be consistent throughout the process, and the patience with which you follow your plan.

Once you've decided to wean your child, commit fully to the process and understand that it's best to take your time. Babies need the most comfort near the beginning and at the end of their day, so retain these feedings as long as possible. You can begin by reducing the midday breast-feeding session, which should follow a meal. Encourage your child's interest in a stimulating activity to distract him from the breast, and he may willingly forego the session altogether. Once you have successfully done away with your midday feedings, you can gradually phase out the others.

Bonding time

Nursing isn't just a form of nourishment: it's a way for you and your baby to bond. To ensure that you and your precious one continue to develop your bond, substitute time spent nursing with another activity. Read to your baby, play with him or simply hold him close, and you'll both discover that weaning doesn't have to be difficult!

Your baby is soothed by nursing, but you'll find other ways to bond with him as he is gradually weaned. Find new activities that you both can enjoy, such as singing a lullaby near bedtime or a trip to a favourite playground after lunch. If he's crying, try massaging his back as a means of comforting him. Emphasise your one-on-one time, and weaning will be much easier.

Tips and warnings

  • If you experience engorgement while weaning, try applying cold compresses to reduce swelling and soreness. Reducing time breast-feeding should help dry up your milk, but you can direct any questions or concerns to your doctor.

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