What is weaning and how can you get it right?
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. Exclusive breastfeeding is feeding the child with only the breast milk without supplementing with formula or any other kind of food. This helps to protect the baby from childhood illnesses and also prevent certain kinds of cancers for the mother. After the first 6 months, most mothers start to introduce solid food gradually until the baby is old enough to discontinue nursing.
What is weaning?
To get a better understanding of what is weaning, most new moms end exclusive breastfeeding by introducing baby-friendly foods along with breastfeeding. The weaning period begins from when the mother’s milk is no longer the sole means of feeding the baby. From then on, every nutritional milestone will lead to when the child no longer requires breast milk.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a mother can stop breastfeeding when the child is 1 year old but can choose to continue if she wants.
The weaning process: introducing your baby to solids
From 6 months:
This is the exploration stage of your complementary feeding journey. Complementary feeding means that you are still breastfeeding the baby alongside whatever food you decide to feed them. You’ll have to offer a wide selection of solid foods to see what they reject and what they like. This isn’t to say that you’ll stop giving them the food they reject; it means you will keep trying until they develop a taste for it.
At this stage, your baby is ready to eat a variety of mashed foods including fruits and vegetables, but you need to start slowly. They can eat soft-boiled mashed potatoes, mashed but lumpy vegetables like carrots, and pureed fruits. There’s no need to add salt or sugar to the baby’s food at this time.
The baby can drink water from an open cup. There may be lots of spillage in the beginning, but you have to be patient because open sipping is better for their teeth. Fizzy drinks and other sugary drinks are unsuitable for babies.
6 – 9 months
At this stage, your baby is used to so many foods and you can still introduce them to more. In addition to breast milk, the baby is ready for different food textures—mashed, diced, pureed. The baby can eat and digest soft bananas, pasta, bread, and yoghurt.
9 – 12 months
The baby can eat harder food at this stage. They no longer have a problem with two or more textures in one meal, so go ahead and feed lumpy and mashed foods in one plate. Their food potions will also increase—they can finish 6 tablespoons of food per meal. Breastfeeding at this stage is still important, and you should continue to breastfeed on demand. To encourage baby-led weaning, offer chopped food that you baby can pick up and eat without aid.
Weaning methods: Baby-led weaning and mother-led weaning
The two types of gradual weaning methods are baby-led weaning and mother-led weaning.
Some babies are ready to stop nursing before the mother is ready to take them off breast milk. Baby-led weaning refers to when the baby loses interest in milk. This usually happens after they have been introduced to solids and when they’ve become more active and refuse to sit through the breastfeeding, or when they just prefer eating other things.
Mother-led weaning is when the mum is ready to stop breastfeeding but the child isn’t ready to stop nursing. In this case, the mom will need to go about it with lots of patience. Suddenly withholding breast milk is not the best way to wean. It should be a gradual process, as this adjustment period is important for both the mum and the baby.
How to make the process easier
• Remember it is a gradual process
• Make nursing times shorter
Start by reducing feeding time by half. If you normally nurse for 5 minutes, you should cut the time in half and feed the child some other food to make up for it.
• Skip feedings
Skipping nursing sessions will involve replacing breast milk with formula or other kinds of food. You can increase the number of skipped feedings every week until it is basically non-existent.
You shouldn’t just expect the child to accept the process if you’re following mother-led weaning. If they want to nurse, you can distract them with toys, other kinds of food, or just tell them you’ll feed them at another time if they are old enough to understand.
Weaning will be easy for you and your baby if you follow the tips outlined in the article. Hopefully, it will answer your what is weaning questions.
Resources: World Health Organisation