If you are a breastfeeding mom, then you would already or would soon have multiple questions on weaning. When is the right time to wean? What would be the impact of weaning on the baby and yourself? How can you wean? How long does it take? What if the child is not ready? What if the child is ready and you are not?
The concept of weaning is simple. It is the period of time when you gradually reduce the amount of breast milk your baby gets so that eventually she would not get any breast milk at all. That essentially means that your baby will get his nutrition from sources other than the breast. Now this can be a bittersweet time, though you would be feeling free, you’d also be uneasy letting your little baby go away from your cozy arms. However, your bond with your baby will not get affected, and you will find some new ways to engage and embrace him. This process might be simple for some, and a struggle for others. It might be done in weeks for some, might take months for others. The important thing is for you to decide when to wean and to understand how to wean.
While all and sundry will give you an opinion about it, when to wean your baby off the breast milk is, and should be, a very personal decision. Easier said than done! Refrain from comparing yourself with other mothers’ situation. Weaning early does not make you less of a mother, the same way weaning late would not make one more of a mother. Your situation, constraints and lifestyle are unique to you. So you need to make this decision yourself.
That said, there are a few standards that can help. Doctors suggest that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Post this, you can add complementary foods (both solids and liquids) to the baby’s diet, while continuing breastfeeding until one year. You can, of course decide to stop breast feeding before one year (you can substitute breast milk with formula milk) or continue to breast feed post the child’s first birthday. Most babies feel very comfortable when breastfed, and most mothers resort to breast as a way to pacify their babies. The first thing is to stop using the breast as a pacifier.
Around the world, the average age for weaning is – hold your breath – 4 years. This might shock and surprise many of us. But ultimately, it is up to you when you want to start weaning.
There are two kinds of weaning – baby-led weaning and mother-led weaning. Though experts believe that you should let your child decide when she wants to stop breastfeeding, it really is up to you to decide what is best for the baby and you. Because breastfeeding is not a way to fill her stomach and babies find comfort and assurance while they feed, it is easier to wean when the baby cuts down on breastfeeding on her own choice.
The former lets the baby call the shots. You follow a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” routine when you nurse your child only when he expresses interest and not follow a set routine. This works best when your baby has already started showing signs of weaning. You would notice these signs after solid foods are introduced. Your baby might act restless, indifferent or cranky during nursing. He might also stop crying for milk when you miss routine feeds. Baby-led weaning can take much longer if your baby is not ready to wean. However, it is definitely a smoother and less panicky method, especially for your child.
The second method is when you decide when to wean. Now this approach calls for lots of sensitivity and affection. Gradual weaning works much better for you and your baby than sudden weaning. You start by tapering off the frequency off your feeds, starting with ideally the midday feeds. Substitute the feeds with either other complimentary food, or if you think your baby is full, spend the time in playing and doing some activities – the key is to ensure the baby does not miss the breast fed. The first and last feeds of the day are the most difficult ones to stop as they are more of an emotional routine for your child. Take it slow.
Sudden weaning that is stopping the breast feed abruptly – can have many repercussions, including breast engorgement, infection and duct blockages. This can be very painful. Gradual weaning mostly does not lead to engorgement, but it is not unusual to feel some pain and uneasiness in your breasts as milk ducts reduce milk production. Ice packs and cold compresses work wonders to soothe the “physical” pain.
Don’t forget that you might go through an emotional turmoil once the baby stops breastfeeding. Some moms are known to feel sad, depressed and “unwanted” after weaning. Breast feeding was not just a nutritional activity – it bonded you and your child at a level that is difficult to put down in words. Understand that feeling nostalgic is normal and make sure that you spend a lot of time with your child doing other stuff.
Breastfeed is more than nourishment for your baby. It helps her feel secure at an emotional level too. So, her diet being balanced from solids and other liquid foods should not be the only criteria to wean. Consider delaying weaning, during:
The aspect of your baby’s nutrition depends on his age. Breastfeeding is recommended till your baby is an year old. If you are weaning before 1, substitute breast milk with iron-fortified formula. Your baby’s doctor might recommend a brand for your child. Do not give cow’s milk before he is one.
If your baby is over a year old, then you can give cow’s milk to him. You can also complement the diet with cereals, finger foods and juices. You could also think about not giving your child bottle. If he is 1, then you can train him to drink liquids directly from a cup – those avoiding the need to wean off from the bottle later.
As mentioned before, this really differs from case to case. It is a gradual process and can take days, weeks or even months. The time your child takes to wean also depends on the approach you have adopted. A smooth transition to a bottle or a cup can needs to be a happy one, offer your child lots of love, hugs, and kisses, and let go of your mixed emotions.