Weaning is a developmental end to the time of breastfeeding. The breastfeeding and weaning process should be started after careful evaluation and consideration. Weaning is not simply the end of breastfeeding, but also the beginning of an important milestone in your child's life.
Introducing New Foods
There are actually two main parts involved in the weaning process. The first is the introduction of a new food source other than breast milk, and the second is the completion of nursing. For babies who are exclusively nursed, this new experience will be the introduction of solid foods. Current recommendation is to wait until a baby is four to six months old before introducing solid foods. If there is a history of allergies, this advice will change to six to nine months. By nine months, all babies need to begin trying new foods to learn the process of chewing and swallowing.
When solid foods and liquids begin to be consumed by the nursing infant, breastfeeding should continue. Adding foods gradually is beneficial for both baby and mom, providing the child time to adjust to new foods and preventing engorgement for the woman. Patience is key during this transition as many breastfed babies are slow to acclimate to a new method of eating. Remember that most of your child's nourishment is still provided by breast milk and eating foods is mainly for the educational value.
Fortunately, a woman's lactating breasts respond appropriately as a young baby learns the sensations of new foods. Nature will accommodate the infants picky eating by adjusting the milk supply as needed. Even if the child becomes sick and wants to replace all nourishment with breast milk, the body will adjust within a few days.
For some women, the first step toward weaning will be the introduction of formula. If your child is under one year of age and you must discontinue breastfeeding for a reason such as returning to work, always replace your nursing with formula and not cow's milk. While milk is certainly cheaper, it does not provide the necessary ingredients a young child needs to grow and develop. Plus, it is shown to cause digestive problems and allergies if consumed before the age of one.
Weaning the Young Breastfeeding Baby
There are no true rules and no perfect times in weaning from breastfeeding. While a world of information exists regarding this subject, in reality it will not hurt your baby if you stop before they are ready, and it will not make it difficult to wean if you wait either. Every baby reacts differently to weaning, and the process will vary depending on your individual situation. In general, it is best not to decide when to wean in advance and let the process happen naturally. Taking the pressure off of you, in turn, helping your child relax through the process.
No matter what the reasons are behind weaning a younger baby, take the process slowly. Gradual weaning is always advantageous for mom to let her body adjust to the change in milk demands. Slowing down the process enables your baby to adjust to a new arrangement, ensuring her willingness to accept a new feeding schedule.
Start by creating a diary of your baby's feedings. This will help you to find the times and routines that are most important to your baby. Begin substituting the insignificant feedings with a bottle of formula or baby food. Eliminate one nursing at time, eventually leading up to the goal of weaning all together. Emphasize with your child during this time; replacing breastfeeding with additional intimate activities such as snuggling and rocking. Taking advantage of the non-lactating caregiver, such as Dad, as a substitute for mom, can also take the edge off.
Constantly evaluate your feelings, remember how even a young baby will realize a mom's emotions. Banish all guilt, as your attitude is crucial to successful weaning. If your feelings are conflicting, this may not be the best time to wean.
Weaning the Older Breastfeeding Child
The majority of women with a breastfeeding toddler or preschooler are in step with a baby led weaning approach. Even with this concept routed in place, mom must still facilitate some structure around weaning. Once a child surpasses a year of age, they will let you know when they want to nurse. Therefore, to encourage developmental weaning, take the La Leche League's "don't offer, don't refuse" approach. Gradually encourage other activities to replace nursing, such as reading, snuggling and eating regular foods.
Timing is important in weaning an older child. Look for signs your toddler might be ready by his independence from you. Ensure that it is not a stressful time, such as a new sibling or starting preschool. An older child is accustomed to breastfeeding for comfort as well as nourishment. The process will be more difficult if the child is requiring extra comfort during a hectic time.
Maintaining a comfortable routine is espcially important in the weaning of older children. Children require routines to create structure in their lives. Changing the schedules surrounding nursing will often distract their interest. If you always nurse in the rocking chair before nap, sit on the couch and read a book instead. Merely changing the location of the intimate activity is often enough to eliminate the feeding. Tie weaning into another milestone, like starting preschool or a birthday celebration. Parents have been known to throw a "big kid" party, supplying weaning its own special day.
Changes to Expect After Weaning
Immediately following the first taste of substance other than breast milk, a nursing baby's digestive system will change. The most obvious affect will be the surprise in the diaper. Bowel movements will change dramatically from normal, becoming firmer, darker and smellier.
Typically the significant changes after weaning will be to the mother. Hormone fluctuations, along with normal emotions surrounding a developmental step, lead many women to feel confused. A mixture of sadness and pride is normal after the weaning process is complete.