Guide to Weaning Your Baby

“The Word “Wean” means a passage from one relationship to the next – not a loss or detachment from a relationship.”

Babies are usually considered weaned when they receive all their nutrition from other sources rather than breast milk. Being “weaned” often refers to breast milk, but the term can also be used for bottle-fed babies. Weaning doesn’t necessarily indicate an end of a “Bond” but rather it means your bond and nourishment can grow in different ways.

For example, if you breastfed your baby for comfort you can always find other ways to impart the same feeling. Like read a book, playing outside, or a simple cuddle should do the trick.

When Should I Start Weaning?

The honest answer to that question is whenever you are ready, everyone grows and develops differently. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least a year – and encourages women to breastfeed even longer if both you and your baby want to. Despite what everyone says there is not just one way to wean your baby. You can do it at your own time that feels right for you, or you can let your baby naturally wean off when he or she is older.

Breastfeeding weaning for medical reasons

Very occasionally, sudden weaning may be required due to maternal illness, maternal medication or as a result of the prolonged separation of the mother and baby. Abrupt weaning can cause difficulties for both the mother and baby in terms of psychological adjustment. It can also cause considerable breast discomfort and place mothers at increased risk of mastitis. If possible, abrupt weaning should be avoided and gradual mom-led or baby-led weaning should be implemented instead.

Mother-led weaning

You may decide to start weaning your baby if you need to get back to work or you just feel like its the right time for you. If you are ready but your child isn’t you can start by gradually shifting your baby off instead of going cold turkey. Experts say that abruptly withholding your breast can be traumatic for your baby and could cause plugged ducts or a breast infection for you. Stopping breastfeeding suddenly could put you at risk of engorgement, blocked ducts or mastitis, as well as being an abrupt change for your baby’s digestive and immune systems to cope with. It may also be difficult for you both emotionally.

During weaning, the composition of the milk changes dramatically, especially after abrupt weaning. Although the secretory capability of the breast reduces, the involuting mammary tissue remains partially functional for a long period (approximately 45 days). From days 1-45 the concentration of lactose and potassium decreases, while the concentration of sodium, fat, and total protein increases. In addition, milk becomes increasingly salty because of the increase in protein content (lactoferrin, immunoglobulin A, IgG and IgM, albumin, lactalbumin and casein). Hormonal changes as a result of sudden weaning may also be apparent, especially during the newborn period, where higher levels of prolactin are present. 

In order to prevent this form of imbalance mothers can always donate their breast milk to various milk banks in their area to avoid any medical or psychological problems.

How Do I Wean?

Being gradual is key just remember that. Secondly, its not going to be easy your baby might get frustrated and cranky but it will get easy by implementing these strategies.

Skip a Feeding: See what happens if you offer a bottle or cup of milk instead of nursing. You can substitute pumped breast milk, formula, or whole cow’s milk (if your child is at least a year old). When beginning to do this it might be better if you are not in the room so they don’t smell you. Give every replaced feeding at least a weeks time to get adjusted so both you and your baby can have a gradual transition. If your breasts become engorged then for your comfort pump a little amount of milk just enough to signal your body to make less milk.

Shorten Nursing Time: If your child is nursing for 15 mins try cutting that down by 10 mins see how they react to the change. Depending on his age, follow the feeding with a healthy snack, such as unsweetened applesauce or a cup of milk or formula. (Some babies younger than 6 months may not be ready for solids.) Solid food is complementary to breast milk until your baby is a year old.

Bedtime feedings might be a little but more difficult to shorten so start with the morning feeds first.

Post Pone and Distract: Try postponing your feeds if your baby is nursing only a couple times a day. If your baby is older try reasoning with them by giving them alternatives like extra play time or a healthier treat they might enjoy.

If your baby is younger and you want to transition them on to a bottle try to cover the nipple of the bottle with a little bit of breast milk which should help distract them.

Change daily routines. Instead of heading home after picking him up from daycare, head to the grocery store or elsewhere instead. Try to avoid the “nursing chair” or other usual “nursing station” in your home as much as possible at the times when he usually would ask to nurse. Stand up as much as possible!

If possible get other family members involved in their daily activities where they can take over and offer them an alternative instead of you.

How to start weaning at night

This is the hardest form of weaning, night times are usually associated with comfort so babies tend to be the fussiest during these times.

If the child is sleeping with you, you might consider moving him into his own bed or into bed with an older sibling. However, if the child resists the move, he might increase breastfeeding in order to preserve his feeling of closeness with you. Also by allowing other family members to take on the night time routines might help in deterring them better. Offering an alternative like a cuddle or while cuddling offering them water and putting them back to sleep might help. Calm night time music cuddles and hugs might just be the solution.

Always remember not all kids are the same and everyone develops and learns differently in different ways. Be patient and persistent and you will reach your goals and never feel disheartened.

In conclusion, this process is both emotionally and physically tiring, remember mothers to take care of yourself. Its okay to bend the rules as you might feel as there is no set way to go about this. And always remember what works for one person might not work you and your baby and that is completely okay.

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