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When and How to Begin Weaning?

For mothers who breast feed, the transition to other means of nourishment raises several issues. Perhaps the most salient one is when to begin weaning. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that weaning should begin once the infant is about six months old. The Academy also suggests that the weaning process should be gradual alternating between solids and liquids and breast milk until the baby is about one year. By that time the infant is eating more solid foods and may simply lose interest in nursing. The gradual process is helpful for mothers too inasmuch as it results in a simultaneous decrease in milk production and lessens the possibility of breast engorgement.

How to go about weaning is another issue. If you work, for example, you may want to put the baby on the bottle and solid food in the morning and breast feed when you get home in the evening. It is also true that some babies may be ready to be weaned before you are, while others may resist weaning when you are prepared to stop. The process is made easier if your baby gets used to the bottle ahead of time by offering it with breast milk. This not only has the advantage of getting the baby used to the bottle it also allows others to feed the baby if you are not available. When switching to formula, your pediatrician will suggest what formula would be best for your baby.

Your baby will give you a number of hints when he or she is ready to be weaned.

1. Your infant no longer shows the tongue thrust reflex that has babies instinctively push things out of their mouths, including solid foods.

2. If your baby can hold his or her head up and sit upright in the high chair this is a good index that he or she is ready for solid food.

3. If your baby is interested in solid foods (e.g., grabs for them) this is another sign of readiness for weaning.

4. If your baby loses interest in breast feeding, as indicated by his or her being easily distracted and taking forever to finish, it is time to wean.

Other practices can help make the weaning transition less stressful for both you and your baby. You might progressively reduce the number of breast feedings by one a week. Alternatively you might just want to eliminate the mid day feeding which is often the lightest. If this is too abrupt and leads to breast engorgement you can use the breast pump and feed your baby the milk from the bottle.

Breast feeding is very bonding for you and your baby, by weaning gradually and using your baby as a guide, it can be a positive growth experience for both you and your infant.

By Professor David Elkind


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