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Weaning Your Baby or Toddler

Now that my baby is eight months old and actually eating solids, I am starting to get questions from people about when I am going to wean. Should I be concerned about weaning my baby now?

After I started having my own children, I found it amazing how willing people were to offer unsolicited advice on parenting issues! Weaning is a very personal decision and involves many different factors. First, If you are willing to continue breastfeeding, I would like to encourage you to do that. Breastmilk continues to be a very important part of your baby's diet even after solids are begun. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that babies be breastfed a minimum of one year, and the World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years. While figures for the age of world-wide weaning vary greatly, suffice it to say that here in the United States, breastfeeding at least one year is a big goal for improved breastfeeding rates. The last available statistics I have state that less than 25% of babies in the United States continue to receive the optimum benefits of breastmilk at six months (stats from Healthy Children 2000).

Just because your baby is starting solids doesn't mean that the benefits of breastmilk magically disappear! I find it interesting that some recommend weaning simply because alternative sources of nutrition are available. We know from research that breastmilk is NOT just an alternative source for nutrition, it is the BEST source! As your baby starts consuming more solids, the weaning process is already beginning, because breastmilk is no longer the sole source of nutrition. That means that the content of your breastmilk is adjusting too. By one year (or so), the whey/casein ratio of breastmilk in response to the baby's readiness to adjust to digest that different ratio, iron and protein are increasing, fat as percent of calories is decreasing, and there are more anti-viral agents. Just the fact alone that anti-viral agents increase is evidence of design by an Almighty Creator! Can you imagine a time when the need for anti-viral agents would be more necessary than the busy toddler years?! Breastmilk, unlike formula is a living, dynamic substance, perfectly created to meet the needs of your baby and toddler.

There are three basic approaches to weaning a baby (with of course some people choosing a combination of these approaches): mother led, child led, and society led.

  1. With mother led weaning, the mom decides that it is time to wean, and sets up a time frame with which she feels comfortable. Generally speaking, the approach is to choose a nursing to "drop," then substituting it with an acceptable substitute calorically speaking. If the baby is under one year, the recommendation is usually to wean to formula, but this is a question best answered by your health care provider. Mom should then observe baby for signs of any bad reaction to the substitute (this is especially important when weaning a younger baby as an allergy to cow's milk proteins could cause a severe reaction). If the baby accepts the substitute with no problems, then mom should wait a few days for milk supply to adjust and then "drop" another nursing, again substituting it with an acceptable caloric substitute. Dropping nursing sessions gradually like this should reduce the possibility of engorgement or discomfort during the weaning process. Another benefit to weaning gradually with mother led weaning is that if the baby does have a severe reaction to the substitute you offer, you have time to evaluate if weaning is really the best choice before you risk your milk supply. I have heard many stories of moms who went through a battery of different formulas trying to find one that worked just right, and then found themselves wishing they had just kept nursing for a few more months.
  2. Child led weaning is sometimes also called natural weaning, and is considered more of a cooperative process. With this approach, mom realizes that weaning is a gradual process that begins with the introduction of solid foods, and she is more comfortable letting the baby help her set the pace of weaning. Natural weaning usually doesn't begin taking place until at least after the first birthday, but is probably more common with moms I know sometime around 18-24 months. Most of the time, mom simply stops offerring a nursing session with a meal (unlike with a younger baby who always gets nursed before solids), and nursing moves to an "on request only" basis. Some people refer to this as the "don't offer, don't refuse" approach to weaning. By this time, the toddler is ready to have milk or another drink in a cup with the meal or even with snacks or to meet thirst needs. Because even with this process weaning should still be gradual, most moms find that choosing one typical nursing session at a time to stop offerring the breast is a good approach. Many times the weaning toddler uses nursing to reestablish contact with mom, moving to greater dependence as he is ready.
  3. In our western culture, society led weaning is not as common as other cultures. Although, in actuality, some would consider the cultural norm of formula feeding to be a pressure all its own for early weaning. In some cultures, there is a specific time set for weaning (depending on the age of the child), and the weaning age is the same for everyone. Some sort of ritual or celebration usually accompanies weaning, and it is viewed as a rite of passage into childhood. It is my opinion that although I believe weaning itself should be a matter of the mom's and child's readiness, I think our western culture could use a few more traditions such as this.

Which approach to weaning is right for your family will depend on a variety of factors too numerous to even address. This is simply a matter for discussion, thought, and prayer. Regardless of your decision, weaning is a time when it is helpful to seek the support of other moms that have made choices similar to your own. If you are in any way in doubt about weaning, the best counsel I can offer you is to wait. Decisions made in haste with doubts are usually regretted the most.

BREASTFEEDING BASICS HOME

Affect of Maternal Diet Before the Baby is Born Benefits of Breastfeeding Birth Choices
Breast Compression Breastfeeding After Breast Surgeries Establishing A Routine
Flat and Inverted Nipples Formula Use Healthy Growth Indicators Jaundice Milk Supply
Plugged Ducts and Mastitis Pumping Sleepy Baby Sore Nipples
Storage Guidelines Things People Say Thrush Weaning


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