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Baby weaning seems like a simple thing, but there’s not one universally-accepted method to accomplishing it.
As a new mom, there are a million questions that may be buzzing around your head when it comes to feeding your baby. First, you’ll have the initial thought “when can babies have milk?” and then many months down the line, you may start to wonder, “when do babies stop drinking formula or breast milk?”
There’s no right and wrong answer to this. While sometimes it’s nice not to have “rules” to follow about something so natural; for new mothers, having a bit of guidance can be a good thing.
As a new mother, you will have many questions. When should I wean the baby off formula? Or how to wean from pumping? Or even how to stop breastfeeding a 2 year old? And as time goes on the questions may begin to stack up.
Thankfully, there is a body of expertise that has developed over the years to deal with the questions that concern weaning.
As your baby begins to grow they will need more healthy doses of nutrients and minerals on a daily basis. Weaning is an important part of preparing your baby for proper development.
It is also an important time for parents as their child becomes more independent and excitable. For many mothers, the weaning period can be difficult. That is why we are here to help by keeping you informed.
Let’s have a look at some of the popular and accepted ways to wean a baby.
What is Weaning?
Weaning your baby means changing his food source from formula or breastmilk to other fluids and foods, depending upon his age and readiness. It is a stage in the baby’s development that can prove tricky for parents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that a baby should be fed only breast milk from birth to six months, followed by solid foods and breast milk until age one. Cheryl Hardin, MD, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Pediatrics in Houston says that “Weaning involves gradually decreasing a typical food in favor of different food”. “Babies can receive great nutrition in their first few months with breast milk or formula. But by four to six months, a baby is ready for weaning,” she says.
As your baby gets older, they’ll be using a lot more energy to sit up and even attempt to crawl or walk, which means they’ll develop a much bigger appetite. As soon as you start to notice these exciting changes, it may be time to introduce them to a whole new diet, with interesting tastes and textures.
This new diet should give them the energy and nutrients they need to develop appropriately. In their first few years, their diet will need to be altered several times to accommodate their growing appetite and their new needs.
Just be sure that you have realistic expectations when it comes to weaning. Just because your baby is now learning to be non-reliant on the breast, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become independent at a quicker pace. They’ll still be demanding just as much attention from you – perhaps even more so, as breastfeeding is typically a quick and easy way to calm them down when they’re distressed.
The weaning process is a very gradual and personal one, dependent primarily upon your lifestyle and your baby’s readiness. Yes, it may feel great when your baby finally relinquishes their hold on your breast but they will still need to return occasionally as you begin to wean them.
Signs a Baby is Ready to Wean
When to wean babies from bottles is an age-old question.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends weaning your baby between four and six months of age, but again, the decision is a personal one. You have to make a judgment call based on the physical and emotional maturity of your baby. In order to make the decision, you should rely on a few expert opinions.
Until the 6 month mark, researchers have discovered that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your baby, however, if they refuse to take from your breast, instant formula is a suitable alternative. And there are plenty of great tried and tested formulas for you to choose from on the market.
At the age of six months, your baby will typically undergo a growth spurt and, of course, will make them much hungrier throughout the day. But, don’t allow this to confuse you in believing they’re ready to wean. On most occasions – they’re not.
You should never introduce solid foods to your baby’s diet under the age of 5 months, as their digestive system simply isn’t developed enough to tackle new foods. Everything needs to be liquid or mushy.
In some countries, babies are not weaned until they’re two — and some keep breastfeeding until they’re four or five years of age.
While that’s not the norm in the U.S., it doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on the children or their mothers, so you needn’t be in a great hurry to wean.
However, some of you will be in a hurry if you find breastfeeding painful. This apprehension is natural and many mothers go through this stage, which is why it is important to learn about when your baby needs to be weaned.
Babies wean at completely different times, so don’t worry if your baby isn’t doing it at the same stage as your friends’ babies. It’s all down to each individual case and what’s right for your little one at their own steady pace. In many cases, your child’s behavior will provide a clear indication that they need to progress on to bigger and better things.
Weaning — from the bottle or the breast — can be initiated by the mother or the child. Any doctor will tell you that the baby’s development should be gradual. The weaning phase should not be dramatic or sudden.
For most mothers, however, it’s better if you see the signs a baby is ready to wean before you start the process. Some typical signs of a child that’s ready to wean include:
- She’s breastfeeding or drinking her formula often.
- Her birthweight has more than doubled.
- She’s interested in solid foods.
- She puts her hands and toys in her mouth often.
- Her mouth opens when she sees other people eating.
- She can sit without support.
- She can hold her head up steadily.
If you notice these signs, you feel you’re ready for weaning to begin, and your pediatrician is okay with it — it’s time to give weaning your baby a try. Now let’s have a look at some of the ways you can wean your baby so that you can decide which way is right for you.
Weaning Your Baby the Right Way
As we’ve expressed earlier, how and when to wean would be a decision all moms must make for themselves. Everyone needs a little bit of help at the beginning. Especially when it comes to the health and wellbeing of your little one!
If you decide you and your little one are ready for the weaning experience, then let’s take a look at some simple methods that will get you started.
How to Wean Your Baby from Nursing
Weaning a baby off the breast is a little bit more complicated than weaning a formula-fed baby. This is simply because of the emotional closeness that breastfeeding engenders. It is difficult to replace the close proximity and bond that is formed during breastfeeding. But at some point weaning must occur so that your child can develop.
Remember, weaning from breastfeeding is a natural progression for children, so don’t stress too much about it — even if you’re the one that needs to start the process due to returning to work or some other reason. It is natural at this stage to see an increase in crying. Even though this will be difficult it is a stage every mother has to meet.
You can begin the weaning process in several ways:
- Skip a feeding so baby’s hungry — then offer a bottle.
- Shorten nursing time — offer a bottle if he’s still hungry.
- Postpone and distract your (older) child to reduce feedings and offer solid food. This suggestion is obviously only appropriate if you are attempting to wean a child that is past the early development phase.
If you’re going from the breast to a bottle, make the transition easier by adding some breast milk to the formula to get your child interested in the bottle.
Try not to wean during other big changes in a child’s life, such as
- a new sleep schedule
- a new home
- while starting daycare for the first time
- while he is sick
You don’t want to compound any frustration that you or the baby may be feeling by stacking important issues on top of each other. Take your time.
There is nothing wrong with being patient at this stage. If you try to wean them while they are feeling unwell you are more likely to make them worse and cause yourself undue stress.
Keep the process slow and gradual if you can — not just for your child, but to avoid weaning breastfeeding pain from engorged and painful breasts. If you follow this advice you can hopefully limit the pain you may experience during the weaning period.
A long, slow weaning process helps reduce the chance of breast engorgement and mastitis, a painful condition caused by clogged milk ducts.
If you feel pain from engorgement, express your breasts by hand or use a breast pump just until you relieve your pain.
During weaning, your milk supply will decrease gradually over several weeks, after which engorgement isn’t an issue. Avoiding engorgement is another good reason to keep your weaning process gradual.
How to Wean a Baby from a Bottle
If you’re wanting to know when to stop formula, babies are usually ready for transitioning from bottle to sippy-cup by six to nine months. So, if you’re ready to wean from the bottle at that point — so are they. If you always wondered “when can babies have water?”, now would be the time they are introduced to it.
Weaning to a sippy cup can be accomplished easily with a few tips:
- Start gradually, just like how to wean a baby off breast milk. At this stage, patience is the most important thing. These steps cannot be rushed.
- If she loves to suck, let her — just not on her bottle. Offer other toys she can suck on in between feedings. This will help her form good habits and the weaning process will feel more natural.
- If she can’t hold a sippy cup or doesn’t understand it — demonstrate by pouring a bit of the formula or milk into her mouth so she knows it’s in there.
- Don’t worry about your baby not getting enough nutrients if she’s resistant to weaning. She may drink less formula, but she’ll be turning her interest in solid foods to make up for it.
- For older babies who are solid-food ready, offer tasty snacks in between feedings to help pique her interest in new flavors and textures. Whatever the baby’s age it is all about getting prepared for the next step.
- Turn a nightly bottle-feeding into a sippy-and-snuggle to give your little one comfort during the transition. This will help your baby associate weaning with comfort and make the transition smoother.
Just like weaning from the breast, weaning from a bottle to the sippy cup can be done gradually. If your child shows resistance, take it slow and have patience — you’ll get there eventually.
In some ways weaning babies off formula is easier than weaning them off breastfeeding. So you should feel positive because you have got a head start.
Your baby is already used to feeding separately from the mother. This is a good platform for you to begin the weaning process.
Are You Having Difficulty Weaning?
Sometimes, babies (and moms) are resistant to the weaning experience. If this is the case with your little one, be patient. Introducing anything new to a baby can be a struggle. All parents know both the wonder and toil of getting their child to do something for the first time.
As long as your child is not refusing to eat at all, you don’t have to worry. However, if your baby refuses all foods and drink, you should call your pediatrician immediately.
Babies going from the breast to bottle may experience some gas and cramping, as well as changes in bowel movements. This may mean some interesting diaper changes.
A weaning baby may also be more tired and cranky. Therefore, it’s important to provide a lot of soothing contact and plenty of opportunities to nap. There are plenty of techniques to help calm down tired and wailing babies. Try swaddling, rocking and playing some pleasant music on a low volume.
If you’re a little emotional due to weaning, have patience with yourself as well. Spend extra time with your little one and find other ways the two of you can bond.It can be quite upsetting to see your baby going through the weaning process so it is important to have people around you that you can talk to and rely on for guidance.
Common Misconceptions of Weaning
If you’re new to the ‘mom’ life, weaning will be all so new to you and as a result, you may have a few misconceptions about the process that you’d like addressed.
It is important to stay informed so you can know when to wean your baby off formula or breastmilk. Being too early or too late can have implications for your baby’s development.
Some people mistakenly believe that their baby won’t stop nursing for some strange reasons so it is important to look at some misconceptions. Take a look at the most common below:
Weaning Will Help Babies Sleep Through the Night
Oh, I wish! Unfortunately, your baby will still wake up in the middle of the night, even if they are making the transition to solid foods. The weaning period often coincides with an age where the baby may struggle to sleep for long periods. However one does not usually affect the other.
Eating and sleeping are not linked when it comes to behavior, so don’t try and wean your baby sooner than later, for the sole belief that they’ll sleep soundly without needing to be fed from the breast or bottle. Focus on the weaning and deal with the sleep problems separately.
Babies Are Ready to Wean When They Start Chewing Their Fists
Not necessarily…it may just be down to the fact that they’ve found their fists (typically around the age of 4 months old). This is another phase babies go through during their development process and usually has nothing to do with the fact that they’re ready to eat solids.
Despite the misconception, it is still very cute when babies start nibbling on their own fists. A consolation for the sleepless nights and the stop/start feeding periods.
Babies Can’t Eat Lumpy Bits Without Teeth
It is a common misconception that babies can’t eat food that is lumpy without teeth. Actually…they can! We’re not sure where these misconceptions emerge from but as a parent, it is good to know that babies can tackle lumpy treats from a young age.
A baby’s gums are more than capable of tackling lumps in foods, so you don’t have to wait until their first milk teeth start to peek through (at around 1 years old) to experiment with textured foods. Lumpy foods are a good source of valuable nutrients which will be important as your baby begins to grow and crawl and use up more energy.
Before weaning, it would be advised to try them on lumpy foods to get them used to different consistencies, as well as preparing their digestive system for solids later down the line. It may take some time for them to enjoy eating lumpy foods but soon they will be mushing food all over their face in delight!
Experience the Joys of Weaning
Weaning is an emotional experience — for moms and for babies. It is an important stage in the development of your baby’s physical and emotional health. It is also a vital time for the relationship between the mother and the child.
Whether you’re weaning from a bottle or the breast, there can be some bittersweet emotion in watching your little one move to the next stage. As your baby begins to grow into a child that cries louder, eats more, and deposits more you will have to find new ways to connect and nurture.
Allow yourself — and your baby — time to adjust to your new routine. Increase your snuggle-time and be considerate of your baby’s emotions — and your own. Try to be aware of when you are getting tired and need to swap care duties with a partner, a family member or a friend.
During the weaning process, it is important to have a good support group around you who can shoulder the responsibilities at times and provide advice. There is only so much information you can get online. Real-life support is much more important.
Now that you know how and when to wean your baby it is time to return to the progress of your baby. As you develop as a mother these things will become second nature and the problems of yesterday will seem trivial. Of course, there are more challenges ahead but it is important to take everything step by step.
Before you know it, you’ll both have adjusted and be excited about the new freedom that weaning will bring to your schedules.
Can you share your journey of weaning your baby with other parents?
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.
Babies are so adorable. I really learned a lot from this.
Baby Help says
Thanks for your comment, Bianca! Babies are the best!