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When and how to wean your baby is a huge question for many parents. You want to make sure you’re doing the best for your baby nutritionally and emotionally. For some parents the decision to start weaning comes easily but for others it takes more planning.
Kristy Manners from Growth Spectrum gives some advice on how to tackle this universal dilemma. As a university trained Accredited Practicing Maternity-Paediatric Dietitian and a Breastfeeding Counsellor, after her struggles trying to breastfeed her first child, Kristy is a wealth of knowledge.
Thinking about Weaning?
Weaning your breastfed child is filled with a mix of emotions. Some women might feel relieved for the new sense of freedom, while others might feel sad or even guilty for ending this special relationship. All these feelings are completely normal. You might also be concerned about when is the proper time to wean your baby and which substitutes to use. Just to be clear, weaning means the time when you start giving your baby foods other than breast milk, not only when you completely stop the breastfeeding process .
Is Your Baby Getting All the Nutrients they Need?
So, how can you and your baby go through this stage? Is breast milk a source of nutrients after 6 months? Human breast milk contains all the nutrients babies need in their first 6 months of life. From this point onward, infants are introduced to other foods and drinks while the mother’s milk continues playing a key role in their diet, and it will always be a source of nutrients . In fact, in the second year, 448ml of breast milk provides:
• 29% of energy requirements
• 43% of protein requirements
• 36% of calcium requirements
• 75% of vitamin A requirements
• 76% of folate requirements
• 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
• 60% of vitamin C requirements
In addition, while breastmilk contains lower concentrations of iron, zinc, calcium and oligosaccharides in the second year, due to foods providing most of these needs, human milk does contain higher concentrations of immune boosting compounds. However, this doesn’t mean that if your child refuses to eat, that relying solely on breast milk is the ideal thing to do.
You need to keep in mind that the first year of life is also a crucial period in which your child learns to eat and swallow solid foods; develops their jaw, lip and tongue muscles for speech development; and some nutrients like iron and zinc are not adequately supplied through breast milk alone after those first 6 months, despite breast milk aiding the absorbability of these nutrients. So, nutrients from food also become a priority .
Balancing breastfeeding and solid foods
As we just mentioned, after six months of age, babies do not get an adequate amount of iron from breast milk alone for their growth and development. The baby’s iron stores also start diminishing around 6-9 months, so it’s important for your baby to start eating foods rich in iron – animal meats, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, iron-fortified infant cereals. Additionally, babies should eat foods that are rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, or dark green vegetables in order to promote iron absorption .
Breastfed infants decrease the intake of mum’s milk when they start taking solid foods, however, there are many benefits to both mother and child of offering both until two years of age. To do this, you should start with small amounts of food after a breastfeed and increase gradually as your child gets older, this allows the mothers body and breasts to adapt, as sudden changes can dramatically decrease supply and may cause issues such as mastitis . Usually, the number of times that you feed your child solid foods will depend on their age: 2–3 meals per day for children between 6 to 8 months of age, and 3 or 4 meals when they’re between 9 to 23 months old, maybe with 1 or 2 additional snacks .
How and when to start weaning my baby?
There is no right or wrong age to wean, but the best recommendation is to prolong breastfeeding, whenever possible, exclusively breastfeed until 6 months of age and breastfeed with solids until two years of age if possible. Weaning can be either planned or natural; the first one occurring when the mother decides to stop breastfeeding without receiving cues from the baby that they are ready to stop. Whereas natural weaning may be initiated by the child, when they begin to accept increasing amounts and types of complementary foods and begin to lose interest or refuse the breast [1, 5].
Start Weaning Slowly
Either way, it’s better to wean slowly rather than abruptly. One thing mums can do is to gradually eliminate one breastfeeding session – may be the one your baby seems least interested in– every two to five days. You can also shorten the nursing sessions or lengthen the interval between each session. Doing this will not only give your baby time to adjust but will also reduce your risk of developing blocked ducts and mastitis [2, 6].
If you decide to wean the night time feed, make a bedtime routine that is not centered around breastfeeding. Bubbaroo Baby Sleeping Bags are an excellent cue for the bedtime routine that you can use to separate feeding and sleeping. Read our Bubbaroo blog on bedtime routine here for some tips on how to do this. If your child wakes up during the night and wants a feed to get back to sleep, see if your partner can calm them [7, 8].
Mothers who are separated from their babies during the day because of work or study can continue breast feeding their babies. Mums can express their milk while away from their baby, this will help them to keep their milk production. But, if it is not possible to pump or express while being away, you can also wean your child during the day and continue breastfeeding at night, where your body will become more efficient and adjusted to producing the amounts of milk needed on cue .
Bottle or cup?
Babies can be weaned to a bottle then a cup, or directly to a cup. However, the transition may be easier if you first introduce your baby to a cup instead of a bottle. A great tip is to start cup feeding with expressed breast milk – you’ll see that your child may be more willing to accept it if they are already tasting something familiar [1, 6].
What substitute foods should I use?
Whether you replace the missed feeds with infant formula, cow’s milk (after 12 months of age) or water (after 6 months of age), will depend on the age of your baby and the other foods and drinks she is having.
If your baby is less than 12 months of age, breastfeeds should be replaced with an iron-fortified infant formula. However, if your baby is older, they can have whole milk or milk substitutes as a drink or even food rich in nutrients such as calcium or iron.
As for how much milk you should serve in the cup, it’s kind of hard to say, as one doesn’t actually know how much the baby normally takes from the breast. But after 12 months, it is
recommended not to give more than 720 ml per day. If your baby is taking much more than that, they can end up with iron deficiency anemia, poor appetite for other foods or even obesity [5, 6].
You also need to remember that babies usually stop feeding when they’re satisfied, particularly due to the appetite regulating hormones present in breastmilk. Therefore you don’t need to make them finish whatever is in the bottle or cup, watch for their hunger/fullness cues.
Final words of advice on weaning
Some children will wean quickly while others will take several weeks or even months to completely wean. While you both adapt to the new routine, make sure you still spend plenty of time with your baby and remember to ask for help if you need it.
Weaning can be a challenging process and it’s always different from one child to the next, so please contact Kristy at Growth Spectrum to help guide you and give you support during this time .
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