What is weaning?
Weaning is a term that is used to refer to when your child transitions from only drinking breast milk to receiving nutrients from other sources, aka food. It's usually used to talk about moving from breastfeeding, but can also be used to talk about moving away from formula too.
Weaning can be difficult for both mother and child, especially if breastfeeding holds a special place in your daily routine. You are not breaking this intimate bond with your baby, but instead you are nourishing and nurturing in a different way. If used as a comforting tool, it'll also be time to find other ways to comfort your child, or start teaching how to self-comfort.
When should you start weaning?
It's really a personal choice, but consider these things:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed for at least a year, and longer if you and your baby both want to.</li>
A child is physically ready to wean (has a developed/developing digestion system) from the age of 4-6 months.
The difference between 4-6 months and over a year old is a big one. This goes to show that you can do what's comfortable and best for you and your child. There's no right or wrong time to start weaning, no matter what your friends and families opinions are.
Depending on your child's personal development, they might show some interest in starting to wean on their own. These signs are realized by increased interest in solids and different foods.
How can you start weaning?
There are two main ways to wean: mother-led weaning and baby-led weaning. Both are good ways to wean and depend on your parenting style and personal situation.
Baby-led weaning is a great natural way to start. As mentioned earlier, your child might start showing less interest in breastfeeding after solid foods have been introduced, which would be somewhere between four and six months.
When this starts happening, or even if it doesn't, really start experiencing new foods and textures with your child. The idea here is that the baby learns to self-feed, and starts eating with the rest of the family. They can feed themselves even though it'll be messy! You can provide encouragement and a fun factor.
Introducing new foods should be done at a time when the baby isn't distracted or tired. It should be in an unhurried environment. The child chooses what they want to try on the plate and can learn to use a spoon themselves.
By 12 months, your child will probably be ready to start weaning on their own if you have been exposing them to different foods and they can drink from a cup.
Mother-led weaning is what it sounds like. You have made the choice to stop breastfeeding. This may be because you need to go back to work, or just as a personal choice. It may be time for you to stop. If you are ready, but your child isn't quite ready yet, that's okay. You can still start gradually.
Stopping cold turkey is probably not the best route to take when it comes to weaning. It will be difficult and stressful for your baby and in turn, you.
Tips for how to start
Try skipping a feeding.
You can start out by skipping a feeding. Instead, offer a bottle of formula or pumped breast milk. You could also try skipping it altogether if the situation will easily warrant it.
Shorten the time of the feeding.
By the time you start weaning, you will already know approximately how long your breastfeeding sessions are. Shorten them gradually. This probably won't go over well in the beginning since your baby is used to dictating when they are done. To solve this, offer a snack appropriate for your child's age.
Postpone and divert attention.
Once you have skipped a few feedings and have gotten on a schedule of only a couple of feedings a day, you can start limiting those even further. It's easier if your child is at an age where you can explain things to them, like having to wait until bedtime, or when everyone else eats. Distract with a different and exciting activity.
What if you really struggle?
You don't ever want to deprive your child of food, so use common sense when weaning. It may be hard, but there is a time when it may feel like the right thing to start doing.
However, if you feel like you have tried everything and nothing is truly working then you can always try again in a month's time. Weaning your child off the breast will happen sooner or later, so try not to worry so much about it. It's all a part of growing up.