What Is the Right Time to Wean off Your Child?
Motherhood is a beautiful journey right from childbirth till they become independent adults. Each stage has got its pros and cons and holds a special place in a mother's life. Each stage is a new challenge. Like how breastfeeding during the initial days was a challenge, similarly weaning off a child is also a bigger challenge. Breastfeeding helps in appeasing the hunger and thirst of a child and provides immunity and nutrients for the child during its initial stages of growth. As and when months pass by, the child recognizes it as a time that it spends with its mother and feeds just for the sake of seeking attention from its mother, to overcome insecurities or just latch on to get some sleep. Sometimes me as a mother would feel like weaning off my son completely and the other times I feel that it is the exclusive time that I spend with my son as no one else can play my role. Sometimes it brings happiness to a mother that her child is moving to the next stage in his/her life and at the other times the mother might get emotionally depressed as she misses her time with her child. So what could be the right time to wean off a child? The answer is when the mother and her child are both physically and emotionally ready to be weaned off completely.
Breastmilk not only provides nutrition and immunity for a baby, but also nurtures the child as it is a place for familiarity and closeness
When can you start weaning foods?
The WHO emphasizes on exclusively breastfeeding the baby for the initial 6 months after child birth before starting solids. The child's gut is still underdeveloped till it reaches a certain stage. It is designed in such a way that it can digest only milk solids of the breast milk. Eventhough there are mothers who start weaning foods and formula before the period of six months as they feel that breastfeeding is not as important as feeding solids to the baby or due to pressure from family and the society or because of medical reasons, but it is always advisable that solids can be started only after a period of six months as breast milk helps boosting the immunity and brain development in a child. It might also be because the baby might have a slow weight gain exclusively with breast milk and they sometimes keep crying for the initial 4-5 months for so many reasons which is most often misinterpreted as hunger by the mother and the family. Research studies show that a 7 month old child gets 93% of its nutrients from breastfeeding alone. The child will require increased levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for its development for which complementary foods are introduced post the period of six months. Therefore weaning foods are complementary foods along with breastfeeding atleast for two years.
What are the signs that shows that your child is ready for taking solids?
- When your child still remains hungry even after breastfeeding.
- Shows interest in trying other foods
- When it opens its mouth when the food is brought near to the mouth
- Can sit erect without back or neck support
- Can show you whether he is interested in a food by nodding his head.
- When the child can swallow the food without any difficulty.
There are two types of weaning: natural and planned weaning. Natural weaning is when the child starts accepting different kinds of food and still breastfeeding on demand. In this type of weaning the babies are weaned off at their own pace. They completely wean off sometime between the age of 2- 4 years. Planned weaning is usually mother-led weaning where the mother takes the necessary measures to wean of the baby. Partial weaning is substituting one or more feeds with a cup or bottle and breastfeeding the other times. This method is effective for working mothers who wanted an exclusive time with their baby and can have it through breastfeeding.
What happens when breastfeeding is stopped suddenly?
When one decides to stop breastfeeding suddenly they should also be aware of its side effects such as blocked ducts, engorgment, mastitis and the sudden change in the digestive and immune system of the baby. It might also the affect the mother and the baby psychologically and a sick baby should not be weaned abruptly as they might get more affected or susceptible to the infection. When I had tried many times to stop feeding my baby, he used to get cranky and cry profusely after which I end up feeding him. The traditional method that had been adopted by many Indian families is applying neem leaf paste in the nipples so that when the child latches onto it, it gives a bitter taste due to which the child is forced to leave breastfeeding.
Weaning Before Six Months
Weaning before the period of six months is not an advisable thing to do but there might be situations where the mother might be having some communicable diseases, or other kind of health issues or might be consuming strong painkillers or drugs where she might not be in a position to feed the baby or might be a working mother. Weaning a 3-4 months old baby might be quite challenging as they are quite aware of what's happening around. Initially swapping two or more feeds with infant formula is a great idea to start with. The spouse or other members of the family can feed the baby with a bottle or cup instead of the mother. Initially the baby might refuse to take feeds, but consistency, patience and experimentation is the key to success. The mother should also take the necessary measures to overcome engorgement and over supply of milk.
How to Wean the Baby After 6 Months?
The following are some of the best methods that can be adopted to start off with the weaning process.
- Mothers who wanted to stop breastfeeding before one year should make sure that they replace with other substitutes such as nutritious foods and infant formula milk.
- They should never feed the baby with cow's milk, soy milk and other milk products.
- Babies should also be given multi mineral, multi vitamin, iron and vitamin D supplements.
- Some babies can be weaned off easily while others take a long time or protest when trying to stop breastfeeding. Increasing the number of solids gradually and reducing the time for feeds is a good way to start with.
- Some babies get clingy while trying to stop breastfeeding. Spending more time with them or taking them out and diverting their mind in some other activities can be helpful in reducing breastfeeding during the day time.
- Substituting one feed with an another is a good way to start with. Varieties in foods and changes in taste and flavor enhances the interest of the child in trying out solids. The slower the transition the more better it is. If more than one solid is introduced at a time, and if there is any stomach discomfort for the baby then it would be difficult to figure out the causative agent.
- The father or the other elderly person in the family can feed the baby instead of mother as they might get reminded of breast feeding when they see their mother.
- The cues and body language of the baby is very important. Sitting in the same chair which is used for breastfeeding might remind the baby to have breast milk instead of taking solids.
- Making the food interesting is also one of the best way to make your babies to have more of solids. For eg: Purees of colored veggies, fruits, fruit juices are some foods that are liked by most babies.
Weaning at Night
Breastfeeding the baby to sleep is something most of the mothers do (including me). It is the most relaxing and convenient way to put the baby to sleep especially after a tiring day. It helps in developing an emotional bond between the child and the mother. It is common for breast fed babies to have a disturbed sleep. They keep waking through the night to be fed. This is usually common in the initial days post childbirth or even after one year. My son is 17 months and still he wakes up at night to be fed. It is not only to appease their hunger but also could be because of fear, insecurity, attention from their mother, teething issues of the baby as breast is a place for closeness and familiarity, it might also be because the breast milk usually gets digested in less than 2 hours. For working mothers breastfeeding at night is an exclusive time with the baby. If the mother decides to wean off their baby at night, these are the following methods that can be carried out to gently wean off their baby during the night.
- I usually feed my baby curd rice, lentil rice or rice porridge before bed time so that his stomach is full and sleeps through the night.
- Providing a cozy ambiance for night sleep, massaging the baby with a non greasy oil and bathing him in warm water before bed time are quite relaxing for the baby.
- The mother has to make sure that the diaper is not heavy. A clean and fresh diaper before bed serves the purpose.
- I still breastfeed my 17 months baby at night as he doesn't take cow's milk at all. I sometimes give him water in the middle of the night as they might also wake up because of thirst.
- Good soothing music and a good night lamp which is neither too bright nor too dull helps to serve the purpose.
- Colic pain is usually common in babies which leads to disturbed sleep and continuous crying. My pediatrician does not approve the usage of gripe water for babies, so I used to apply castor oil or asafoetida(hing) water around the navel that relieves them from gastric problems. These are some of the various factors for which a baby might wake up often at the middle of the night.
- If a baby takes around 15 minutes per feed, it can be gradually cut down to 10 and 5 which can be stopped gradually.
- Increasing the time intervals between each feed can be a good start for the weaning process, but the mother has to be prepared to console the crying baby. Initially it is difficult till the baby gets used to it.
- Dream feeding is also an effective method where the mother can feed the baby which is still asleep. This increases the sleeping time of the baby at night.
- If one decides to stop breastfeeding, the mother has to make sure that the baby gets enough feeds during the day.
- Mothers can leave the baby to her spouse or members of the family at night which is an effective method to wean off the baby at night.
- Last but not the least, consistency is an important aspect in weaning off the baby completely.
Substituting one or more feeds with bottles, and by increasing the time gap between one feed and the other is a great way to start the weaning process
Hot compress, dangle feeding, and pumping out the milk are some of the ways to overcome engorgement without medication.
Is Refusing Feed a Sign that the Baby is ready to be Weaned Off?
Sometimes babies undergo nursing strike which is usually misinterpreted as the time to wean off the baby. It might not be the case. Babies usually undergo nursing strike because of various reasons such as teething, developmental phase, some allergies, stomach discomfort such as gastric problems, sometimes it might also be because of hormonal changes in the mother such as onset of periods. The following measure can be adopted to overcome nursing strike in babies
- Changing the room or the location of breastfeeding
- Cuddling the baby while feeding in order to avoid distractions while feeding
- Talking to the baby and making eye contact while feeding
- Making the feeding time exclusive by choosing a secluded place to have an exclusive time with the baby
- Changing the position while feeding can also make a difference in the baby.
- Changing the method of feeding by serving the milk in a cup or bottle instead of direct breast feeding can also help a mother to overcome this problem
- If the problem persists, one has to meet the pediatrician and the lactation consultant.
Please note that nursing strike might lead to engorgement and mastitis so one can pump the milk and store in the fridge for future use.
Should a Mother Really Need to Stop Breastfeeding?
As I had already mentioned before, breastfeeding not only provides nutrition for a child, but also nurtures the child. Nobody can breastfeed the baby apart from its mother and nobody can swap the role of the mother when it pertains to breastfeeding. For a working mother it is an exclusive time that she has with the baby. As and when the child grows the society and the family becomes judgmental of how long the mother has to feed the baby. There are babies that are fed for more than two years. The more longer they are breastfed, the more better it is for their immune system and brain development. There are studies that has revealed that breastfed mothers are less likely to develop breast cancer. Forcefully stopping breastfeeding can have an emotional and psychological impact on both the mother and child. Therefore as I have mentioned earlier, a methodological approach is required to gently wean them off completely which might take time and it is totally the choice of the mother and the baby to choose the time to be weaned off completely.