Weaning is the process by which your baby begins to transition from a diet consisting solely of breast milk to one that also includes solid food. This is a completely natural part of your child’s development that has a variety of components including both the dietary and mental health aspects.
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented in scientific literature, which is why exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life is now recommended by the World Health Organization. After this period, it is recommended that breastfeeding is continued for up to 2 years or longer.
While there are no definitive rules that apply to each and every baby, there are some guidelines and recommendations that may be helpful, provided by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.
With that said, it’s important to seek proper medical advice from your pediatrician or doctor if you have any questions or concerns about yourself or your baby.
Is My Baby Ready to Wean?
For the first 6 months of life the majority of babies’ dietary demands can be met by breastmilk alone, but beyond this age, a diet of milk alone will not provide all of the nutritional demands a baby needs. [Mutch 2004]
The right time to begin weaning is thought to be between the ages of four to six months when their iron stores begin to diminish. There are also other reasons why this period is advised for commencing weaning including the requirement for oral stimulation in order for your baby to learn how to chew.
In fact, some studies have highlighted a potential link between periods of extended feeding without solids and inadequate eating.
Once your baby reaches 6 months old the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies continue breastfeeding along with complementary foods, such as those containing iron.
By 1-year-old it is advised that you begin supplementing their diet with protein sources such as egg, lentils, and meat, as well as fiber. As your baby begins to gradually adopt a more varied diet their weaning should also progress. [Eidelman 2012]
My Baby is Refusing Breast? Is It Time to Wean?
What is referred to as a “nursing strike” is not uncommon, these are periods where your baby does not seem to want to feed, which some moms view as rejection or a possible sign that their baby is ready to start the weaning process. However, it’s possible that this sudden refusal to feed could be initiated by something less obvious.
Some of the most common reasons for babies not wanting to feed include bitter tasting cosmetics on the skin, such as soaps, an altered diet or teething. If you do experience a nursing strike, you may want to try adopting these tactics:
- Provide a tranquil space for feeding time
- Offer to feed your baby when they are sleepy
- Do not try to starve your baby in an attempt to encourage feeding
- Provide your breast at regular intervals throughout the day
If these tactics do not result in successful feeding, it’s important to seek professional medical advice so that any underlying health issues can be ruled out.
Should you Stop Breastfeeding Abruptly?
An abrupt wean is not ideal since it can cause issues for both mother and child. This is especially true for new mothers whose milk production may be particularly high and so tender breasts may occur without the regular drainage of milk. On the other hand, a baby who is abruptly weaned may become distressed.
In some circumstances an abrupt wean is necessary due to the health of the mother, for example, certain medicines can render a mother’s breast milk completely unsuitable for a baby.
Additionally, some infants can experience periods of illnesses where breastfeeding is not possible. During these periods it’s usually advised that mothers continue to express and store their milk, in preparation for when your infant is ready to feed again.
Types of Weaning
There are two major types of weaning: the first is called planned weaning or mother-led weaning and the second type is referred to as natural weaning or infant-led weaning.
While there are no two circumstances ever the same and mother-led weaning is more suitable for some situations, current scientific literature continues to highlight the many benefits of infant-led weaning.
Planned Weaning (Mom Led)
This type of weaning involves the mother deciding to wean their child, rather than responding to signs their infant may be showing when they are ready to begin the process of weaning. It is often the route chosen by mothers who have concerns about a low milk supply, painful breasts, mastitis or a busy lifestyle.
Traditionally this method involves parents gradually introducing spoon-feeding into their babies feeding routine and substituting breastfeeding with purees and other soft foods deemed appropriate for infants with limited chewing ability.
Natural Weaning (Child Led)
This method of weaning seems to become more popular due to the many reported benefits, including improved motor skills development, a potential decreased risk of obesity and improved diet. [Cameron 2012]
The increased popularity also coincides with recent changes by the World Health Organization, who changed the recommended age of starting complementary foods from between four to six months to six months. Therefore, many people argue that infants at six months are more developed and therefore, do not require spoon feeding or purees.
Instead, natural weaning involves introducing foods large enough for them to hold, pick up and feed to themselves. Typically, these are family consumables so that they can join in with the rest of the family at mealtimes. [Daniels 2015]
How to Wean your Baby
When your baby is ready to begin the process of weaning, there are many things you can employ to make the process run as smoothly as possible for both yourself and baby.
- Practice Gradual Weaning – A gradual, steady wean over many weeks and months will give yourself and your baby the necessary time to get used to the transition.
- Introduce a Cup – A cup is a great way to introduce a new form of feeding and breastfed babies can learn to drink from a cup as early as 6 months old.
- Begin by Replacing one feed – A great place to start introducing food is by replacing breast milk in the feed that is their least preferred feeding time.
- Gradually Increase Substituting – Once you have substituted one feeding time, gradually substitute more. Don’t do this suddenly, instead provide your baby with at least a few days before you proceed onto substituting more.
- Pick an Unfamiliar Location – Make sure you don’t make the common mistake of attempting to feed foods when in the same location you would usually breastfeed your child. There is a good chance they associate this location with breastfeeding so try a different location instead.
- Tender Breasts – As you begin to wean your baby your breasts won’t be stimulated as often so your milk production will gradually decline to match the needs of your baby. However, this will take time and initially, you may experience full breasts that become tender. During this period, you may find expressing milk to help.
What Foods Should You Introduce?
The types of foods you use to wean your baby and substitute breast milk depend on your babies age and stage of development.
From 6 Months of Age
- Formula fortified with iron
- Solid foods including fortified baby cereal
- Fruit puree and small fruit pieces
- Purified or mashed sweet potato & other vegetables
From 9 Months of Age
From 12 Months of Age
At this age you can now add the following:
- Full-fat dairy products
- Rice cakes
- Vegetable sticks
- [Mutch 2004] Mutch, C. Weaning From the Breast, Pediatrics Child Health, Volume 9, 2004 Apr; 9(4): 249–253.
- [Eidelman 2012] Eidelman, A, Schanler, R. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, American Academy of Pediatrics, Volume 129, 2012, 100(6):1035.
- [Cameron 2012] Cameron, S, Heath, A, Taylor, R. How Feasible Is Baby-Led Weaning as an Approach to Infant Feeding? A Review of the Evidence, Nutrients, 4(11): 1575–1609.
- [Daniels 2015] Cameron, S, Heath, A, Taylor, R. Baby-Led Introduction to SolidS (BLISS) study, BMC Pediatrics, 2015; 15: 179.