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What is Weaning and When Should You Start Weaning Your Baby?

What is Weaning and When Should You Start Weaning Your Baby?

. 8 min read

When you are a new parent, every little thing, such as baby weaning and when to wean, can seem intimidating and even terrifying. Some new parents experience anxiety from the constant worry that they will do something wrong, or not do something right. There are so many milestones that new babies reach, and for the new parent, each one can seem more like a challenge than a guideline. One of the first things to remember is that weaning isn’t a milestone, and babies will all be ready at different times.

If you are feeling worried at times as a new parent, rest assured that you are not alone. These are feelings that almost every new parent deals with. The good news is babies have survived first-time parents for as long as humankind has been on the earth. Chances are extremely good that your baby will be just fine as well. Changes such as babies weaning are simple to take care of once you learn what to do. So what is weaning and when should you start weaning your baby?

What is Weaning?

Before we go deeper into learning when to wean babies and how to wean your baby, let’s take a look at what is weaning a baby and what does weaning mean. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to wean a baby is to make the baby accustom to food other than his or her mother’s milk, or to detach from a source of dependence. Another definition says that weaning is when you stop feeding your baby with breast milk.

A pediatrician at Texas Children’s Pediatrics in Houston, Cheryl Hardin, M.D. explains that weaning a baby involves decreasing the child’s typical food source and replacing it with a different food source. So weaning a baby means gradually decreasing the baby’s formula or breast milk and replacing it with other, more solid foods. Your baby is considered to be fully weaned when he or she no longer gets any nutrition from breast milk or formula but relies solely on solid foods and other liquids.

How Do You Know When to Wean?

If you are a new parent, you are probably asking yourself, “How do I know when to wean?” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is best if mothers feed their babies only breast milk for the first 6 months of life, and then continue giving their baby breast milk along with other nutrition sources for at least 6 more months. The World Health Organization suggests that the baby should continue to have his or her mother’s breast milk along with other foods until at least the age of 2.

The reason that these organizations suggest continuing to breastfeed for this long is that breast milk is not just a food source for babies. A mother’s milk also contains powerful components to boost the baby’s immune system, and these components become even stronger when the baby is ill. Feeding time, whether by breast or bottle, is also a wonderful bonding experience between the mother and the baby, but even more so when the baby is breastfed.

According to most anthropologists, the natural age for a baby to stop breastfeeding is probably much higher than 2 years old. These specialists have studied the development of children’s teeth and their body weight and made comparisons with that of other primates throughout history. While some anthropologists suggest that the historical evidence shows that human children typically breastfed until the ages of 2 to 4 years, others believe it could have been as long as 6 or 7 years.

Signs That it is Time to Wean Baby

Before weaning your baby or making any major life choices for your child, it is a good idea to talk to the infant’s pediatrician and get his or her advice on when to wean. According to Dr. Hardin and other pediatricians, there are signs that can help you determine whether or not your baby is getting ready to be weaned. Here are some of the signs of when to wean babies:

1. Your Baby Is Hungrier - If your baby wants to feed more often, whether breast milk or bottle-fed, that is a sign that the baby may be ready to wean. Your infant is showing that he or she is hungrier than normal and needs more nutrition that he or she did previously.

2. Your Baby’s Weight Goes Up – If your baby’s weight seems to jump up this could also be a sign that the child is ready to be weaned off of breast milk or formula. When your baby doubles his or her birth weight, then the child is likely to need more nutrition than just milk.

3. Baby Reaches for Food – If you notice that your infant is reaching for your food at the table, or shows a lot of interest in solid foods, then the baby could be showing you that he or she is ready to be weaned. This is a good time to start introducing the baby to simple baby foods along with his or her breastmilk or formula.

4. Putting Things in His or Her Mouth – Sometimes when a baby is beginning to be ready to wean, he or she may begin to mouth his or her toys or hands. While this can also be a sign that your child is teething, when done at an earlier age, it usually points to the infant getting ready to wean.

5. Opening His or Her Mouth at the Table – If you allow your baby to sit at the table with the rest of the family, or if you sit nearby the baby while you are eating, you may notice that he or she opens his or her mouth a lot while watching you eat. This could be the baby’s way of saying, “Okay, Mom, something besides milk, please!”

6. Baby Sits Up – Is your baby sitting up by his or her self with no support from you? Is the child able to hold his or her head upright and sit steady, without wobbling or falling over? This shows that the baby’s muscles that he or she uses to swallow are becoming strong enough to ingest something besides milk, and your infant may be getting ready to wean.

The Decision to Wean Your Baby is a Personal One

While mothers should adhere to these guidelines and be sure to feed the baby nothing but breast milk or formula for at least 6 months, when to wean your baby is a personal choice that you should make when you are comfortable. It doesn’t matter what your relatives, friends, or strangers on social media may tell you, no one knows your baby better than you do, and therefore no one besides you and your pediatrician is a better expert on when your child may be ready.

While many people will try for various reasons to convince a mother that she should have her baby weaned by a certain age, baby weaning is not a milestone that has to be met by a specific age. Having a baby who was weaned early does not mean that the baby is any smarter or developmentally more intelligent than other babies. It could mean that the baby won’t be as healthy as one who breastfed for at least a year or 2, however.

Baby-Led Weaning

In many instances, the baby will begin to decide for you that it is time to wean. This is known as baby-led weaning and is usually the least stressful for both the mother and the child. Once your baby begins to have solid foods introduced into his or her diet, you may notice that there is a marked disinterest in nursing or taking a bottle of formula.

For some babies, this may begin to happen as early as six months, while other babies may continue to want milk, and won’t become more interested in solid foods until they are at least a year old. Toddlers also tend to lose interest in being bottle-fed or breastfed as often once they are more active and can feed themselves. At this stage, they are becoming more independent and may simply be “too busy” to be still long enough to take a bottle or lay at the mother’s breast.

Don’t Try Cold Turkey for Weaning Babies

It is not advised that a mother goes “cold turkey” when weaning her baby, especially if she has been breastfeeding. As we’ve mentioned, breastfeeding can be a very bonding time for mother and baby, and to have this suddenly stop can be traumatizing for the child, and emotionally harmful for both. It can also cause physical issues for the mother, such as a breast infection or painful, clogged milk ducts.

It is best to slowly taper off how much formula or breast milk that you give your child each day. The entire weaning process should take weeks or even months but should never be rushed unless there is an emergency situation that causes this. By taking things slowly, you give yourself and your baby time to adjust emotionally to the fact that you will no longer be sharing this intimacy but will be moving on to a new and exciting stage of your relationship.

Weaning slowly will also give your body time to adjust and allow your milk to diminish gradually, which can help prevent painfully engorged breasts, infections, or other medical issues. Maybe start off by skipping one of the mid-day feeding times. You could offer the child baby food instead, with a bit of juice or water. Once skipping that feeding becomes natural, you might decide to skip another, and so on.

Should You Ever Delay Weaning Babies?

You may be wondering if there is ever a time that you should delay weaning your baby. The answer is yes, there are signs that it might not be time to start this process. You might want to put off weaning your baby and talk to his or her doctor if:

  • You’re worried about allergies. This could be a concern if you or the child’s father have serious food allergies that could make weaning dangerous for your baby. If this is the case, you may want to consider delaying the weaning process until your child is at least one year old. According to some research, a child has a lesser chance of developing an allergy if he or she is exposed to the allergen while breastfeeding. If allergens are a concern, your pediatrician can help you decide when it is time to wean your baby.
  • There has been a major change. If there has been a loss in your immediate family, if your family has moved, if your baby has changed child care providers, if the baby’s mom and dad have split up, or any other major change has recently taken place, it is not a good time to wean your baby. During times such as these, your child will need to maintain the bond that he or she has with the mother.
  • Your baby feels bad. If your baby is sick, teething, or isn’t feeling well, it might be better to wait before beginning to wean him or her. Any changes in a baby’s life, while he or she is sick, will be more stressful than if they occurred when the baby is feeling better. If your baby isn’t feeling well, postpone weaning until her or she feels good again.

In Closing

Those are just a few tips on weaning babies and when to wean your baby. Always remember to talk to your pediatrician about any new process that your baby will undergo. Your child’s doctor can help guide you in making sure that your baby is getting the right nutrients while weaning and help you choose which foods would be best to introduce to your baby. Weaning doesn’t have to be stressful for you or your baby. With a little patience and a lot of love, your baby could soon be sharing the dinner table, and the meal, with the rest of his or her family.