Weaning is the process of moving your little one on from a diet of just milk to solid food too. The first stage of weaning helps lay the foundations for healthy eating habits, and teaches your baby how to eat from a spoon, swallow and eventually chew.
Weaning is probably one of the trickiest things you must go through as a parent. There is no one formula for weaning, after all. Different people, from your next-door neighbor to your aunt, may each have a piece of conflicting advice that can leave you confused. Then there’s the dilemma of wanting to enforce weaning and the tearful cries of your hungry child. Fortunately, there are general secrets that you can follow to ensure that weaning becomes relatively stress-free.
1. Take It Slow
At six months, you may begin to introduce solid food and the sippy cup. Don’t rush it, though. Forcing your baby to rely mostly on complementary foods right away may not be ideal. Your baby will need to learn to adjust slowly to the change in their diet. For many babies, this gradual change may span several months, even up to two years.
2. Use Their Milk of Choice
Express some breast milk and put it in a sippy cup. Add a little bit to your mashed fruits and vegetables. Your baby is naturally attracted to the smell of your breast milk. Using whatever milk they’re comfortable with will help ease the transition rather than going for a new one straight away. In fact, you’ll want to continue milk in their diet, whether through a breast or through a bottle, until they’re about a year old or more.
3. Follow a Pace That Works
Many mothers say finding the right weaning time and pace was mostly by instinct or necessity. In some cases, the baby will initiate the weaning process, slowly losing interest in milk or because they still seem hungry after a feeding. This, however, may not happen until they’re about a year old or so. Most of the time, you will have to do it slowly on your own. You might choose to end it abruptly if it’s really necessary, which may be very emotional for both you and your baby. Most mothers find that a gradual transition works best for them.
4. Lunch Is the Best Time to Make Changes
Your baby will be less receptive to changes in routine when they’ve just woken up in the morning and they’re hungry for breakfast, and in the evening when they’re tired and need comfort. This makes midday meals around lunchtime the best time to initiate any routine changes. By this time, they will have gotten quite a bit of nourishment but they won’t be too tired or moody. This is a general rule, however. Your baby’s temperament may vary so it’s still best to play it by ear when it comes to timing.
5. Watch for Signs of Readiness
There are several signs that your baby will be ready for a gradual introduction of solid food. First of all, your baby must be able to sit up, either on their own or with some support. Feeding your baby while they’re lying down may cause them to choke. Your baby must also have lost the tongue thrust reflex. This is a reflex where they push out anything but solid food. Finally, it’s a great sign when they begin making chewing motions with their jaw.
6. Offer Food or Cup When They’re Hungry
Your baby will just not be interested in putting anything in their mouth if they’re not hungry. Feed them just a bit of milk to prime them up for feeding time and then offer food or the sippy cup.
7. “Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse”
It’s a bad idea to withhold a feeding just because you feel that your baby needs to be weaned. After all, a starving baby will need plenty of the comfort that breastfeeding provides. At the same time, it will be easier if you don’t initiate a feeding. Wait until your baby asks for it before giving them milk.
8. Loss of Interest Doesn’t Mean It’s Time to Wean
There may be times when your baby will stop nursing for a while. Don’t celebrate your weaning success just yet. Sometimes, this is because they become distracted as they begin to discover the world around them. When they begin to crawl or take their first steps, for instance, they may get so preoccupied that they forget about milk. If this happens, continue pumping. When they suddenly regain interest in milk, you won’t have any trouble resuming.
9. Introduce Solid Foods Gradually
Pediatricians recommend rice or cereal as great starting foods for weaning because they’re rich in iron, a mineral that is not available in breast milk. Some mothers are able to successfully start feeding cereals as young as four months. Later, you may begin to gradually introduce vegetable or fruit puree. Mixing this with breast milk will help. When you feel they’re ready for more substantial fare, gradually introduce mashed foods to their diet.
10. Don’t Become Frustrated
You may be excited to begin breastfeeding but your baby may not seem to be as enthusiastic at first. Most babies will only eat about one or two teaspoons when starting out. For a few months, you will find that most of their nutrition will still come primarily from milk. The transition may be slow, but you will find that they begin to eat more and more solid food as time goes by.
11. Do Homemade
Homemade food is simply the best option because it ensures that you know exactly what your child is eating. It’s also much cheaper than store-bought baby food and is relatively easy to make. Mashing some avocado and mixing it with breastmilk does not take that much effort, after all. You may also find that children who are given homemade foods are less picky in the future. This is because they become used to your family’s regular diet and so it’s no big shift to introduce them to a new one.
12. Offer Finger Foods Around 7-8 Months
Your baby will find finger foods fun. It allows them to exercise their independence during mealtimes. Initially, you might want to try softer and chewable foods such as bananas or mangoes. Avoid round and hard-to-chew foods such as peas and grapes, which can easily cause choking.
13. Consider Partial Weaning
If you need to wean sooner than you’d like, perhaps because you’re working, you might want to consider partial weaning. This simply means that your partner, family member or help bottle feeds your baby during the day and you breastfeed whenever you’re home. Some mothers opt to choose a formula for day feeding, but this usually leads to the baby developing a preference for one or the other. The best option is to pump milk regularly and freeze it. That way, all your partner or help has to do is warm it up whenever your baby needs some.
14. Lots of Hugs
Some babies refuse to wean not because of the milk, but because of the comfort that it provides. Even bottle feeding is a bonding opportunity that your baby will sorely miss when it’s taken away. Providing opportunities for closeness other than at feeding time will help your baby dissociate hugs with food, making the transition much easier.
15. Never Force Feed
There’s no better way to put a baby off solid food than forcing them to eat something they don’t want to. Alternatively, they may no longer be hungry or perhaps are too tired to eat solid food. At this point, you may offer milk if they like.
16. If She/he Doesn’t Like Something, Mix It Up
Parents are notoriously sneaky when it comes to making kids eat foods they don’t like. If they refuse something, try mashing a little bit of it up with their favorite food. This helps accustom their palates to the new taste. Slowly increase the amount of the undesired food until they’re eating it on their own.
17. Let Them Eat With Everyone
Babies love to imitate their parents, from mannerisms to the food they eat. Set them up on a high chair during mealtimes. Not only does this allow them to observe how adults eat, it also provides them with some good family bonding time.
18. Have another Child Show Them How to Eat
For particularly stubborn babies, peer pressure can be another sneaky, but effective tool in your arsenal. Seeing adults eat may not be enough, but since they more easily identify with other babies roughly their age, you can use this to heighten the imitation game.
19. Delay If Your Child is Ill or Stressed Out
If your child is undergoing a major life change, such as when they’re teething or sick, it may be best to delay weaning. Breastfeeding, after all, is one of the easiest and most comfortable ways to get nutrition. You will find that during these times, they may refuse to take in solid food. Failing to nurse a sick child enough may lead to dehydration and other health problems.
20.Get Your Partner Involved
Your partner may be more enthusiastic about weaning than you think. If you’ve been exclusively breastfeeding, they may feel left out of the mother-child bond. This allows you to rest from feeding. It also provides your baby precious bonding moments with their father.