Weaning is an exciting time for mothers, but it can also be fraught with stress and struggle. It’s difficult to set limits or enforce rules when you have a crying, hungry baby in your arms and the solution in your blouse, but there comes a time when your baby should no longer breastfeed. No matter how difficult it might be, you’ll need to persevere through some power struggles and crying spells until that blessed day when your baby no longer reaches for your breasts for food and comfort.
In the animal kingdom, weaning can be even more difficult. Baboons begin by gently discouraging breastfeeding, and progress to more violent tactics that include punching and screaming. Thankfully we are not baboons and don’t have to resort to such drastic measures to wean our babies.
So how do we go about weaning in a way that is both gentle and effective?
It’s all in the timing
The issue of when to wean is a controversial one, and opinions are sharply divided on when exactly is best. The general belief is that you can start weaning from 6 months, as this is when baby will be able to swallow foods. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, -followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.
Every child and every situation is different, but when it comes to weaning, it’s all in the timing. If you can, waiting until your child is reaching for solids and able to feed itself will cut out a lot of the trauma and upset associated with weaning. Ask your doctor if your child is ready to wean if you are unsure.
From breast to bottle: tips for success
Even if you time the weaning perfectly, there is bound to be some resistance. Remember that part of the process is about becoming independent, and it can be a difficult journey for baby too.
- Start by introducing solids: Purees are often the first choice for experimentation with solids. The aim is to get baby excited about solids by introducing a wide variety of tastes, sensations and consistencies. Almost anything fresh and nutritious can be pureed and offered up to your baby. Starting with pureed foods gives your baby a chance to figure out the basic mechanics of pushing food from the front of the mouth to the back, without invoking their gag reflex. It also ensures that baby will be able to get the nutrition they need from sources other than your breast milk.
- Move on to offering up food that the family is eating: A big component of the baby led weaning approach is the need to give baby tastes if the foods that the family is eating too. The sooner they are able to participate in family mealtimes and actually get their nutritional requirements from that food, the sooner they will be able to say goodbye to the breast milk. Make baby a part of mealtimes and offer up finger foods that are easy to pick up and chew.
- Start the weaning process: Once your baby is successfully eating solids, you can start weaning. The idea is to offer up fewer and fewer feeds until eventually baby is content to get all her meals from a bottle (or solids). Some moms replace one feeding with a substitute and gradually increase the number of substitute feedings until your baby is off the breast. Night-time feeds are often the last to go, with some babies taking months to be able to fall asleep without the comfort of the bedtime feeding.
Try to take a -Don’t offer don’t refuse! approach to the weaning process. If you can, try to distract your baby from wanting to breastfeed with cuddles or toys. Depending on the temperament of your child, this might be a pain-free way to wean them without much fuss. As they start enjoying a wider variety of foods, and gaining more nutrition without breast milk, they will reach for you less and less until one day you find your baby no longer reaches for you at all.
Overcoming obstacles: troubleshooting
- You will need infinite patience: Weaning your baby can take weeks, months or even years. The important thing is perseverance. No matter which approach you are trying, stick to your guns and keep at it, your baby will get the idea eventually!
- Weaning can be physically painful: Until your milk dries up, you can suffer from engorgement and mastitis. Ask any mum who has weaned a baby; it can become painful! Try putting cabbage leaves over your breasts until your milk has dried up. The longer and slower the weaning process, the less pain will be involved. As a general rule of thumb, cold compresses will slow milk production and ease weaning discomfort.
- Weaning can be emotionally trying: It’s not just your baby who will protest the weaning. You’re also losing a bonding experience and the special closeness that breastfeeding provides. The best you can do is to remain physically close to your child through plenty of cuddles and affection during the weaning process.
Nobody wants to be that creepy mom at the braai who offers up breast milk to her five year old! But if your child is struggling to wean, you might be tempted to go the same route.
Weaning an uncooperative baby from the breast can be one of the most challenging adventures you have yet faced as a mother. Use these tips to figure out what will work best for you and your baby in your own unique situation, and enjoy the fact that you will regain some independence too!