Help For Parents: How To Wean A Baby Off Breast Milk
Is it time to start thinking about weaning your baby off breast milk?
Are you getting worried about the proper way to wean your little one, the right time to get started, or the best options for keeping up with his or her nutritional needs throughout the process?
Have you read tons of information about how to wean a baby from breast milk but still don’t feel like you’re totally ready?
If any of these are true of you, no matter what brings you here, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to know about weaning your baby from breast milk, whether he or she is still nursing or drinking breast milk from a bottle or sippy cup.
“How do I wean my baby off breast milk?” is a common question that all breastfeeding parents ask at one time or another, but with the right information, this important step in your child’s growth doesn’t have to be such a challenging one. It can be tough to understand all the ins and outs of the weaning process, but don’t worry! Eventually, your baby will be able to wean from breast milk, and you’ll know a lot more about what to offer to provide plenty of nutrition, too.
Remember that weaning isn’t necessarily the end of something with your child—breastfeeding, close bonding time, or giving milk in a bottle or cup. Rather, weaning is the process through which your child gets to experience new and varied types of foods and learn what it means to get nutrition from tasty, healthy sources.
Now, let’s get started learning more about weaning!
When to Wean a Baby from Breast Milk
Weaning baby off breast milk to whole milk is something that tends to happen at different times for different children and families. However, as your child gets older, you may start to wonder if it’s time to get started on this process. Although some families continue breastfeeding or offering breast milk in a bottle or sippy cup well into their children’s toddler years, most pediatricians and other health care professionals recommend getting started on the weaning process around one year of age. There are many different aspects of weaning that you should keep in mind when choosing when to get started, however.
Changing nutritional needs:
Although we’ll talk about this a little bit later on in the article, understand that your baby’s nutritional needs are changing all the time. As he or she starts needing more nutrients than the ones that are present in breast milk, it’s going to be crucial that you provide your child with plenty of opportunities to get everything he or she needs in a daily diet.
- Nutritionally speaking, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that babies do not need anything other than breast milk (or formula) for the first six months of life. This is why it’s not usually recommended to begin weaning until 6 months of age.
Many parents believe their children are ready to start weaning as soon as they can sit up unassisted and hold their heads up straight without help. This is a great first sign that your baby is ready for weaning, but it isn’t the only one you need to look out for.
- Your child will also begin to show signs of pinching the thumb and forefinger together which is a good sign he or she is ready for self-feeding. Around this time, your baby will also lose the strong gag reflex that causes him or her to push food out of the mouth before chewing it.
Your child may soon start showing signs of fussiness or disinterest when it comes time for a meal, especially if you’re still breastfeeding instead of offering breast milk in a bottle or sippy cup. If this is the case, this may be a sign your baby is mentally getting ready to stop nursing.
- You should also wait until your child is emotionally ready for this change in his or her lifestyle. If your baby is unwilling to try transitioning to solid foods, it’s okay to wait a couple of weeks and try again later.
As your child ages, his or her digestive system is going to get stronger. For the first six months of life, babies can only digest breast milk and maybe a few gentle first foods, such as baby rice cereal or bananas. However, after six months of age, your child’s digestive system is ready to begin the weaning process.
- After one year of age, your baby’s digestive system can handle cow’s milk. This is usually a digestive issue up until this age, however, so hold off on introducing it until at least 12 months.
Baby’s interests as they change over time:
Of course your baby’s nutritional needs change with time, but did you know his or her interests are changing at this point, too? Your baby will soon start to take notice of family mealtimes, especially if you’re allowing him or her to sit at the table with everyone else (in a high chair, of course!).
- The more interested your baby becomes in the food everyone else in the family is enjoying, the more likely he or she is to want to try it too. This can be another great way to tell it’s just about time to start offering your baby something other than just breast milk.
Steps to Weaning a Baby from Breast Milk
The steps to successful weaning may also differ from family to family and, especially, from baby to baby, but generally speaking, you can expect to follow this same pattern at least somewhat. There are always exceptions to this, and what works well for you may not be the same thing that worked well for your sister, your best friend, or even your own mother. Weaning baby off breast milk at night can be harder than doing so during the day for some people, for example, while other babies will give up their nighttime feedings quickly but hang onto those morning meals for much longer. It’s important to think about how well your child is doing with each step to help determine where to go from there.
1. Replace one breast milk serving per day with cow’s milk and/or solids.
Start by taking away one of the less important meals of the day, such as an afternoon snack, and replacing it with cow’s milk in a sippy cup and a good solid first food. If you’re concerned about starting both at the same time, or if you’re weaning onto solids before one year of age (when it’s safe to start cow’s milk), just do one at a time.
- Either way, make sure you don’t make a big deal out of it but also watch your baby carefully to be certain he or she eats and drinks at least a little bit. You don’t want your child to go completely hungry for this meal, but don’t expect your little one to eat a lot at first, either.
2. If you’re still breastfeeding, nurse for only a couple of minutes and then offer your child cow’s milk in a bottle or sippy cup.
This can help your child feel secure and safe in the habit of breastfeeding while still leaving him or her hungry after the fact. And a hungry baby is much more likely to want to eat more—even if that means drinking cow’s milk instead of his or her preferred breast milk.
- This is also a good way to encourage your child to try solid foods or purees. Leaving your baby hungry after a couple of minutes of nursing and then offering something like a soft mashed banana can encourage him or her to try those first tentative bites.
3. If your child is asking for breast milk out of habit, try distracting him or her.
If you’re not weaning your baby until he or she is a toddler, then you may be dealing with the habit of drinking breast milk rather than any nutritional reasons why your child may still need it. If this is the case, and you know your baby probably isn’t hungry when he or she asks for breast milk, try offering a fun distraction.
- Make sure that you don’t do this when your child is still very young, however, as this can lead to underfeeding a baby who really does still need that supplement in his or her diet.
4. Offer many varied types of foods to find the ones your child likes best—but do this within reason.
Your baby may not be one who likes sweet potatoes, for example, but may love green beans. This is totally fine, and within reason, it should be okay to serve your baby what he or she likes. However, try not to only offer sweeter foods such as fruits, as this can cause your baby to become malnourished over time.
- Also, take care with offering new foods. If you try something new, it’s best to wait at least four days before offering another new type of food. This will let you see if your baby is going to have an allergic reaction or some other negative outcome from trying each new food item.
Maintaining Baby’s Feeding Needs
As your child begins to wean and shifts into his or her life as a self-feeding child eating solid foods and drinking cow’s milk, his or her nutritional needs are going to change. It’s important to keep up with everything that’s going on with your child as he or she works through the weaning process to help you better understand whether or not things are going smoothly. In this section, we’ll give you a quick rundown of the aspects of your baby’s feeding needs you should consider with every stage of the weaning process.
Keeping up with calories:
You might think your baby is a little too young to be worried about calories, but actually, as soon as your child starts the weaning process, it’s time to consider caloric intake. Chances are good your baby won’t be getting over his or her daily amount of calories at this stage, but it’s important to provide enough to keep your little one strong and healthy.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends serving one-year-old babies around 900 calories of food per day. These calories should come from the basic food groups but they can contain healthy fats, such as those found in avocados.
Up until weaning begins, your baby gets all of the vitamins he or she needs from breast milk. From this point onward, however, you’re going to need to think about providing healthy sources of vitamins, especially vitamins A, B, C, and E.
- Different types of foods offer different vitamins. Together, these vitamins will help your child’s eyes, brain, skin, muscles and every other part of his or her body to develop properly over time. Fruits and vegetables are some of the most common sources of these vitamins!
Other important nutrients:
Iron and Omega-3 fatty acids are going to start becoming important in your child’s diet as weaning progresses, especially beyond the first year of age. If your baby has been on breast milk instead of formula, you may need to start thinking about these nutrients sooner rather than later, as they aren’t present in significant levels in breast milk.
- Meat, fish, tofu, egg yolks, and beans are good sources of both, but none of these should be served to a child until he or she has reached the proper stage of weaning.
Increasing need for protein:
As your child grows into a toddler, he or she is going to become much more active, and this means your baby will need much more protein in his or her diet. Protein will help your child have energy and keep him or her healthy, too. This isn’t something you’ll be concerned with for the first stages of the weaning process, but it is something you’ll need to keep in mind from 12 months and onward.
- Meat is one of the best sources of protein, but it can also be found in some vegetables, beans, and tofu, as well as in cereals and other foods that have been fortified with protein.
Calcium helps bones grow:
While your baby is drinking breast milk (or formula), he or she is getting plenty of calcium. However, as you make the change to cow’s milk, it’s important to offer your child plenty of milk throughout the day to keep up with his or her calcium needs.
- As weaning progresses, you can start offering more calcium-rich foods for snacks and meals, too. These include cheese made from whole milk, yogurt made from whole milk, and cottage cheese, which is often a favorite among weaning little ones.
Do you have a better understanding of how to wean a baby off breast milk now? Hopefully, this article has answered some of your questions and dealt with some of the concerns you might have had about this process. Weaning may seem like something important is coming to an end, when in reality, it just means that your baby is learning how to develop his or her tastes and self-feeding experience while understanding more about different types of nutrition.
And weaning a baby from breast milk means you can learn more about these ideas, too! The more you think about your child’s meal plans and learn about how to prepare healthy foods for your little one, the more you’ll come to understand all the nutritional needs of your child every step of the way.
Learning when to wean baby from breast milk is really only the first step in the weaning process, and this is something that’s going to be a part of your life with your child for a long while yet. Although your bond with your child may be changing as he or she reaches the point of beginning the weaning process, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to be any less important when it comes to mealtimes. You’ll just need to learn as much as you can so that you can continue to provide a healthy experience for your little one.
Remember that you should always speak to your child’s pediatrician before you make any changes to his or her diet or lifestyle. Talk to your child’s doctor before you begin the weaning process and be sure to check in frequently throughout each stage to ensure that you’re providing adequate nutrition for your baby’s changing needs. Your child’s pediatrician knows your baby almost as well as you do and will have plenty of helpful information to educate you on the weaning process.
Good luck, and have fun with your child’s weaning experience!