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Weaning Your Child

Pediatrics and Child Health
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Weaning is the process by which your baby transitions from breastfeeding to other sources of nutrition. This is a big change for mothers as well as babies and precipitates many physical and emotional changes in both. Essentially, your child is moving into a new stage of development, and thus, it’s important for everyone considered that you choose the time when this transition will go smoothest for you and your baby. If you think either you or your child may be ready to wean, then here are some things to keep in mind.

When’s the Best Time to Wean?

Weaning is one of those parenting decisions where there’s really no right or wrong answer. So much depends on the mother and the child, and when one or the other is ready. Sometimes a baby will just lose interest in the breast or become easily distracted when nursing. This often follows a major milestone, such as walking, that grants that child much more freedom to explore. Other times, a change in the household may necessitate a mother weaning due to other responsibilities, such as a new job or new pregnancy. Sometimes, either the mother or child is just ready to wean, and in other situations, both mother and child are content to continue breastfeeding well past the first year.

Experts have varying opinions on the most ideal time to wean. Some believe around the end of the first year is best because children at that age are more adaptable to change. Other experts think the longer, the better. Usually, this is an individual choice best left to each individual mother, her partner, and her doctor.

Approaches to Weaning

Many mothers opt to wean all at once, taking a weekend away from their child in order to break the nursing cycle, and for many, this has been an effective approach. But many experts agree that weaning is best done gradually, for both physical and emotional reasons. Physically, this will give a child more time to adjust to other food sources and prevent engorgement (a painful condition when the breast is overfilled with milk) in the mother. Emotionally, this will give both mother and child the time necessary to adjust, as this is a major transition that often results in mixed emotions for both. One recommended approach to gradual weaning is to drop one feeding a week. This way, you can work up to a full weaning, stopping wherever you want and allowing the process to take however long you want. For instance, you may want to keep a nursing session or two a day, perhaps just in the early morning or right before bed, or you may want to stop altogether. For those mothers who really aren’t in a hurry, another recommended weaning approach is to leave the decision entirely up to the child, allowing them to wean themselves. Usually, as more solid foods become involved in a child’s daily round, that child will choose to nurse less and less. Keep in mind, though, that this may entail a longer period of nursing, as some kids will continue to occasionally nurse for comfort, even after all nutritional needs are being met.

Once you begin the process of weaning, finding other ways to bond and connect with your child will ease the transition for everyone. If there are major changes happening in your child’s life (such as a new sibling, caregiver change, or family move), then delay weaning until things are stable again. Of course, when in doubt, consult your pediatrician to see what he or she recommends.

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