Weaning is the replacement of bottle or breast feedings (nipple feedings) with drinking from a cup and eating solid foods. Weaning occurs easily and smoothly unless the breast or bottle has become overly important to the child.
How To Prevent Weaning Problems
Children normally develop a reduced interest in breast and bottle feedings between 6 and 12 months of age if they are also taking cup and spoon feedings. If a child hasn’t weaned by the age of 12 to 18 months, the parent often has to initiate it, but the child is still receptive. After 18 months of age, the child usually resists weaning because he has become too attached to the breast or bottle. If your child shows a lack of interest in the breast or bottle at any time after 6 months of age, start to phase out these nipple feedings.
You can tell that your baby is ready to begin weaning when he throws the bottle down, takes only a few ounces of milk and then stops, chews on the nipple rather than sucking it, refuses the breast, or nurses for only a few minutes and then wants to play. The following steps encourage early natural weaning at 9 to 12 months:
- Keep formula feedings to 4 times per day or fewer after your child reaches 6 months of age. Some breast-fed babies may need 5 feedings per day until 9 months of age. Even at birth, feedings should be kept to 8 times daily or fewer.
- Give older infants their daytime milk during meals with solids. Once your child is having just 4 milk feedings each day, be sure 3 of them are given at mealtime with solids rather than as part of the ritual before naps. Your child can have the fourth feeding before going to bed at night.
- After your baby is 4 to 6 weeks old and breast feeding is well established, offer a bottle of expressed breast milk or water daily. This experience will help your baby become accustomed to a bottle so that you can occasionally leave him with a sitter. This step is especially important if you will be returning to work or school. The longer after 2 months you wait to introduce the bottle, the more strongly your infant will initially reject it. If you wait until 4 months of age, the transition period may take up to 1 week. Once bottle feedings are accepted, you will need to continue them at least 3 times weekly.
- Hold your child for discomfort or stress instead of nursing him. You can comfort your child and foster a strong sense of security and trust without nursing every time he is upset. If you always nurse your child in such situations, your child will learn to eat whenever upset. He will also be unable to separate being held from nursing, and you may become an “indispensable mother.”
- Don’t let the bottle or breast substitute for a pacifier. Learn to recognize when your baby needs non-nutritive sucking. At these times, instead of offering your child food, encourage him to suck on a pacifier or thumb. Feeding your baby every time he needs to suck can lead to obesity.
- Don’t let the bottle or breast become a security object at bedtime. Your child should be able to go to sleep at night without having a breast or bottle in his mouth. He needs to learn how to put himself to sleep. If he doesn’t, he will develop sleep problems that require the parents’ presence during the night.
- Don’t let a bottle become a daytime toy. Don’t let your child carry a bottle around as a companion during the day. This habit may keep him from engaging in more stimulating activities.
- Don’t let your child hold the bottle or take it to bed. Your child should think of the bottle as something that belongs to you; hence, he won’t protest giving it up, since it never belonged to him in the first place.
- Offer your child formula or breast milk in a cup by 6 months of age. For the first few months your child will probably accept the cup only after he has drunk some from the bottle or breast. However, by 9 months of age your child should be offered some formula or breast milk from a cup before breast or bottle feedings.
- Help your baby become interested in foods other than milk by 4 months of age. Introduce solids with a spoon by 4 months of age to formula-fed babies and by 6 months to breast-fed infants. Introduce finger foods between 8 and 10 months of age, when he develops a pincer grip. As soon as your child is able to eat finger foods, include him at the table with the family during mealtime. He will probably become interested in the foods that he sees you eating and will ask for them. Consequently, his interest in exclusive milk feedings will diminish.