What is Weaning, Exactly?
For most mammals, weaning means that an infant begins consuming food other than mother’s milk. For humans, this could mean that the baby begins drinking formula or eats more solids than breast milk.
Weaning doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to stop breastfeeding. The process may happen gradually, over the course of several months. Weaning could also be a quick experience, especially if you’re dealing with extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, a baby who goes on a nursing strike needs an alternative source of food or a mother needs to stop breastfeeding because she is taking a particular medication.
If you wean your baby gradually, you can continue to offer the breast. Babies typically reduce the number of nursing sessions that they’re interested in. They begin nursing less and doing other things, like playing and eating solids, more. Eventually, they stop nursing altogether and rely on alternatives, such as solids and formula, for sustenance.
If you let the process happen naturally, your baby will let you know that it’s time to wean.
It’s important to note that children that show signs of weaning and interest in solid foods at six months still need adequate nutrition, and solid foods don’t offer enough at this age. Experts recommend that you continue to offer breast milk or formula until a child is at least 1 year old.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to weaning as stopping breastfeeding. This is a natural developmental stage for babies, but it can be emotional for parents to watch their children become more independent.
Signs Your Baby is Ready to Wean From Breastfeeding
You don’t have to follow a particular formula when it comes to weaning. Infant-led weaning involves observing your infant’s cues and weaning at their pace. Weaning your infant when they’re showing signs of interest in weaning may make for a smoother transition than eliminating breastfeeding abruptly.
1. Your Baby Breastfeeds Less Often
Many children self-wean as they become more interested in exploring the world around them. They may not come around to nurse as frequently as they used to. As they eat more solid foods, their bellies may be too full for their regular nursing sessions. Self-weaning usually doesn’t happen before a child is 12 months old, though.
2. Your Milk Supply Decreases
There are many reasons that your milk supply could dwindle. A diminishing supply doesn’t always mean that it’s time to wean.
Your body makes breastmilk on a supply-and-demand basis. When your infant suckles on your nipple, it tells your body to produce more milk. If your little one nurses less frequently, your body will make less milk. This is how gradual weaning occurs naturally.
But other factors may cause your milk supply to drop. Some medications, illness, dehydration and latching difficulties can reduce your supply. If your supply is dropping before your infant is 6 months old, you might want to contact a lactation consultant.
3. They Lose Interest
Infants nurse for comfort as much as nutrition. After they’re 12 months old and are eating other sources of nutrients, they may just be nursing for the snuggle factor. If this is the case, they might become distracted when they’re nursing. If breastfeeding sessions are interrupted with lots of breaks to go check out the environment, your little one might be ready to give up those sessions altogether.
4. They Want to Drink From a Cup
Babies as young as 6 months old can learn to drink from a cup. As little ones learn to drink from sources other than nipples, like sippy cups, they begin the process of weaning. They may ask for the cup more frequently as the weaning process continues.
5. They Can Feed Themselves
As little ones learn to feed themselves, they begin eating more well-rounded meals. The additional nutrients begin to substitute for some of the vitamins and minerals in breast milk. Still, breast milk changes in composition as your little one grows. It adjusts to suit their dietary needs, and it’s nutritionally beneficial long after your child turns one. But as children learn to feed themselves, they may not want breast milk as often.
6. They Feel Secure
Attachment theory says that the way that we develop attachments to parental figures and others affects our personalities. Little ones that feel secure may be more likely to wean earlier than anxious or clingy kids. Those that need some extra emotional support may seek it out by breastfeeding. If you’re trying to wean and your child seems especially needy, make sure that you’re still giving them plenty of comfort, affection and cuddles.
7. They Say No
Older children who can decide between a glass of water or a nursing session can tell you what they’re interested in. Younger children who can’t communicate with words may bite the nipple or push you away.
But don’t confuse a nursing strike with a willingness to wean. Sometimes, an ear infection, belly ache or other physical condition can make a little one reluctant to nurse. If they’re younger than 12 months old and you still want to breastfeed, consult with a lactation professional.
If you’re ready to wean, however, this might be the ideal time to introduce a bottle of high-quality formula. At Tastyganics, we offer organic European formula so that you know that you’re giving your baby the best.