AS a mother, choosing to breastfeed your baby is the best nutritional decision possible for your child. But somewhere on the breastfeeding journey, if not child-led, she may decide for several reasons to stop nursing before the child is naturally ready, which could be very emotional for both mother and child.
“Weaning is the introduction of solids to a baby who relied on breastmilk as its only source of food. The process, which is best when done gradually, usually starts with your baby's first spoon of food and ends with his or her last planned or unplanned feed from the breast,” paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith explained.
The general recommendation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Children's Fund is that a mother should breastfeed for at least one to two years. This may be done alongside complementary foods at around six months of age.
Very few mothers still follow this recommendation though, the most common reasons being because they have to go back to work or school. But Dr Griffith said that mothers should take great care to gradually replace breast milk with solids, especially when the child is not a willing participant, because while it may cause most mothers relief, if nursing ends suddenly it can be emotionally hard on the child causing them to be frustrated, angry and stressed.
“When the process is gradual weaning becomes much easier for mother and baby, both emotionally and physically. For example, the mother is less likely to suffer from breast engorgement and she too will be less stressed because she won't feel as guilty,” Dr Griffith reasoned.
To facilitate a much smoother weaning experience, Dr Griffith said mothers should follow these tips:
Explore ways to distract your child
Find something that your child is interested in that will be a good source of distraction when he or she wants to nurse. So, for example, you may want to time your child and just when it's his or her feeding time, offer your baby his or her favourite snacks, toy or even game. If you decide on offering a game you may want to give your baby the breast milk replacement that they are is most fond of.
Stop breastfeeding gradually
You should drop one breastfeeding session at a time. During this period feed your child liquids or solids appropriate for your baby's age. For best results, Dr Griffith said that the mother should choose a time in the day when the child will be less likely to miss being fed the breast. For example, for an active infant exploring, choose the time when he/she is actively moving around but is scheduled to be fed.
Offer a variety of options
In children six months and upwards you should offer a variety of foods especially since children get bored easily. Also, you may want to boost this by making sure your child has his/her bowl at family dinner time because they will be much more likely to mimic what they see others around them doing or eating.
Shorten your breastfeeding session
When you shorten or delay breastfeeding time what happens over time is that your child will begin to lose interest in the breast. Try to offer other foods to fill the gap and if the child is older and can ask for the breast, you may appease them by offering something they would enjoy when they ask to nurse.
Make mealtimes fun
For your infants and toddlers eating solids, you can stimulate a love for food by allowing your child to experiment with food. Make sure that foods are attractive and allow your child to relax and make a mess. This will create a positive association with foods.
One of the main reasons your child likes to nurse, outside of for nutritional purposes, is because they are seeking comfort. Therefore, snuggling up with your child to relax, read a book or play a little may make your child less interested in nursing.