It is a common struggle among mothers when it comes to weaning their child from breast milk. Some mothers may want to wean because she is returning to work, needs to get enough sleep throughout the night, or so that their child can be exposed to other foods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding babies only breast milk for the first 6 months of life. After the first 6 months, the AAP recommends a combination of solid foods and breast milk until the baby is at least 1 year old. After the first year of life, babies may begin drinking whole cow’s milk.
When should I wean my baby off breast milk?
There is no rule as to when you should wean your child off breast milk, and most experts agree that you should breastfeed your child if it suits both of you.
However, the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers breastfeed for the first two years of the child’s life. Breastfeeding for an extended period of time is also a good and healthy option. While mothers can breastfeed for as long as they want, most mothers should want to wean their child off breast milk after the age of 3. However, many struggle to do so as their child is overly attached to latching onto the mother’s breast and the taste of the breast milk.
Hence, below are some tips that mothers can adopt to wean their child off breast milk.
1. Wean your child off breast milk gradually
Weaning your child off breast milk gradually is the golden rule that mothers should adopt, so as to ease your child into the change and also protect your breasts from engorgement. For a start, you can choose to wean during the day and breastfeed only at night, depending on your work situation and schedule. Working mothers can drop the afternoon feeding.
2. Give your child the bottle or cup
You can ease the change for your child slowly by giving him or her pumped breast milk in a cup or bottle. Try putting a few drops of breast milk on his or her mouth and encourage him or her to drink from the cup or bottle. After your child manages to use the bottle, slowly transition to using the cup.
If your child has an older sibling or cousin, tell him or her that he or she is no longer a baby and just like them, he or she should start using the cup and stop feeding from the breast or bottle. Reasoning with your child like he or she is an adult is crucial. Once your child understands the reason why he or she cannot take milk from the breast or use the feeding bottle anymore, even if your child is sad or angry, there will be no reason for him or her to kick up a fuss. This is when soothing your child's emotions will come into play. Keep assuring your child that you understand and respect his or her emotions but he or she is to be a brave, obedient and matured child. Children who are old enough to understand your words would understand your explanations.
Keep in mind that positive encouragement is the key. Praise your child for being able to use the cup the first few times when he or she successfully uses it without any fuss. You can also buy a cup with your child’s favourite cartoon on it to encourage him or her to use it. After your child is used to the new way of drinking, slowly change up the breast milk for formula milk.
3. Give your child three meals of solid food a day, with snacks
It is hard to wean a toddler off from milk because they are attached to the taste of the milk and the comfort of latching onto the mother’s breast. It would be helpful to give your child three meals of solid food a day, with snacks, to keep him or her full enough to not want breast milk.
In order to make them opt for these alternative foods over breast milk, introduce a wide variety of interesting and delicious foods such as applesauce (unsweetened), fruits, steam cakes and sweet potato cubes. You can appeal to their sight and smell by making the aromatic dishes yourself in the kitchen and allowing them to smell it from the living room. You can even make the appearance of the foods appealing and use cute cutlery.
You may also grow their interest towards the foods by letting them participate in the food preparation process. They may be too young to be of any help, but you can give them simple tasks such as pouring water into the mixture, mixing in the flour, rolling a dough or washing vegetables. This will increase their knowledge and interest towards ingredients such as different types of fruits or meat and what goes into the food on their plate. You can link this to their knowledge of animals and plants, and even characters in storybooks to make meals and eating interesting for them.
4. Shorten nursing time
Shorten the time that your child usually nurses. If he or she takes ten minutes at first, shorten to five minutes and give him or her a snack after that.
However, bedtime feedings are harder to shorten and requires more soothing and reasoning. Substitute with formula milk if needed.
5. Prepare your child for the change
Find time to explain to your little one and tell him or her that breast feeding will stop by a certain day. Reason with him or her why that is so and get your child to promise you that he or she would not kick up a fuss when that day comes. Just like adults, children would need mental preparation for a change too. Having made a promise, your child will feel the need to be responsible to abide by it just like he or she wishes you to abide by your promise. Even though your child will whine, he or she will know that it is a promise and give in to the situation. Your child will take the milk in a bottle or cup at first and may be miserable at the same time, but he or she will get over it in no time and be fine with drinking from the cup or bottle subsequently.
6. Substitute your feeding time with play time or an outing
If cooing and soothing does not work or calm your child down, schedule an outing during feeding time to distract him or her. Your child would probably be too excited to notice it is feeding time. If your child is hungry, give him or her a snack instead.
7. Give your child an alternative comfort such as more cuddle sessions
Latching is a form of comfort and security for your child that he or she is unwilling to let go of. Hence, you can substitute breastfeeding time with cuddle sessions to make him or her feel loved and a sense of comfort. You can also sooth your child by singing softly or reading storybooks to him or her. If you cannot be there constantly, it would be good to give him or her a soft toy or his or her favourite blanket.
8. Wean your child at the right time
Avoid weaning your child when he or she is going through a change such as beginning childcare or during teething.
9. Postpone the feedings
If your child wants to nurse in the early evening, tell him that he will get it during bedtime. Postpone the feeds as much as you can and give your child other healthy snacks or formula milk instead.