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Weaning Your Baby

The What, When, How and Why of Weaning

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Updated April 22, 2014

Weaning Your Baby Photo © Anthony Saint James/Getty Images

What Is Weaning?

Weaning is a change from one type of food to another and is the term usually used to describe how an infant transitions from breastfeeding to either the bottle, a cup or solid food. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until your baby is six months old, and continuing to breastfeed along with the introduction of solid foods until your child’s first birthday. However, the decision about when to wean your baby is a personal one.

How To Wean From The Breast to A Bottle or A Cup

The best way to wean your baby from the breast to the bottle is gradually. Start by substituting one breastfeeding session a day with a bottle. As the days go on you can slowly introduce more bottles and start breastfeeding less. Replace daytime feedings first then change naptime and early morning. Bedtime is usually the hardest feeding for an infant to give up so it is usually the last one to be eliminated.

Infants develop the ability to drink from a cup at about 6 months of age. If your baby is over 6 months old you can decide to wean directly to a cup. You should wean to a cup the same way you would wean to a bottle.

If you decide to wean your baby before one year, you will need to give your baby pumped breast milk or infant formula. You can discuss with your doctor the best choice of formula for your baby. After one year, your baby will be able to digest whole milk.

Introducing Solid Foods

When your baby is 4 to 6 months old your doctor will advise you to begin solid foods. The introduction of solid foods into your baby’s diet may naturally assist the weaning process.

Iron fortified infant cereal is typically introduced first. Rice cereal is the most common choice since it is easily digested and the least likely to cause an allergic reaction. If cereal is well tolerated you can begin to introduce strained fruits and vegetables to your baby. Add new foods one at a time, every few days and check for food allergies each time you introduce something new.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has not found any evidence that delaying the introduction of fish, eggs or peanut products will prevent allergies. These foods may be added once your baby is tolerating solid foods after four to six months of age.

By 7 to 9 months, your baby can begin trying new textures, meats, mashed table food and finger foods. Avoid nuts, grapes and small food items that can be a choking hazard to infants, and do not give honey, or whole milk until after your baby’s first birthday.


Order of Introduction of Solid Foods
  • Iron Fortified Infant Cereal
  • Strained Fruits and Vegetables
  • Meats and Fruit Juices
  • Finger Foods
  • Textured Foods/ Table Foods

When to Wean

Deciding when to wean your baby is really up to you. While some women begin weaning right away to prepare to go back to work, others may wait until their children are toddlers to fully wean them. Sometimes the timing is chosen by a mom, and other times the baby will lead the process.

Children are all different and each one tolerates weaning in his or her own way. Some infants will accept weaning easily. They may enjoy trying new foods from a spoon and learning to use a cup. Some infants will be very reluctant to stop breastfeeding and refuse the bottle or any other form of feeding. It can be an easy transition or a very difficult experience.

Ways to Make Weaning Easier

If you are wondering how to wean your child from the breast, here are some tips:

  • Be patient and take a gradual approach if possible.
  • Allow your partner or other caregiver to give a bottle. The baby may be more likely to take a bottle from someone else.
  • Some babies will become more distracted and ready to wean at about six to nine months of age. The addition of solid foods at this time is also helpful.
  • Introduce a comfort object to your baby. A blanket or stuffed toy may be soothing during this time of transition.
  • Spend time rocking, cuddling and playing with your baby to replace the special time you shared breastfeeding.
  • Keep in mind that as a child gets older weaning may become more difficult. A toddler may be much more reluctant to give up breastfeeding.

Growth and Development

Weaning is an important milestone in your baby's development. Infants will naturally reach for the bottle or the spoon and try to explore foods with their hands and mouth. You should encourage your baby to hold the spoon or try to pick up finger foods. It can be a messy experience but by supporting this natural learning process you are helping your baby master early fine motor skills.

Reasons to Delay Weaning
  • If you have a family history of food allergies talk to your pediatrician.
  • If it is a very stressful time for your family such as when you are going back to work or you are moving, you should wait to wean if possible.
  • If your child is sick, it is better to wait until he or she is feeling better.

Weaning is a major transition which can be a great source of anxiety for infants and mothers. The decision to wean can be emotional for you and your baby. It can be quick and easy or it can take months to complete, but with time and patience you can successfully wean your baby.

 

Sources:

Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Timing of Introduction of Complementary Foods, and Hydrolyzed Formulas. Frank R. Greer, MD, Scott H. Sicherer, MD, A. Wesley Burks, MD, and the Committee on Nutrition and Section on Allergy and Immunology.Pediatrics 2008; 121: 183-191.

Jackson, Debra Broadwell, PhD., RN, Saunders, Rebecca B., PhD, RNC. Child Health Nursing. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1993.

Johnson, Robert V., MD. Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1994.

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