How to Wean off a Breastfeeding Baby to a Full Diet of Food
Around the age six months, a baby will be ready to start trying solid foods. And by solid, I mean soft and mushy foods. Around this time you may notice that your baby seems hungrier, demands more feedings than usual or wakes up hungry at night when she previously used to sleep. These are all good signs that your baby is ready to start trying solid foods.
Nutritionists and physicians usually recommend breastfeeding until one year, but even past that age it is beneficial for baby to continue to breastfeed. Around the six month mark, a baby's iron store is depeleted so it's important to make sure your baby is eating iron-rich foods.
To wean your baby, you will gradually begin decreasing your baby's milk feedings and replacing them with solid foods. Weaning your baby gradually will help baby adjust to the new foods and the reduced milk feedings at the same time.
Even after weaned from breastfeeding, your baby will still crave the closeness that comes from milk feedings, so be prepared to give lots of hugs and cuddles.
When Do Babies Start Eating Solid Food?
Usually around the age six months babies are ready to start trying solid foods. If you are unsure if your baby is ready, or if you feel your baby is ready sooner, talk to your pediatrician.
You'll want to space each new food introduction about a week apart. This will give your baby's digestive system time to adjust. This time spacing between introducing new foods is also important to help identify any reactions or food allergies.
Slowly Reduce Milk Feedings
The most natural approach to weaning is commonly called "don't offer, don't refuse." This weaning technique is the most gentle, but also takes the longest. This technique simply involves not offering the breast to your baby while also not refusing it when your baby asks for it. Eventually, when your baby is ready, the feedings will reduce to a minimum.
More than likely you have already established a feeding routine with your baby. Another technique to weaning your baby is to slowly eliminate milk feedings and replacing them with solid foods. If your baby is breastfeeding only, your feeding schedule probably looks something like baby eating every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times a day. You can reduce one feeding about once a week, though you may wish to do it slower if you choose. This technique allows for both you and your baby to adjust to the new routine. Slowly reducing feedings will also gradually decrease your milk production and therefore prevent breast pain and discomfort while weaning.
Usually it's the in-between feedings that go first, which means typically the morning, nap and nighttime feedings go last. Try elminitating your first feeding around lunch time. This time seems to work best for most families.
Here is a sample weaning schedule:
- Try eliminating the in-between feeding first. For example:
- Week 1: Instead of feeding wake up-milk-milk-milk-nap, try wake up-milk-solids-milk-nap.
- Week 2: Try eliminating another in-between feeding in the evening. So instead of milk-nap-milk-play-milk-milk-bedtime, try milk-nap-milk-play-solids-milk-bedtime. So during week 2 you will be giving your baby solid foods twice.
- Continue eliminating feedings as long as you and your baby are comfortable. If you notice that your baby becomes cranky or is teething, slow the weaning process down a bit and give your baby a break.
Continue eliminating milk feedings slowly, week by week. The idea is to follow your baby's lead and to eliminate you and your baby's favorite feedings last. Nighttime or bedtime feedings will probably be the last to go.
Introducing Solid Foods
You want to introduce solid foods to your baby one new food at a time, about 3-7 days apart. You may want to keep a log of the foods your baby eats when you start introducing solids. This will help you identify reactions or allergies to certain foods if they crop up. Otherwise, it can be more complicated to identify the culprit.
Below is a chart outlining baby's first foods and signs that your baby is ready for the next step in solid foods. The least allergenic and easiest to digest foods are listed first. As your baby grows and his appetite grows, so will the variety of foods you can begin to feed him.
At this point, I also want to point out that healthy fats are very important to your child's rapid growth and development. Choose full-fat dairy products and be sure to feed your baby foods that are high in healthy fats such as egg yolks and avocado.
For your baby's very first foods, mix the food with breast milk for a smoother consistency. If you feed your baby rice cereal, use breast milk as the liquid. Not only is it super healhty for you baby, but your baby will likely be more willing to accept the solid foods if they have a flavor similar to the milk that they are used to.
Some notes about introducing solid foods:
- Around the time when you begin to introduce solid foods, your baby may begin to mouth chokable food and objects. Please keep small objects out of reach and always supervise your child while eating.
- Baby and toddler eating patterns may be erratic, so don't force your baby to eat if she's not interested. Some days your baby may want to eat all day while others it may seems she's hardly eaten. Follow her lead and when she is hungry, she will eat.
- Act excited and interested in your food. This will get baby's attention and make him want to particpate as well.
- Infant feeding is time consuming. There is a lot of exploring and playing between bites in addition to the time it takes baby to learn to chew, move food around and swallow. Feed your baby during times when you are not in a hurry.
- Try to remember how much your baby is learning when playing with her food. When it's feeding time for baby, expect a mess. But through all the mess-making, baby is learning about tastes, touches, smells and textures.
- Always chop your baby's food into bite-size pieces that can be easily swallowed and that are not big enough to choke on.
Some Final Tips to Wean Your Baby from Breastfeeding
- Weaning gradually is best for you and for baby.
- Give your baby's digestive system time to adjust to the food each time before you introduce a new one. If you notice your baby is constipated after starting solids, give you baby some extra time with the foods you've already started before introducing new ones.
- Try making your baby food at home. It's super healthy and easy to make your own baby food. There are a lot of great resources, like the book listed to the right, for recipes and baby food-making how-to's.
- Both you and your baby are unique. Follow your instincts. Moms know their baby best.
- Allow plenty of time for feedings and be patient.
- Have fun!