Weaning Your Baby: How to Start to Introduce Food
Weaning your baby is a crucial experience in your child's life. The process must be carried out with patience and bearing in mind that they could reject new foods, at least initially.
Weaning your baby is the time of a baby’s life when they stop feeding on breast milk. This step can occur at different ages, and each family will start the process in different ways and at different times. However it’s done, it should be a gradual experience, carried out with love.
Biological, social, and cultural aspects influence the how and when of the process. Science hasn’t established the best time for weaning to take place, nor the best way to do it. What we do know is that exclusive breastfeeding (if possible) is very necessary up to 6 months of age. However, the World Health Organization believes that it shouldn’t be continued after a child’s second birthday.
Each culture differs when it comes to weaning habits.
In Inuit culture, for example, breastfeeding is practiced until about the age of 7. In Western cultures, on the other hand, such prolonged breastfeeding is not at all common. When and how to end it is a decision that has to do with different social factors and, of course, with each mother and her baby.
However, international bodies do agree that breastfeeding shouldn’t go beyond two years of age. Also, they recommend that, up to the age of 6 months, the child should exclusively receive breast milk, as the liquid has all the necessary nutrients for this stage of their lives.
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Weaning your baby can be carried out in several different ways. Sometimes the mother has no choice, due to medical reasons or other reasons that prevents any further breastfeeding, like prolonged mother-baby separation or infectious diseases.
Voluntary weaning is when either the child or the mother decides that the time has come to stop breastfeeding. If it’s the child’s “decision,” then they may simply lose interest and not want to continue – this may occur suddenly or gradually.
The mother may also decide that the time is right to stop breastfeeding either for personal or work reasons.
We should point out here that the baby may express displeasure if the mother decides to wean them off breast milk. If it isn’t the child’s initiative, then this can often occur. It’s a process that involves effort and we recommend that you carry it out gradually with a lot of patience.
The point at which a child starts to have solid food – and what that food should consist of – are ideas that have changed over time. In general, pediatricians recommend that your baby starts to eat solids when he or she can hold their head up and open their mouth when they notice food coming. This usually happens between 4 and 6 months of age.
A baby who hasn’t eaten solids before may have difficulty eating them or even refuse their first few meals. Therefore, it’s a good idea to give them half a spoonful at a time. This will help them move the food from the front of the mouth towards the throat.
If you like, you can give them a few spoonfuls of breast milk before a meal so that the food doesn’t taste so strange to them.
It’s not good to force your baby to eat. Instead, a great idea is to use songs and games to help them to learn to eat on a gradual basis. If you think they haven’t eaten enough, then you can always offer them some breast milk or bottle feed them.
There are two ways to introduce the first solid foods into your baby’s diet. The first is the traditional way, which includes baby food at first, and then foods with other textures. The second is the one that’s self-regulated by the baby, in which the parent allows them to take pieces of food with their hands, put them in their mouths, and taste them, to adapt to solid food gradually.
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Weaning your baby should be progressive. This process of stopping breast milk as the baby’s main source of food isn’t the same for all babies. Under 12 months of age, the mother will gradually reduce the number of feedings, while with those who are older than a year, parents tend to use distractions, such as playing games or going out for a walk.
We recommend that you never give your child a straight “no” when they want to feed. You can tell them that they can feed when they get home, or distract them with a toy to try to make them forget their desire to feed for a while. When your child can understand, then you can start to “negotiate” and tell them that breast milk is only for bedtime, for example.
It’s important to keep in mind that weaning your baby shouldn’t start at certain crucial times in their life. For example, don’t do it when they’ve just started daycare, if you’ve recently moved house, or if you’re about to welcome a new child into the family. Nor should you do it during so-called growth spurts.
You need to remember that weaning is a stressful time for the child. Because of this, it’s a good idea to spend more time with them to compensate for withdrawing the breastfeeding.