When I had my firstborn, I had no idea what to expect as far as breastfeeding and weaning. I only knew I didn’t want to give formula – which meant my goal for nursing was twelve months. Somewhere along the way I realized that breastfeeding was about so much more than nutrition and it was also a wonderful way of mothering.
I loved the closeness we shared, the bond we forged, and the fleeting moments I could steal away with my little girl every day when she was hungry and needed my milk. Being a new mom and not having experience, I listened to everyone’s advice and tried to introduce her to food around the six month mark.
We started with avocado, banana, plain yogurt…and she didn’t care about any of it. All she wanted was her mama’s milk. A month went by and I tried again. . . with no luck. Others advised me to keep trying. . . one mom even said if she didn’t learn how to eat now she never would! This seemed ridiculous and, thankfully, I decided to just go with her cues rather than what everyone advised.
Now that I’ve been through this with three kids, and starting with my fourth, I thought I’d share my “Top 5” list of things I’ve learning about weaning.
- Weaning begins from the first time you give something other than your milk.
But this doesn’t mean that your breastfeeding relationship also has to end right then. Even though babies begin to show an interest in food somewhere around the 6 month mark and can begin to eat complementary foods alongside nursing, breast milk should continue to be the primary nutrition for the first year of a baby’s life. When I first heard that starting solids was the definition of weaning I was so sad! I loved nursing and didn’t want to stop. Thankfully, weaning doesn’t have to go quickly.
- Weaning can (and should) take years.
The World Health Organization says that babies should be breastfed for up to two years or beyond. Now that’s not what we typically hear or see in the western world. . . but it’s what is best for both mom and baby! We know that breast milk continues to impart nutrition and living enzymes for as long as a baby nurses.And we know that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her chances for developing breast cancer. Of course, there are MANY more health benefits for mom and baby, not to mention the ease in mothering to be able to scoop your toddler in your arms after a fall, a fight, or just for fun and nurse him. Allowing your baby to wean gradually and slowly is best for both mother and baby.
- Baby-led weaning is pretty easy.
With baby-led weaning there’s no making separate meals, spoon feeding, or extra effort in the kitchen. Your baby joins you at the table and eats (or plays as he learns to eat!) foods that you are already serving. And it allows breast milk to continue to be his primary nutrition throughout the first year of life.My preemie twins were a different story. It was around 8 months that I remember feeling like a cow! Whereas the boys had been nursing 6-8 times a day they both increased to 12-15 times. Each. Developmentally they didn’t act ready for food (they could barely sit up unsupported, didn’t have teeth, couldn’t pinch food with their fingers, and didn’t act terribly interested in our food when we ate).Reluctantly, though, I gave them some plain yogurt and, to my surprise, one of the boys ate the entire bowl – the first time he ever tasted food! His little tongue knew exactly what to do with food. . . and he enjoyed it too! It was a lot of work feeding my boys. And sometimes spoon feeding is necessary. But, in a healthy, full-term baby, I have found baby-led weaning is the way to go.
- It’s messy.
No matter the age when they start feeding themselves, there will be a mess. Some argue that spoon feeding saves them from cleaning up a big mess. I agree. But at some point your baby will have to learn to feed himself and there will be a mess.
- It’s a new phase.
I need to tell myself this every day. I’m one of those moms who absolutely loves nursing my babies and never wants it to end. Yet, it’s a good thing my milk has helped them grow and now they’re ready to eat. It’s exciting to think of this next adventure in their little lives. And, rather than mourning a loss, it should be a time to celebrate a gift and enjoy what’s to come in the next stage.