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Gentle ways of weaning from breastfeeding
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Gentle ways of weaning from breastfeeding

Experts recommend natural and gradual weaning for babies after six months of exclusive breastfeeding as proceeding harshly or too fast can stress the child

 

Weaning from breastfeedingWeaning a baby from the breast can be emotionally draining for the child and mother alike. Mangalore-based Mohini P (30) tells Happiest Health that just when her baby turned a year old, she decided to wean the nighttime feeds. She explains, “It was a gradual process. From five feeds, I reduced it to four.” Replacing breastmilk with complementary feed was initially difficult, but the family encouraged the child to have her nightly meals with others at the dining table and her meal time was changed accordingly. After a few days of colic crying, Mohini was able to wean her baby across two weeks. Dr Gayatri Deshpande, senior consultant, obstetrician and gynecologist at Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, shares, “Parents can find it challenging to practice weaning at night as compared to daytime. However, it is achievable with gentle handling.”

What is the best time to stop breastfeeding?

Exclusive breastfeeding is highly beneficial for the mother and the baby. However, after one year, weaning is encouraged. Dr Deshpande clarifies, “Do not abruptly halt breastfeeding. Instead, gradually include nutritious complementary food for the child.”

Apart from breastmilk supply, the mother’s availability is a key factor in determining the onset of weaning, opines Prachi Omkar Shetye, lactation consultant, Somerset Clinic, Medeor Hospital, Dubai. “While some kids are weaned in a fortnight, others can take three to four weeks. Hence, mothers should plan to stop breastfeeding at least a month in advance. Working women typically start weaning in three months of childbirth,” she adds. 

Natural weaning methods

When it comes to weaning methods, no one approach works for everyone. Experts recommend that parents choose natural, gentle and gradual techniques to minimize the child’s discomfort.

Include complementary food: If your baby takes a liking to complementary food such as ragi porridge, watery dal, mashed fruits and starchy rice are signs that baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding. Introducing semi-solids can reduce the child’s demand for breastmilk as they feel full, says Dr Deshpande.

Mohini began the weaning process by offering her child’s favorite meal at night. “This kept her full and happy until bedtime,” she shares. However, while preparing meals for the little ones, remember to avoid added salt or sugar until the child is two years old.

Choose healthier alternatives: When babies are taken off of breastmilk, especially at the tender age of three to six months, they might be deprived of a nutritious and complete meal, rich in antibodies. Besides, in the mothers, it increases the chances of breast pain caused by engorgement. While time constraints can hinder exclusive breastfeeding, experts discourage formula milk. Instead, they recommend expressing breast milk using a breast pump, which helps avoid breast pain in the mother. This breastmilk can be safely stored and provided to babies as required. While feeding bottles might seem like an easy way in which expressed breastmilk can be provided to children, doctors suggest using alternatives like Paladai, a feeding cup-like bowl with a beak-shaped tip. 

Reduce the number of feeds: “Tapering breastfeeding helps,” shares Shetye. One can start weaning during the day as the child is more playful and easily distracted. Weaning is best done gradually. She suggests allowing the baby to adjust after every feed is reduced and before cutting down further on breastfeeding sessions. Also, one should not lessen the number of morning and night feeds at the same time.

Increase the gap between feeds: Replacing nipples with feeding cups can increase the gaps between each feed. “When you feed stored breastmilk to your child, they are likely to drink more of it than while breastfeeding This is beneficial for nighttime feeds as the child will stay full for four or five hours,” suggests Shetye.

Distract the child: Cuddling, talking, and engaging the child in playful activities can distract them from the need to suckle. Shetye recommends this technique for working mothers as it helps tackle separation anxiety in babies and strengthens the mother-child bond.

Change the routine: Altering the child’s food timings and feeding them just before bedtime can help the child feel fuller. This naturally reduces the need for breastmilk.

Weaning-induced stress

Weaning induces stress and separation anxiety in the child, which can be emotionally draining if the techniques adopted are abrupt, harsh or prolonged. “Infants might aggressively suckle at night during weaning. Breastfeeding at night can help them overcome separation anxiety,” advises Shetye.

In some cases, the fear of separation can cause babies to gulp excess milk or feed in haste, cautions Shetye. She advises mothers to hold the child upright for about 10-15 minutes in such cases. Also, one must ensure the child burps or vomits the excess, and falls asleep only when they look comfortable, she adds. 

What precautions should you follow while weaning?

Dr Deshpande strictly advises against stopping breastfeeding abruptly or using harsh methods like making the child taste bitter neem oil or distancing the mother and child. Gradual, gentle methods should be used in weaning. It does more harm and no good.

Weaning must be a gentle and gradual process to help the child outgrow the oral pleasure of suckling. Every stage must reassure and comfort the child rather than cause discomfort.

Takeaways

  • In the initial phase, exclusive breastfeeding is beneficial to the mother and child. However, once weaning is required, care should be taken to ensure that it is done slowly and gently.
  • Recommended methods include dropping down one feed at a time, cuddling, complementary feeding and changing the feeding routine.
  • If the child is weaning during the daytime, he/she is likely to suckle more at night.
  • One must not adopt harsh and abrupt methods of weaning. This increases stress in the child and can be emotionally draining, too.

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