Breastmilk is packed with nutrients that encourage a healthy immune system and ensures that the baby is protected from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), middle ear infections, diabetes; and decreases the risk of developing psychological disorders, asthma, eczema, etc. Breastfeeding also has a positive effect on the mother; it reduces the chances of breast and ovarian cancer, reduces uterine bleeding after birth, burns extra calories, etc.
World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months; after that, complementary feeding is to be introduced. Breastfeeding should however continue till at least one year of age. After that, if the baby and mother both mutually chose to continue, breastfeeding can be continued for up to two years of the baby’s age! But if you want to wean off your child, here are some steps of doing it.
1) The transition to weaning may be easier if you first introduce your baby to a cup instead of a bottle. Breastfed babies easily learn to drink from a cup, as early as six months of age (try with expressed breast milk).
2) Get your partner or other family members to start feeding the child from a cup or bottle.
3) Substituting one feed, the least ‘favorite’ one of the day; someone else may need to offer this feed for your baby to accept it. When you’re ready to wean even more, substitute the next least favored feed at the opposite time of the day. Continue this way, substituting one feed at a time. The pace of weaning is up to you and your baby, but in general, the slower the better. Wait at least a few days in between each new feed before substituting another one.
4) Watch the cues you give to your baby. e.g. If you sit in the same chair you usually use when you’re nursing, he’ll likely want to breastfeed. He probably won’t be satisfied with a cup or a cuddle.
5) Introduce the child to new solids that may gain his or her attention, helping build taste. Try to offer the food just before you expect that the child may demand the breast.
6) Don’t cradle your toddler in your arms; use a different position to hold your child.
7) Avoid putting your baby to sleep, leave that responsibility to your partner or other family member.
8) Take your child with you to buy new cups and let them know it’s because she’s a big boy/girl now. Explain that breast milk is only for babies, and that she is no longer a baby.
9) Give as many hugs and kisses as you can without breastfeeding; that child needs to know that you love them.
10) Use other ways to comfort your baby, like playing games or distracting him/ her with toys. You may sing to comfort your baby when craving for breastmilk; bedtime stories also help.
How To Take Care of Yourself While Weaning
1) If your breasts are uncomfortable while you are weaning, try expressing enough milk so that you are comfortable
2) Over-the-counter medications like Acetaminophen or iBuprofen can also help
3) Cold compresses or gel packs applied to your breasts can also bring comfort
4) You shouldn’t bind your breasts or drink less fluids while you’re weaning
5) Check your breasts regularly to make sure you aren’t developing a blocked duct, which will feel like a firm tender area of the breast. If you do, see your Doctor or Lactation Consultant.These problems are more likely to occur during an abrupt wean.
6) Breast pads can help with weaning.
7) Wear a firm bra for support.
The ‘wean off’ stage may be different for different mothers. e.g. a stay-at home mom can continue to breastfeed for longer; a working mom may be forced to wean off earlier. This stage may pass; however, your baby may still demand breast milk. These simple steps can not only help your child wean off, but also help you take care of yourself in the process.
(This article has been contributed by Dr Asmita Mahajan, Consultant Neonatologist & Pediatrician, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim- A Fortis Associate)