Weaning off formula can be one of the most difficult things a mother has to face, not only for the baby but also for herself.
There is a bond that forms between mother and child, whether you are nursing or bottle-feeding, and when it’s time for the child to move on from this stage, it can be quite the emotional hit for mom and baby.
Babies don’t always give signs that they are ready to move onto solid foods, and if that happens, it’s up to parents and their pediatrician to discuss how and when is best to wean their little one.
When to start weaning off formula?
Doctors recommend that babies remain solely on breastmilk or formula until they are about 6 months of age.
At that point, it is important to watch your child for signs that they are ready to try new foods. They may watch you at every meal, copying your chewing motion, and showing interest in what you are eating.
You also need to be sure that your baby has good head and neck control and can sit upright before feeding them solid foods.
The breastfeeding mother may notice signs of their baby’s readiness to wean that bottle-feeding mothers do not.
Your baby may become easily distracted while eating, wanting to “play” by pulling off frequently to look around or biting.
You may also notice that baby may just be nursing for comfort, by suckling but not trying to get milk (1).
Some babies may be content to remain on the bottle or breast and will not show these signs. If that is the case, it’s up to you to decide when to start weaning them off formula and introducing foods.
Any concerns that arise as a result of a child seeming disinterested in eating solid foods should be discussed with a pediatrician.
Where do I start?
While there are differing opinions on what you can feed your child at different ages (we will go into this more later), it is highly recommended that you should not quit nursing or bottle-feeding cold turkey.
This can be emotionally distressful for mother and baby.
The breastfeeding mother can also experience painful engorgement if you try to stop nursing all at once.
It is best that you still primarily offer the breast or bottle as the baby’s form of sustenance, at least through their entire first year.
They will greatly benefit from the vitamins and minerals offered in breastmilk or formula. When you begin weaning, you can replace one meal a day with solids (purees if they are unable to chew or do not have teeth, then moving up to solids).
Typically, the feeding in the middle of the day is chosen due to it being the smallest, also making it easier for working mothers to be away from home.
What can I feed my baby?
There are some who swear by a strict, color-oriented feeding schedule for introducing foods to babies.
Some say not to introduce fruits before vegetables because the baby may develop a sweet-tooth, while there are others who say the opposite, claiming that fruits as a first food may help your baby be more receptive to new foods.
If you search the internet for tips on how to introduce solid foods, you will find a vast array of opinions, many stating that the order in which you introduce foods does not matter.
You can feed your baby fruits, vegetables, grains, and even pureed meats.
Just be sure to serve everything individually until you know how your baby will react before serving or making food combinations.
Be sure to wait a few days between introducing new foods to detect any adverse reactions in your baby, including vomiting and diarrhoea.
Consult your pediatricians with questions or concerns you may have regarding how to introduce foods and if your family has a history of food allergies.
All new foods should be tried at home, as well, rather than in a restaurant, so that you can take appropriate action if necessary if your baby has a reaction to their food.
You should also wait until your baby is at least a year old before serving cow’s milk. You can offer a bottle or cup with your baby’s meal, containing breastmilk, formula, or water.
If you are a regiment-oriented mom, like myself, you can also check out this link for an age-appropriate guide for introducing foods.
When should my baby be fully weaned?
Breastfed babies can continue supplemental nursing as long as they are interested and mom allows it (going from infant breastfeeding to extended breastfeeding).
Many babies will continue to nurse for comfort, particularly for bedtime, rather than for sustenance.
If your baby is formula fed, it is important that they do not remain on the bottle and formula beyond 1 year.
With the development of your baby’s teeth, remaining on formula puts them at risk for developing baby bottle tooth decay, or cavities in their baby teeth.
The sugars in formula (as well as milk and juices) can begin to eat away at your child’s teeth.
It is recommended that by the age of 1, they drink their liquids from a cup (rather than a bottle) and are not given a bottle or cup to take to bed with them (2).
What is Extended Breastfeeding?
Extended breastfeeding is when you continue to nurse your child after they have had their first birthday.
As long as you and baby are on the same page in wishing to continue breastfeeding, you can continue for as long as you like, even into toddlerhood.
There are many benefits for your child if you are able to continue breastfeeding beyond age 1.
By practicing extended breastfeeding, your baby will continue to receive a balanced diet, as breast milk will continue to change according to your child’s needs as they get older, and they can continue to receive vital nutrients this way.
Your child can also experience boosted immunity and improved health, as they continue to receive antibodies through your milk.
Is it abnormal for me to want to be done breastfeeding?
There are some mothers that want their babies to be weaned from breastfeeding for personal reasons.
Some may decide to stop nursing when their child can start asking for or demanding it. Their child may begin to pull at or put their hand down mom’s shirt to try and get to the “goods”, and they may begin using words they associate with breastfeeding (“nana”, “milkies”, “night-night”, etc.).
This can make some mothers uncomfortable to be in public for fear of their child accidentally exposing them or causing a scene.
Other women may simply feel that they are tired and want their bodies back.
There is nothing to feel guilty about if this is you. It is perfectly logical for you to want to feel like yourself again after 12+ months of breastfeeding.
If this is you, just make sure you are gentle and patient with your child as they begin to understand that they no longer need to nurse with mom.
What can I do to help ease my baby’s emotional distress?
Weaning can be a very emotional time for mom and baby. Your baby doesn’t understand, and they may feel rejected or have trouble self-soothing.
If you find that your child begins to soothe themselves in other ways (i.e. thumb-sucking), don’t discourage it as it may just be a phase to help them cope.
If it becomes a habit and continues into late toddlerhood or early childhood, and you are concerned, consult your pediatrician for advice.
The bond that has been formed during the intimate times of nursing or bottle-feeding needs to be replaced.
If your child heavily relied on comfort to go to sleep at night, try a new bedtime routine. Cuddle up together, rub their back or stroke their hair, speaking softly as they drift off to sleep.
Read a book or two, snuggled up so it feels similar to them.
During the day, if your child is wanting the breast or bottle, try distracting them in other ways. Go out for a walk or to the park to play.
Find new games to engage in at home, like stacking (and knocking down) blocks or hide-and-seek.
If you exclusively breastfed, wearing clothes that don’t show skin or cleavage may help your child take their mind off of it as well.
Weaning can be difficult for mom and baby, and everyone’s experience differs. If you have concerns with your child’s behavior, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.
Be patient, be kind, and be loving, and before you know it, you will be wondering where the time went and missing those moments with your (not-so) little one.