A guide to weaning your child from the breast or bottle as simply and painlessly as possible.
While there is no set age to wean your child, there are clues that your child will give to let you know when that time has arrived.
Most pediatricians will tell you that you should breast feed for at least a year for the health benefits it provides the child and stop bottle bottle feeding at around a year to cut down on the risk of tooth decay.
A child may be ready to wean much earlier than this or show no interest in weaning for a few months after this. Regardless, the steps are the same for all situations.
Firstly, weaning works best when it is a gradual process. Children recieve more from breast and bottle feeding than mere nutrition. They also satisfy their sucking needs and derive comfort from the closeness to their parent. For this reason, weaning a child cold turkey can make it a more traumatic experience than it needs to be.
Begin by cutting out the child's least favorite feeding. You may offer your child a cup in lieu of this feeding but do not try to introduce new liquids and the cup simultaneously. Offer only those things in the cup that your child is familiar with and likes.
Don't be discouraged if your child rejects the cup the first few times around or only takes a few sips. Drinking from a cup is a learning experience for them and it may take them a bit of practice before they have it mastered.
In a weeks time, you may cut out the next feeding. It is a good idea at this point to begin introducing simple solid foods such as rice cereal if you haven't already. Talk to your pediatrician about what is appropriate for your child.
You continue this way until the child is down to just the morning and bedtime feedings or the two that they enjoy the most. There is no rush to get rid of these two, but when the time comes it is helpful to make these favorite feedings less appealing.
For bottlefed babies give them a bottle of water instead of formula or juice. For breast fed babies introduce them to a bottle and then substitute the pumped breastmilk with water once they have gotten used to the bottle. With breastfed babies it is helpful to have someone other than mom give these feedings. Breastfed babies can smell mom and are more likely to reject a bottle that mom gives.
Weaning is a big step for both parent and child. You may find that your child goes through an adjustment period where they are crankier than usual. They key is to be encouraging and interactive.
Praise them and act excited when they drink from a cup. Make the cup a fun thing. Develop a comfort routine that does not involve feeding to help them satify their emotional needs in this transition period. Singing, rocking and body contact are all useful strategies for soothing and comforting.
Lastly, invest in a children's sippy cup. Your child may be 3 or 4 before they can handle a regular cup. The sippy cup will cut down on mess and still give them, and you, a sense of accomplishment and independence.