Dr. Jen Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon.
Whether you’re returning to work or you feel it’s time to introduce solid foods, the six-month mark is major when it comes to feeding your baby. Bundoo OB/GYN Dr. Jen Lincoln goes over how to wean successfully and the best time to start.
Bundoo: The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding up to a year. By this time, many babies are starting on solid foods and some have been eating solid foods for a few months. When does weaning typically begin?
Dr. Jen Lincoln: Weaning, by definition, is when anything other than breast milk — such as formula or solids — is introduced into a baby’s diet. The timing of weaning from breastfeeding certainly varies. Some moms choose to introduce formula when they return to work and thus begin the weaning process at that time, while others wait to wean until they’ve reached a certain time point (6 months, a year — whatever the mother’s goals may be). Still others wait until the child initiates the desire to wean. So there really is no “typical” time. Ideally, if you can stick with it for 12 months, the benefits are huge. Interesting fact: worldwide, the average age of weaning isn’t until age 4 or 5 — very different from what we consider the cultural “norm” here!
What signs might a baby give that he or she is ready to begin weaning?
When babies are left to wean on their own, most do so gradually. Feeding sessions may become shorter, or certain ones may be skipped altogether (though feeds before bed and upon waking tend to be the last to go). Babies who are ready to wean usually show a decent interest in taking solids, too. In general, most babies won’t show signs of being ready to wean if they are less than a year old. If they are younger than this, or they very suddenly want to stop nursing, this may actually be a nursing strike, which is very different than weaning.
Are there are any drawbacks to weaning a baby early if the mom needs to, for example if she’s returning to work?
Yes. We know that the longer babies receive breast milk, the greater the multiple benefits are. However, if a mother finds she absolutely must wean before the desired 12 months of breastfeeding, any breast milk is better than none. Also, weaning a baby before he or she wants to can lead to a more stressful process for everyone involved, though it doesn’t need to be insurmountable.
What’s the biggest mistake you see parents making when it comes to weaning?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is when moms think they need to wean when they don’t actually have to. Many are told they have to wean if they need to take a certain medication or have a certain study (like a CT scan, for example). Rarely is this the case, but many are given incorrect information! If you are told this, always ask a lactation consultant to be sure before you start the weaning process! Also, many moms think pumping at work will be too hard before even starting, and so they wean because of this. Good preparation and having a good support system can go a long way in making a working mom successful so she doesn’t have to throw in the towel before she wants to!