The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, and then continuing to breastfeed while gradually weaning and introducing complementary foods until your child is 12 months or older. This provides your child with ideal nutrition to support their growth and development.
Weaning a Baby Under 12 Months
Substitute their least favorite feeding first. If baby won’t accept the bottle from you, try having a support person offer the bottle. It may be helpful if you’re not around for baby to see or smell you. Otherwise they’ll hold out for your breast. Give baby have a day or two between substitute feedings with a bottle.
If you become engorged, pump or express a little milk from your breasts and store it. But don’t express a whole feeding’s worth of milk, just enough to take the pressure off and be comfortable. Your body will soon get the signal to make less milk over time.
Weaning an Older Child
If breastfeeding is going well, you and baby may not be in a hurry to start weaning. Just know that an older baby may resist being taught the new and challenging skill of chewing and swallowing solid foods. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding is so much easier, plus they’re used to the taste of your breastmilk.
When baby is six-months or older, you can try offering purees of banana, carrots, or ripe avocados. Once those foods are well-received, try offering them in manageable sizes, e.g. pea-size for firmer items and marble-size for softer foods.
Introducing Solid Foods
When you add solid foods to your baby’s diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months old. You can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire. Check with your child’s doctor about vitamin D and iron supplements during the first year.
Parents with food allergies are advised to avoid foods that commonly cause allergic reactions (cow’s milk, dairy products, and foods made from peanuts or other nuts). But recent research found that the late introduction of certain foods may actually increase your baby’s risk for food allergies and inhaled allergies. You should discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.
If no allergies are present, simply watch your baby for indications that they are interested in trying new foods and then introduce them gradually, one by one. Signs that the older baby is ready for solids include sitting up with minimal support, showing good head control, trying to grab food off your plate, or turning their head to refuse food when they’re not hungry. Your baby may be ready for solids if they continue to act hungry after breastfeeding. The loss of the tongue thrusting reflex that causes food to be pushed out of their mouth is another indication they’re ready to expand their taste experience.
Here are good first foods to start with:
Iron-fortified infant cereal (such as rice or oatmeal) is a good solid food to complement breast milk. When first starting infant cereal, check the label to make sure it’s a single- ingredient product—just rice or oatmeal, and does not contain added fruit, milk or infant formula. This will reduce any potential allergic reaction with the initial cereal feedings. You can mix the cereal with your breast milk, water, or formula (if you’ve already introduced formula to your baby) until it is a thin consistency. As your baby gets used to the taste and texture, you can gradually make it thicker and increase the amount.
Vegetables. Start with milder yellow or orange options such as sweet potatoes and carrots before moving on to stronger flavors like peas and string beans.
Fruit. Easy-to-digest first fruits include finely mashed bananas, baby applesauce, peaches and pears. Mashed or pureed ripe avocado is yummy and loaded with healthy fats.
Since most breastfeeding babies’ iron stores begin to diminish around six months, good first choices for solids are those rich in iron. Current recommendations are minced meats, such as turkey, chicken, and beef. Meats are good sources of high-quality protein, iron, and zinc and provide greater nutritional value than cereals, fruits, or vegetables.
Introduce only one new food at a time and wait several days before you add another new food, to make sure baby does not have a negative reaction.
Try, try again. If baby rejects what you offer, try again tomorrow and the next day and the next. Some babies need to be introduced to a new food a dozen times before they’ll accept it. Be patient.
Be a good eater model. Babies who see adults eating good food and enjoying it are more likely to be interested in following their example.
It’s always in the timing. The “perfect” time of day to feed your baby is whatever time works for both of you. If you’re breastfeeding, you might try solids when your milk supply is at its lowest (late afternoon or early evening). You can experiment. Offer a first course of formula or breast milk to whet that appetite, then bring on the solids. Start with one meal per day, then move up to two (probably a morning and evening meal) for the next month or so.
In the mood. When baby is cheerful and alert, they’re more likely to open wide for an incoming spoon. If baby is fussy or getting sleepy, they may want only breast (or bottle). If your baby is fussy, be flexible — you might want to skip solids at that meal and try them next time.
Patience and more patience. It takes time and practice for both of you to master feeding solids. So give yourself and baby plenty of time for feedings.
Practice with the new tools. Before baby actually takes that first bite, let them practice sitting in the high chair or feeding seat for a couple of days, adjusting the height of the tray or seat so it fits just right. Babies are wiggly so always fasten the safety straps, including the one around the crotch. If baby can’t sit up at all in such a chair or seat, you should postpone solids until they can.
Bowls and cups. Silicone or plastic ones with a small, soft bowl are much easier on tender gums. Have several on hand during feedings – one for you, one for baby and a spare when one lands on the floor. A bib now means less resistance later.
Before even attempting to spoon feed, put a dab of the food on the high chair tray and give baby a chance to examine it, squish it, mash it, rub it and maybe even taste it. That way, when you do approach with the spoon, what you’re offering won’t be unfamiliar.
Easy does it. Solids are really different, with new tastes, textures and smells so go easy. Start by gently placing about a quarter teaspoon of food on the tip of baby’s tongue. If that’s swallowed, try another quarter teaspoon. At first, expect almost as much food to come in as goes out. Eventually your little one will get the hang of spoon-feeding and respond mouth-open.
Monkey see, monkey do. It’s an old parent trick but a goodie: Open up wide and take a pretend taste from the spoon and smack your lips and show how tasty and fun the food is.
Enough is enough. Knowing when it’s time to stop feeding is as important as knowing when to start. A turned head or a clenched mouth are sure signs that baby is finished with this meal. Forcing a baby to eat is always a lost cause and can actually set up future food fights.
Don’t be upset or mad if most of what you serve baby ends up on the floor or goes uneaten. Your baby’s first experiments with food are more about gaining experience than gaining sustenance. The bulk of your child’s nutritional needs for the first year are still going to be met by breast milk or formula.
Some pediatricians recommend an iron supplement. If this is the case, be careful to give the exact dose prescribed by your doctor. Always store iron and vitamin preparations out of the reach of young children in the household, since overdoses can be toxic.
When a Child Isn’t Ready to Wean
If weaning is going too quickly for your child, they’ll let you know by their behavior. Increased tantrums, new fear of separation and clinginess are possible signs that weaning is going too quickly. Illness and teething can also interfere with weaning and it might be necessary to take a break.
Weaning does not need to be all or nothing. You can do it gradually and blend breastfeeding and foods as long as you and your baby desire.
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