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How Long Should I Breastfeed and How Do I Wean?
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Experts recommend that you feed your baby only breast milk until he is 6 months old. Breastfeeding for the first 6 months can decrease your baby's risk for illnesses, such as allergies, asthma, and stomach problems. Your baby will need a vitamin D supplement soon after birth. Talk to your caregiver about the amount and type of vitamin D supplement that is best for your baby. Experts also recommend that you continue to breastfeed him until he is at least 12 months old after he starts eating solid foods. You can breastfeed longer if you choose to. Weaning means that you breastfeed your baby less or you stop breastfeeding him. Weaning starts naturally when your baby begins to eat solid foods because he eats less during this time.
Follow up with your primary healthcare provider (PHP) as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
When to begin weaning your baby:
Talk with your PHP about the best time to wean your baby.
- Introducing solid foods: Weaning should begin when your baby is about 6 months old. Your baby may show signs that he is ready to start eating solid foods. He may watch others with interest when they are eating and reach for the food. He should be able to hold his head up and sit in a feeding chair or infant seat.
- Weaning from breast milk: Your baby needs nutrients from breast milk until he is at least 12 months old. If you choose to stop breastfeeding your baby before he is 12 months old, you will need to bottle-feed him formula. His body needs the nutrients that breast milk and formula provide until he is 12 months old.
Reasons to avoid starting solid foods early:
Some problems that may occur with early weaning include the following:
- Digestive problems: Your baby's digestive system is not ready for solid food until he is about 6 months of age. Early weaning may cause digestive problems, such as diarrhea. He may also have an increased risk for celiac disease. This is when the body cannot process gluten, a substance found in wheat and other grains.
- Skin problems: Early weaning may increase your baby's risk for skin problems, such as eczema. Eczema causes skin swelling, redness, and itching.
- Excess weight gain: Your baby may be at risk for increased weight gain later in life.
- Nutritional problems: Your baby may drink less breast milk and not get enough nutrients. Breast milk provides the right balance of nutrients that your baby needs.
Causes of early weaning:
You may want to wean your baby from breast milk early if you are having problems. Most of these problems can be resolved to allow breastfeeding to continue. Talk with your PHP if you are thinking about weaning early for any reason.
- Breast problems: You may have sore nipples. It is normal to have sore nipples during the first 1 to 2 weeks of breastfeeding. After the first week of breastfeeding, this discomfort should decrease. It should not hurt to breastfeed. You may also develop a plugged duct. A plugged duct is a milk duct in your breast that is blocked. This may cause tender lumps in your breast. Engorgement may occur 3 to 5 days after you give birth. The breasts become swollen and painful, which can make breastfeeding uncomfortable. Talk to your PHP if you develop any of these breast problems.
- Low breast milk supply: You may feel that your breasts are not making enough milk to satisfy your baby. Most mothers do make enough milk for their babies, even if they think they do not.
- Lack of support: It may be hard to keep breastfeeding if you do not have support. Talk to your partner, family, and friends about the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Return to work: Breastfeeding may be hard for women in the workplace. Check with your supervisor about providing time to nurse or express milk at work.
- Health problems: When your baby has health problems, it may be harder to breastfeed. This may occur if your baby is in the hospital for a while after birth.
Why it is important to give your baby solid foods when he is 6 months old:
- Your baby has new nutrition needs. Your baby needs other foods to meet his nutrition needs when he reaches 6 months of age. Your baby needs certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, to allow for normal growth and development.
- Your baby learns eating skills. Your baby will learn to move food in his mouth and chew. He will also learn to hold and use a spoon to feed himself.
- Your baby learns to try new tastes and textures. This helps your baby learn to eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups. This will help him to get all the nutrients he needs when he is weaned from breast milk or formula.
How to introduce solid foods to your baby:
- At 6 months, give him solid foods 2 to 3 times each day. Good first foods to give your baby include rice cereal and pureed vegetables and fruit. Mash or puree all foods given to your baby until he is 8 to 9 months old.
- At 6 to 9 months, change the texture of his foods. Start to give him mashed food that has soft lumps. The lumps help him learn to eat foods with more texture. You can also start to give him soft finger foods, such as small soft pieces of banana. At this stage, your baby may start learning how to feed himself. Continue to feed him solid foods 2 to 3 times each day. You can also give him liquids in a cup with a lid. Your baby will still continue to breastfeed about 4 to 6 times each day.
- At 9 to 12 months, feed him solid foods 3 to 4 times each day. You can also give him 1 or 2 healthy snacks. Start to give him other finger foods, such as bits of low-sugar cereal or pieces of cracker. Give him minced and chopped foods. Focus on giving him foods that your family eats. This will get your baby used to eating the types of foods your family enjoys. At this stage, your baby may start using a spoon to feed himself.
- At 12 months, he should eat mostly table foods. After 12 months, most of your baby's energy should come from solid table foods. Do not give him foods with a high choking risk. Some examples are hard, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and hot dogs. When your baby is 12 months old, you may start to give him cow's milk. Do not give your baby cow's milk before he is 12 months old. Ask for more information about healthy foods you can feed your child.
Problems that may occur with weaning your baby from breast milk:
Ask how to wean your baby to avoid some of the following problems:
- Plugged ducts, engorgement, or an infection: To prevent these problems, slowly increase the amount of time between feedings. It may also help to express milk between feedings.
- Your child may resist weaning: He may not want to give up breastfeeding. To ease your child into weaning, slowly introduce the cup or bottle. You may also want to keep nursing at certain times, such as before your child naps. Depending on your child's age, you may need to explain to him why you are breastfeeding less often.
For support and more information:
- American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Boulevard
Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
Web Address: http://www.aap.org
- La Leche League International
957 North Plum Grove Road
Schaumburg , IL 60173
Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
Web Address: http://www.lalecheleague.org
Contact your PHP if:
- You feel you are not making enough breast milk for your baby.
- You have nipple pain or your nipples are red, dry, cracked, or bleeding.
- You have a fever or your body feels very achy.
- One or both of your breasts is red, swollen or hard, painful, and feels warm or hot.
- You have engorgement that does not get better within 24 hours.
- You have questions or concerns about breastfeeding or how to wean your baby.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.