An Uncomplicated Life Blog: Weaning A Breastfed Baby

Monday, November 4, 2019

Weaning A Breastfed Baby

Finally, I made my breastfeeding goal of nursing my twins exclusively for a full year! Here's how I'm weaning them slowly and at a pace that works for them and ME

I can't believe it. I made it! I made my goal. Four kids later, I actually made it a full year exclusively breastfeeding... and twins, no less! Many women have asked me how I did it, what tips I have, and the most recent topic of conversation in all my mom groups, how the heck to we wean babies - perhaps not even entirely, but night weaning or having them nurse so that it's secondary nutrition and the bulk of their calories come from table food. I've done this four times now, all to various levels of success and at different times in the child's life. Here's how I'm gently weaning my breastfed babies, along with how I made it breastfeeding twins and a few tips on transitioning to solids.

I'm going to write this post backwards, since the title is about weaning. Weaning and transitioning to solids are intertwined to me. When you do one, the other naturally follows. Sometimes your child is a picky eater so introducing solids can be additionally more challenging, but usually they're one closely tied together.
Right at the start of our breastfeeding journey - I can't believe we're going on 13 months!

Weaning a breastfed baby
The biggest thing in weaning a baby is to do it slowly so that you don't get mastitis. As we introduced solids to the twins, they naturally became more interested in eating and less interested in nursing constantly. From birth to about five months, we nursed every 2-3 hours, usually around the clock. Then starting at 6 months, we introduced purees to let them "taste" food. Now some people are Baby Led Weaning nuts who will never do a puree. I'm not a fan of immediately giving them the food that we're eating because they literally don't know what to do with a solid in their mouth! I like to do a few months of purees so that they can taste new foods and learn how to swallow food that is a different consistency than breast milk without the choking hazard. As soon as they show signs of having that under control, we give them small amounts of the cooked (and therefore soft) food that we're eating in addition to some purees, and slowly wean off the purees until they just have what we're eating. It's almost like a hybrid baby led weaning model that's not as risky (to me) as a full BLW.

As you start to introduce solids, nursing session number and duration both start to decrease. When you're just starting out, you'll want to make sure to breast feed your child first, then offer solids. If your kids are like mine, they'll slowly transition to wanting to eat first, then feed. And then after a few months of that, they'll not even want to nurse after eating. For us, we introduced solids at 6 months and kept the normal nursing schedule. Then by 9 months they were eating solids first, then nursing. And by 11 months, they only nursed 4-5 times a day, and had regular table meals with their older brothers. So weaning down to just a handful of nursing sessions a day was nearly a 6 month process. Also, at the 11 month mark, we started to mix the one bottle they'd get a day with the milk we planned on using with them (we like whole milk - nobody has any dairy allergies and the fat and calories are best for brain development and how naturally thin my kids are). This way they got used to the taste of the bottles they'd get after the 12 month mark. 

Don't worry, just because they love table food and like whole milk doesn't mean we're done nursing! The World Health Organization recommends nursing until 2. I'm not sure if we'll make it that far, but I'd like to. Regardless, it's such a relief to have the twins on table food - almost like the pressure is off me, finally. Now that the twins are a full 12 months old, they get three meals and two snacks a day, one bottle (4oz) of whole milk and nurse first thing in the morning, once in the afternoon, and nurse to sleep. I no longer need or have to pump, and it's great!

Tips for introducing solids
Most peds are now fully on board with waiting until the 6 month mark to introduce any solids to babies. Some peds still give the ok at 4 months, but most studies show that's premature, and the tummy can't take it yet. That said, every baby is different! My first child barely showed any interest in food until 9-10 months, Otto was self feeding at 6 months, and the twins started right away at 6 months too. They only took a month or purees and then outright refused to eat anything their brothers weren't eating, whereas Henry (my first child) would have been happily fed by me until he was 18 months old! I really think it helped my younger children to have an older sibling to watch, and to want what he had. 

Once you get the ok from your ped, like I said, I'm a fan of purees for a little bit, until your child can figure out swallowing something thicker than breast milk or formula. I know a few die-hard breastfeeding friends who didn't introduce solids until 9 months to even a full year, and they had the HARDEST time getting their child to eat! I feel like there's a window of opportunity. You've got to start introducing food early enough before they'll refuse new flavors and textures, but not so soon their tummies can't take it.

Teddy loves breakfast! Eggs, toast and water

Even if your child won't eat whatever that solid is (puree, veggie, meat, whatever) KEEP TRYING. You'd be surprised how often kids change their minds. What was their favorite food one day is the worst thing that ever happened to them the next. Just because your baby won't eat carrots one day doesn't mean that he won't eat them two days later. Just because the spaghetti went down well one day doesn't mean she won't refuse it tomorrow. Just keep offering a wide range of foods. Once your child is on table food (no more purees), offer him or her whatever you're making for supper. No special meals. That means if you're making fish and veggies for dinner, that's what's offered to baby, too. In my experience, kids are a lot more likely to eat the food that they see other people eating. So if you fix a special meal for baby, they're not as likely to eat it because YOU aren't. But if you have family meals and everyone is eating it, they get their cues from you and other family members, and they're much more likely to follow suit.

A final note on encouraging kids to eat "real" food: we have the three bite rule in our home. If I've made something new and my kids don't like it, they have to have three bites. If they have three bites, they can have their bedtime snack and milk (there is NO ALTERNATIVE MEAL option). If they don't eat three bites, they're out of luck and don't even get a bedtime snack. They have to wait until the following day to eat. This rule nearly always results in my kids trying new foods, and most times, by the third bite, they decide they like it and eat it. I cannot tell you enough to never offer your child meal options if you want to break them of a picky eating habit.

Tandem feeding in the hospital after the twins were born

Night weaning
This isn't going to go over well with a lot of people but here it is: if you want to night wean your child, it really helps to stop sleeping in the same room. They can smell your milk. Everyone's sleep cycles are massively disrupted. We put the twins in their own room with their own cribs at 2 months because nobody was getting any sleep with them in our room. By 6 months, they were down to one night feed a night, which I found manageable. By 9-10 months, they slept consistently through the night - for me, that's a straight 12 hours, or longer. I think the technical definition of "sleeping through the night" is an 8-10 hour stretch, but to me that's garbage. If they go to bed at 7pm and wake up at 3am, I didn't sleep through the night, so - that's not how I define it. I need a solid 12 hour stretch for me to consider the baby sleeping through the night.

The other trick to night weaning is slowly cutting down the nursing session length each time. Then start cutting down the actual number of nursing sessions. You'll want to get your pedi's ok on this, but most babies are totally fine to not take in any nourishment for 12 hours at night starting at 6 months. Again, ask your doctor what's best for your baby. But when you get that ok, and you want to actually sleep, start timing nursing sessions. Cut a minute off each one, until you can start totally cutting some out (if they wake up crying, pat them on the back, offer a pacifier, etc)


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