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Thinking of how to wean your baby off breastfeeding? Here’s how we can help

Published on:7 August 2021, 13:00pm IST
When and how to wean off your baby or discontinue from breastfeeding can be a tough choice, but there are ways to ease the journey.
Radhika Bhirani
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Weaning Breastfeeding
Trying to wean your baby off breastfeeding can be a tricky and emotional journey. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Tisha Saraf, a Delhi-based make-up artiste, chose to start sleeping in another room to try and wean her daughter off breastfeeding after she was 16 months old. On the other hand, Bhawana Singh, a home-based entrepreneur, chose to continue breastfeeding her son till he was two and a half years old. The World Breastfeeding Week has witnessed several discussions and discourses around the how-to and why-to, but one lesser talked about aspect of the experience is what a woman goes through while trying to wean off her child from breastfeeding.

The problem

If you’ve already begun to cast aspersions about why , you are part of the problem why weaning off a child from breastfeeding is not just a physically tough experience for a mother, but also emotionally.

For Tisha, the initial days were very difficult as she could hear her baby cry and howl. But she tells Health Shots that in her heart, she knew she had to do it for her child and for herself.

“I wanted to continue for two years but then my body started giving up. I started having mind fogging and I couldn’t process things because my daughter was taking feeds after every two hours even at night. I couldn’t sleep properly. So, after 16 months, we decided it was time to start weaning her off breastfeeding,” she says.

Bhawana had a different experience. She felt happy to be able to continue for that long, but beyond a point, she also started having a difficult time discontinuing breastfeeding because the child was used to a routine. Besides, facing social stigma around it didn’t ease her plight.

Weaning Breastfeeding
Choosing to exclusively breastfeed a baby for 6 months or more is a mom’s choice to make. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Respect a mom’s choice

First things first, there’s a need to regard every mother’s freedom to choose the time frame she wants to breastfeed her child for.

Some women choose to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months, while some begin partial weaning at around 3 months or even earlier using formula as a supplement, and some struggle to wean off the baby from breastfeeding when they are even 3 years old. Medical experts across the world have largely maintained that breastfeeding is recommended as long as the mother and the baby wish to continue – that it is a choice they must have, and it is for no one else to judge.

But there are ways that can help you deal with the woes. Let’s first understand some important things.

When is it advisable to start weaning off the baby?

While exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the initial 6 months as far as possible, in the case of a working mother, early weaning can be commenced at 4 months, Neha Pawar, Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai, tells Health Shots.

That is when complementary feeding must be initiated. While breast milk, often called liquid gold, is a complete diet in itself, sufficing all nutritional requirements of a baby till first 6 months, but after that, a child’s growing body will have needs that breastfeeding alone will not be able to meet.

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Pawar says, “Iron stores in the body begin to fall at this point and breast milk is a poor source of iron. If a proper complementary food plan is not initiated at this stage with iron supplementation, then these children land up with anemia.”

Even type 2 micro-nutrients like zinc, magnesium and  manganese responsible for height, are available in plenty in desi millets, nuts, seeds, eggs etc, and enhance the height potential of our children. But if complementary feeding is faltered, people can land up with children who are stunted, anemic and poor in cognitive development causing scholastic backwardness and later not-so-smart adults, says the expert.

The DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in mother’s milk which is responsible for a baby’s brain development, also drops significantly after one year of postpartum, according to Pawar, who suggests that breastfeeding can be discontinued anytime thereafter or continued till 2 years of age depending on the comfort zone of mother and baby.

Most mothers, she says, discontinue between 15-18 months postpartum.

But how to gradually stop breastfeeding?

1. Slowly decrease breastfeeding, reducing one feed every week so that the baby is primed and weaning is not drastic. Last to stop is night feed.

2. Mother can try applying bitter gourd juice over nipples to cause a repelling taste.

3. Making the baby sleep towards the father’s side is a good option.

4. Also, as a mother gets busy in her daily chores, time spent with the baby
diminishes and family foods replace the milk. Give the child a satisfying dinner consisting of millet khichdi with pulses, followed by a cup of milk with nut seed powder. This will keep the tummy full at night.

Weaning breastfeeding
Talk to your gynae if your baby is not letting go of your breasts. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. If your breasts are engorged at this point, try pumping or manually expressing milk but do not overstimulate as this can otherwise enhance production. Expressed milk can be given to a baby with a spoon or mixed with cereal.

6. Using a good support bra, and cold compresses also can diminish milk production.

7. This can be a testing time for the child causing unwarranted crankiness. So, one can try to distract them with more play time with the baby, increasing massages, water play in tubs and lullabies. Also, reading touch-and-feel books can be therapeutic, soothing, enhance bonding as well as be distracting and enlightening for the baby.

Radhika Bhirani Radhika Bhirani

Content Head for Healthshots.