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Healthy Weaning


For most babies, breast milk is more healthful than formula, so it is wise to consider breast–feeding for as long as possible. Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infection, iron in a form that babies can easily absorb, and chemicals that seem to be important for brain development.


Many experts recommend breast–feeding for at least the first 12 months of a child’s life. Certainly, it is essential for babies to have breast milk or formula for at least the first year. What happens beyond that will depend on the needs of mother and baby.


When should weaning begin? As with most of the changes that occur in the first two years, there is no need to hurry; there is no “perfect” time to wean a baby. Some mothers breastfeed for a few months and then wean to formula in a bottle. Others continue to breastfeed until the child’s second birthday, and sometimes even later.


When to Wean


Once babies are eating solid foods well, by about nine to 15 months, the amount of breast milk or formula they consume decreases.

By this age your baby may be nursing or bottle feeding three to four times a day (usually after each meal and at bedtime or between meals and at bedtime), and should be drinking water, juice, or soy formula from a cup. Your child may be less interested in nursing and easily distracted from the breast or bottle.

You can begin weaning by omitting one bottle–feeding or breast–feeding a day. It doesn’t matter which one, but it will be easiest if it’s the feeding your baby cares least about, perhaps in the morning or early afternoon.

After a week or two, another feeding can be omitted.

The same schedule can be followed for the third daily feeding and the fourth, if your baby is still nursing that often. Babies between nine and 12 months should be offered soy formula in a cup with their meals. If they are older than a year and eating solid foods, it’s best to give them soy or rice milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D.


It’s fine to wean even more gradually. Two feedings can be eliminated at about 12 months, for example, and your baby can continue to nurse or bottle feed just once a day through the second year. This may be a good way to wean babies who find breast–feeding or their bottle so comforting that they insist on nursing long after they are happily drinking soymilk from a cup.


Weaning Before Six Months


If you need to stop breast–feeding before six months for any reason, wean your baby to a bottle.

Some babies resist bottles—the rubber nipple just isn’t as soft and warm as mother’s breast—so, if possible, babies should be introduced to the bottle well before weaning.

Expressing breast milk and feeding it to your baby in a bottle once or twice a week during the first months is one way to do this.

You may want to accustom your baby to bottle and formula even if you plan to continue to breastfeed, as this allows you to leave your infant in someone else’s care if you need to go out for several hours. Wean from breast to bottle by substituting one bottle–feeding for one breast–feeding every day for a week and so on.


Some parents discourage dependency on the bottle by not giving it to their babies at mealtimes and at bedtime. Babies can use a cup, with a parent’s help, when they eat solid food and then have a bottle afterwards or between meals.


Bedtime Tips


Avoid giving your child a bottle to take to bed because if your child falls asleep while drinking, the formula or juice remains in the mouth for several hours and bathes the teeth, causing tooth decay over time. Many babies find comfort in soft blankets or a stuffed toy (without small pieces that could choke infants if removed). Cuddling a favorite toy can help ease the temporary stress of losing the bottle.