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Weaning - Promoting Healthy Growth and Development

It's important not only for you to give your baby nutritious foods and drinks but also for you and your baby to interact with each other during mealtimes. These things help your baby's mind and body grow. Breast milk (with supplements) and formula give babies all the calories and nutrients they need until they are 6 months old. After that, babies need other nutrients and energy from solid foods. You can wean gradually or abruptly in order to get your baby what he or she needs for growth. When you make choices about weaning, always think of your baby's emotional needs, age, and readiness as well as your own needs.

The weaning process

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breast-fed for at least a year and as long after a year as mother and child desire.1

  • If you are not breast-feeding and your baby is younger than 12 months of age, use iron-fortified formula. Do not offer your baby cow's milk.1 The iron in cow's milk is not well-absorbed, and iron is necessary for healthy development. Also, some babies may be more likely to react to the protein in cow's milk.
  • Most children need whole milk when they are 1 to 2 years of age. But your doctor may recommend 2% milk if your child is overweight or if there is a family history of obesity, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
  • Switching from breast milk to formula may cause differences in how often your baby feeds and a change in the color and consistency of your baby's stools.

When you have decided that you and your child are ready to give up breast- or bottle-feeding, develop a plan for what you will do. Talk with other family members and get their help.

In general, you can start giving your baby solid foods at 6 months of age. Feed your baby at the table with the rest of the family. Follow your doctor's advice on when and what to feed your baby.1 Usually, the more solid foods a baby eats, the less breast milk or formula he or she needs, and the easier it is for your baby to switch from the breast or bottle. Be sure your child gets the recommended vitamins and minerals for children.

Weaning from breast- or bottle-feeding can be done gradually or abruptly. Watch for signs that your baby is ready to wean. To gradually stop breast- or bottle-feeding while you offer cup-feeding and/or solid foods, give up the least important feeding first, which is usually the midday one. Then stop the late afternoon and morning feedings. Stop the most important feeding (the one that provides the baby the greatest emotional comfort) last: this is usually the first or last feeding of the day. Whether you are weaning or not, the last feeding should gradually be moved up so that by 4 months it is no longer at bedtime and other soothing rituals can be established. Pay attention to whether your baby is sucking for comfort or hunger.

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