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Weaning is the process of stopping breast milk as the source of feeding for your baby. This process continues until breastfeeding is completely replaced with other foods and drinks. The entire weaning process can take as long as mother and child want.

It is important to note that women do not need to stop breastfeeding if they are not ready, and they do not need to continue if they don’t want to. Once you decide to start weaning your child off breast milk, experts advise that it is best to do it gradually instead of stopping suddenly. Stopping breastfeeding suddenly can lead to some complications like engorgement, blocked ducts or mastitis. It can also be too sudden a change for the baby’s digestive and immune system to cope with; it can also lead to emotional stress, experts say.

Some mothers may decide to start weaning before the six months benchmark given by WHO and other health bodies. If that is the case, it is best to start with a mid-day meal. You can express your milk into a bottle and have your spouse or a relative give your baby while you are not in the same room. Be mindful of good hygiene while doing this and make sure that the baby is not being forced to take more milk than she wants. Your breast will probably start feeling full and tender, it is advised that you express little milk; just enough to relieve the pain and heaviness but not enough to stimulate your body to make more. Once your body has adjusted to the new volume of breast milk you are expressing, switch up the routine by cutting off another feed each day until your baby is fully weaned.

When you are stopping breastfeeding after 6 months or 1 year, at that time you should have started introducing solids. With the introduction of some solids to the baby’s diet, breastfeeds are supposed to become less frequent over time. While weaning at this time, you should just cut back gradually, dropping one breastfeed at a time and offering formula instead.

Experts advise that once you start thinking about weaning you have to make sure that your child will be getting the adequate nutrition that she needs. So, if you are weaning a baby less than 1 year old, you need to replace breast milk with formula. Doctors strongly advise against giving babies lower than 1 year old cow milk, soya milk or similar products. You can also give age appropriate solid foods to infants who are already eating solid foods, but these foods must contain adequate nutrition to meet their nutritional needs. Adequate protein, iron and other nutrients cannot be overemphasised. Some babies may also need multivitamins or other supplements to give adequate vitamin D.

It is also important that you eliminate stressors. The weaning process can be difficult for some babies and some mothers, so it is best to eliminate anything that can add additional stress to the process. For example, it might not be the best time to wean if you are trying to meet a deadline at work or if the baby is ill. Doctors advise that spending extra time with the baby can help you and your child adjust properly to the weaning process.

It is also encouraged that you wean at night, for starters. This is also known as night weaning. When children are between 6 months and 1 year old they usually feed less often at night. It can also help the mothers sustain breastfeeding for a longer time.
While weaning, women can be faced with engorgement challenges and expressing a little milk might not help. Mothers can apply other strategies like:

• Applying cabbage leaves to the breast, especially if they are chilled.
• Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for pain relief.
• Applying warm compresses to the breast or taking a warm bath before feeding.
• Massaging the breast to reduce the risk of blocked ducts.
• Wearing supportive bras as the breast will become heavier
• Avoiding tight clothing and bindings that can make pain worse or cause an infection. Paediatrics advise that a lot of comfort should be given to the baby while weaning takes place. This is because breast milk is more than a source of nutrition; it is also a medium of comfort to the baby. So, you want to take steps to replicate that comfort in other ways like:
• Holding baby in skin to skin contact. You can practice kangaroo mother care.
• Rocking the baby
• Distracting a baby that wants to suck by singing, playing or taking a walk
• Offering a pacifier.
• Having another caregiver or relative comfort the baby. This will take the edge off for both mother and child.

When the baby is successfully weaned, you would want to stop the body from producing milk. This can be a painful process as the milk can back up and cause swelling and aching. Firmly supporting the breast and reducing the amount of milk expressed would help reduce milk secretion but the woman may still feel serious discomfort. Breast pads can be used to soak up any leaking milk, putting cold or gel packs into the bra can also help relieve pain. If the mother experiences pain while lying down, she can put pillows to support the breast area.

Mothers are advised to be patient with infants that do not want to wean. The baby may become anxious, clingy and cry more frequently than usual, but give it time and after a few weeks these issues will resolve themselves.

By Waire Emonefe

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