How to Wean a Baby from Breastfeeding or Bottle Feeding

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What is Weaning a Baby?

To an infant, few things are more important than food. And starting when a baby is only a few months old, he or she goes from consuming exclusively liquid breast milk or formula to eating some solid foods. Making the change involves a process called weaning.

"Weaning involves gradually decreasing a typical food in favor of a different food," says Cheryl Hardin, MD, a pediatrician at Texas Children's Pediatrics in Houston. Weaning a baby is going from liquid breast milk or formula to solid food

How to Start Weaning a Baby

Depending on a baby's age, weaning can also mean switching from one type of liquid nutrition to another. For example, weaning breastfeeding for a baby who is younger than 12 months will involve introducing formula. "Babies younger than 12 months shouldn't drink whole cow's milk," Hardin says.

She adds that this is often a good time to introduce a sippy cup as part of weaning off the bottle. "And babies who are breastfed exclusively and weaning breastfeeding can often go right from the breast to a cup," she says.

Hardin says the best time to start weaning depends more on development than age. "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends weaning breastfeeding at four to six months," she says. "Babies can receive great nutrition in their first few months with breast milk or formula. But by four to six months, a baby is ready for weaning," she says.

Signs It's Time to Wean a Baby

First be sure to check with your child's pediatrician before weaning off formula or weaning breastfeeding. Hardin and other pediatricians advise watching for specific signs a baby is ready to be weaned from the breast or bottle.

The following are signs it's time for weaning a baby:

  • The baby wants to breastfeed or drink formula often.
  • The baby has doubled his birth weight.
  • The baby seems interested in solid food you're eating.
  • The baby mouths his hands and toys.
  • The baby opens his mouth when he sees others eating.
  • The baby can sit without support.
  • The baby can hold his head upright and steady (this shows swallowing muscles are strong).

If your baby shows these signs, and your doctor says it's OK, you can start to introduce solid foods.

There is no typical timetable for weaning a baby. "Depending on the baby, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months," Hardin says. She suggests starting weaning by eliminating one of the baby's liquid feedings. "If a baby is feeding on demand, replace one of those feedings with solid food," she says.

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