A Guide to the Process of Weaning a baby and effects of weaning

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What is Weaning?

Weaning is a process whereby a child of any age is introduced to other food different from the usual breast milk for whatever reason. Weaning is a gradual process that may take months or weeks depending on the mothers choice. Weaning is not done abruptly as it could cause malnutrition in the child with other consequences such as allergic reactions to newly introduced complementary or supplementary feeds. No matter how long it takes, the child must definitely stop breastfeeding one day and as the child becomes more of age (from 6 months and above), the breast milk will not be able to provide all the nutrients that the child needs and therefore, it becomes a must to introduce complementary and supplementary feeds and from there, the child starts the process of weaning.

A toddler crying during the weaning period while being fed on family diet
A toddler crying during the weaning period while being fed on family diet


When is the right time and age for Weaning a baby?

Unfortunately, there is no specific right time for weaning a child as circumstances could arise when weaning might be done within the shortest time possible and other times may warrant taking a longer time. The truth is that, it all depends on you but it is highly advisable that weaning should be started only after 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding as stated by the World Health Organization. Once a child is 6 months, you can start to introduce complementary feeding as earlier stated. This introduction of complementary feeds is the beginning of the weaning process. What this means is that you are introducing your child to new foods and this might at first be difficult for the child because he/she might have been used to breast milk and tasting this new food may just be something that the child may not like. Most babies would not like it at first but when they are compelled to taking it, they often like the new food than the breast milk. The right time for weaning therefore depends on the mom and most mothers who have given birth several times have no problem as to when they need to wean the child because it is something that they have had the experience. If it is your first time, then continue to breastfeed until it is 6 months. After 6 months, you will then introduce the child to complementary feeds even as you alternate with breast milk and once the child starts taking the feed enough, you can then start initiating the family diet that the adults eat regularly at home. When introducing the family diet, it should be a gradual process too and the child should be able to eat small and then gradually increase the quantity. Once a child starts eating the family diet to an extent that the child gets full (satiety), then you should know that it is time to completely wean the child off the breast milk.

The best time for complete weaning therefore is the time the mom observes that the child can eat the food that is normally eaten within the family (Family diet) and gets full( achieves satiety). Once this occurs, the child is ready to be weaned completely. Some children may cry and disturb you when you deny them breast milk but after crying, they have no choice than to take the delicious family diet available.

Forceful feeding of a child during the process of weaning
Forceful feeding of a child during the process of weaning


What to do when you start the process of Weaning with babys formula and family diet

It is very important that you observe if there could be likely changes that may occur while weaning a baby. The child may have diarrhoea or may develop allergies or may vomit. Always look out for these signs. When this occurs, stop using the formula and change to another one or you change the type of food.

Signs of allergies and infection during the weaning process

  1. Persistent diarrhoea every time the baby is fed on complementary feed
  2. Skin rash
  3. Change in skin colour or eczema
  4. Difficulty in breathing
  5. Persistent Vomiting

A child that develops a rash, change in skin colour, redness of the throat or have difficulty in breathing after the supplementary feed was introduced is likely allergic to the protein content of the feed. Stop the formula immediately and change to another type that is different in protein content or you may make your own baby formula at home.

A child that is having persistent diarrhoea after being introduced to supplementary feed or family diet shows that the procedure for making the food is unhygienic or that the child may be allergic to the food. Other associated signs could be: increasing flatulence, abdominal distension etc. Any change noticed after commencing supplementary feeding should be taken serious and alternatives to feeding should be sought.

Different Methods of weaning babies

There are various ways of weaning a baby. These are based on what other women have been doing and may not work perfectly for you but have been found to work most of the times. Remember that the process of weaning is like a struggle between the child and mother and whoever wins will enjoy the benefit, though the mom always means well for the child, the child may not understand why the mom is denying her of the usual breast milk.

The different ways of weaning include:

  1. Use of bitter but harmless substances on the breast
    A baby that has been sucking knows the taste of milk and any taste different from the normal would prevent them from further taking the breast milk. Use something bitter and harmless and rub it on the breast at the areola and nipple. Anytime the child needs breast milk, do not deny him/her but gladly give. If the child tastes and feels that it is bitter, the child may not want to take it again. It is good that when you are doing this, you should have made formula for the child so that anytime the child feels the breast is bitter, he/she will have no choice than to take the prepared formula that is available. Using bitter but harmless substances might make the child not to take the breast milk again on the first trial. Other babies might want to try it again to see if it may taste normal again. Continue doing this for 1 week. It is most likely that the child will not be interested again in the breast milk because it tastes bitter. If after a week the child still tries to suck the breast, then you may need to change to another method.
    The method may not work for children that have been taking bitter drugs because the bitter substance will taste just like the normal drug they have been taking. If the child has been taking drugs but the drugs are not bitter, then this method is the best to try out. Even if the child has been on bitter medications, still try out this method.
    A good example of a harmless and bitter substance is bitter leaf (used in making bitter leaf soup). When using the bitter leaf, always wash the leaf properly with salt and enough water to prevent any infection to the child. After washing the leaf, pound it or blend into tiny pieces and make a paste from it. Do not drain the bitter water. Apply the paste to the nipple and areola area. Anytime the baby tastes it, they mostly remove their mouth immediately and stop sucking. Allow the child for 1 or 2 minutes to see if the child may try sucking again; if the child tries sucking again, the bitter taste will prevent the child from sucking. This is the time to give the prepared formula or supplementary feed to the child. Continue to do this for about week. Most times, the child stops immediately and may never want to take the breast milk again even when given.
  2. Use of Pepper on the breast
    Pepper is very hot to taste and even some adults do not like the taste of it. This therefore is the effective way of weaning babies off milk and there is no child that can become used to taking of pepper. When applying it, grind it and keep aside. Do not apply it immediately because it may hurt the skin. Anytime a child wants to suckle, just rub a little around the areola and then allow the child to suckle. This may seem harsh but it is the effective way to wean a child. Do not put overwhelming amount that may disturb the child, just rub it by using your finger to rub it round the areola (You may use three drops). Make sure you have a formula to give the child immediately because the pepper will make the child to cry and would gladly take whatever you give in order to quench the hot pepper. The formula or family diet will help the child quench the pepper at the same time gives satiety to the child.
  3. Outright denial of breast milk
    This requires the mother denying the child of breast milk. This is less effective because the child may cry and tumble around in order to get the mother to succumb to the demand. The cry of the child may provoke sympathy and the mother may end up giving the child the breast milk. Denying the child without giving the child reasons to stop may make the child continually cry out anytime he/she needs to take breast milk. But when the child finds reasons such as the breast suddenly becoming bitter or having the taste of pepper, the child would not really want to take the breast milk again.

Weaning of twins and other multiple gestations

In order to wean off twins, triplets or more, the mother may have to start introducing supplementary feed earlier than in single babies because the mother may not meet the demands of the children especially for triplets. The rate of production of breast milk may not be enough to feed all the babies; hence, when the mom observes that she cannot meet the demand, it is better to start the complementary feeding and then complete weaning follows after the babies start eating the family diet in an amount that gets them full. The methods for weaning twins are same as stated above.

Problems associated with weaning babies

Weaning when not properly done may cause problems to both the child and the mom. It is therefore necessary to understand and adhere to the right steps to carry in order to wean a baby.

The problems that may arise include:

  1. Malnutrition
    Malnutrition may occur when a child is weaned off the breast without proper and adequate diet. This happens due to the fact that the food given to the child is not providing for all the need nutrients and may provide the nutrients but not enough to meet the demands. Sometimes, the same type of food is given to a child several times (mostly in developing countries) simply because the mother may not have time for the child due to the nature of her Job or other social activities. Other times, it is due to poverty, especially in developing countries where a child hardly have enough food to eat not to even talk of other important but yet costly ingredients of food such as meat, eggs etc. Due to this, the cases of protein energy malnutrition such as Kwashiorkor, mostly occur at age 1 and above because the children were weaned from breast milk and now have little to eat and the little amount does not even have all the nutrients needed by the child for growth and development.
    The solution to this problem is for the mother to know that weaning a child does not mean that the child can be neglected. The child still needs balanced diet which should contain all six classes of food: carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, mineral salt, fats and water. The child needs all of these to grow and develop well like other children of his/her age. It is therefore necessary for all mothers to know the common food varieties and their associated nutritional benefits as outlined below at the end of this article. The mother should know of micronutrients and the foods that contain these nutrients, she should know of the vitamins and their sources and their functions and she should also know how to make a mix for the child. When a mother has the knowledge of all these, then the child is unlikely to be malnourished after breastfeeding unless the child is chronically ill. The knowledge therefore is the most important factor because a babys parents could still be rich and yet the child may be malnourished due to ignorance on the side of the mother or nanny.
  2. Infection
    Infections are common problems associated with weaning babies. This is largely due to process taken while making the food or preparing the complementary feed for the child. It is therefore necessary that hygiene should be strictly followed in the preparation of food for the baby. Another factor that causes disease indirectly after weaning is a dirty environment. At the time a child is weaned, coincidentally, it is the same time that a child might have learnt how to walk or at least crawl. This mobility of the baby makes the baby to move around and anything that they come in contact with would be taken to the mouth leading to infections and diarrhoea. It is advisable to keep their environment neat.
  3. Painful breast due to engorgement after complete weaning
    This is a problem that is likely to occur following the sudden and complete weaning of a child. Remember that breast milk production occurs under the influence of some hormones in the body of the woman as stated earlier above. If the mother all of a sudden stops breastfeeding, then the hormones may keep secreting milk which may lead to engorgement of the breast. When this occurs, the mother may have pains that may be very discomforting that she may not sleep well. To prevent this from happening, the mother should slowly wean the child to give room for the body to adjust accordingly; but if it still happens that the breast becomes engorge, then the mother should treat as follows:* Express the breast into a clean container. You have to keep doing this anytime the breast becomes engorged, this will relief the pains immediately. Expressing the breast means you should extract the milk in a container by pressing gently on it. You have to keep doing this for some few days and the body will adjust. Remember that sucking the breast by the baby triggers more production.
    *Use of pain relievers to reduce the pain: if the pains become unbearable, then you could still take pain relievers such as Paracetamol.
    *If all fails, you may likely need Bromocriptine, but this should be with your doctors prescription.

Weaning is a gradual process that needs careful transition from breastfeeding to complementary feeding in order to avoid causing malnutrition and infection in the baby while on the weaning process.