Nutritionist Mum Lisa
Weaning from Breastfeeding
It was really important to me as a nutritionist to exclusively breast feed my baby for the first six months of her life. Despite this I was surprised at how many times I almost automatically wanted to offer her food or share what I was eating with her! The World Health Organisation and also the Breastfeeding Association recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.
Primarily it's got to do with their immune system and giving them the best opportunity to develop a healthy gut and give them the best defense against developing allergies. Research shows that when feeding the milk encourages all sorts of important secretions in the gut as well as the immune "tonic" they get from mum. And of course nutritionally it is the most complete way to nourish your baby, not to mention the psychological and bonding benefits.
So, what about weaning? When is the best time to wean and what is the best way to wean?
"Mummy... I'm Ready!"
I was part way through this post, when I heard, "Mummy, I'm Ready!" No it wasn't my super developed baby already able to speak, but rather my husband finishing off in the shower. This was my cue to come and get her out! I was so entrenched in typing that I didn't respond straight away... Again he called, "Mummy, I'm ready! Can you hear us?"
Wouldn't it be great if as soon as your baby was able to eat and ready to wean it could say, "Mummy, I'm ready!" Unfortunately it doesn't happen quite like that, but your baby does give you other cues to let you know.
Physiologically, your baby starts to develop "food readiness" when it can hold its own head up, it is able to sit up unaided, it can put its hand to its mouth, it is starting to explore with putting things in its mouth, it starts to reach and grab for things you are putting in your mouth... or off your plate, and it is chomping or trying to bite on things... or teething or has one or two teeth already. Though contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean that it is ready to receive its primary nutrition needs from solid foods yet. In fact many babies will experiment or play with food up until the age of one and if left to their natural devices would still primarily achieve most of their nutrition from breast milk (or relevant substitute).
There has been a lot of mixed opinion on the ideal age to introduce foods to your baby, with the biggest motivation for doing it sooner rather than later, being the "risk of developing deficiencies" particularly iron, if you "leave it too late".
Nutritionally, that's not really a concern for a baby that is being breastfed by a healthy mother. Baby will be born with a reserve of iron that will certainly tide them over for the first six months, unless they have a bleed or a problem of some sort where they lose their reserves. Breast milk is also highly concentrated and has the perfect cocktail of nutrients delivered in a way that is highly bioavailable for a baby so it is the very best way they can get their nutrition in. That is also a reason to KEEP breastfeeding for the first six months. It also is probably no accident that your breastmilk isn't naturally iron rich.
There is a reason breastmilk is naturally "low" in iron, and that is probably to do with the colonies of bacteria in the gut, we want to give the good guys the best opportunity to colonise and we don't want to be feeding fuel to e-coli or some of the other bacteria which thrive on iron.
So, if you can, do try to exclusively breast feed for the first 6 months... and then... if you can... I would recommend that you embark on "baby led weaning".
So what is weaning? Weaning is both: the introduction of solids and the gradual reduction and eventually stopping of breast (milk) feeding. As a species we are the only ones that continue to consume milk into adulthood. There is a lot of research out there to suggest that this is not only not necessary but also can be detrimental (and the main reason is that we consume milk from another species.) Anthropological data suggests we may have breast fed up until 7 years of age, with breastfeeding up until 3 years of age being the low normal. Nowadays, a breastfeeding toddler at the age of three makes the cover of Time Magazine! How time has changed!
What age is the best time to stop breastfeeding?
Society would lead you to believe normal is anything between 3 months and 6 months, especially if mothers are returning to work.
Many of my friends, peers and family have started to ask me when I will stop breastfeeding. I had imagined it would happen at about a year, though hadn't honestly given it that much thought, beyond achieving that first 6 months milestone.
Now at 11 months old, my baby is not showing any signs of being ready to give up the boob and I must admit, I started to feel the pressure of society upon me. So I decided to get some expert advice.
What is normal? What is healthy?
I was very interested to learn from the Breastfeeding Association and a lactation specialist that often babies under one will breastfeed as much as new born babies. I discovered this when I rather reluctantly confessed that my baby still feeds roughly every 4 to 5 hours, which means she feeds 3 – 4 times during the day and 2 – 3 times during the night (10pm and 3 am and 6 am roughly).
The wonderful lactation specialist smiled at me and said, “Honey, in this group, that makes you and your baby, perfectly normal and healthy.”
While I don’t imagine myself still breastfeeding my own toddler until the age of 3 or beyond… I imagine she will have a couple a feeds a day for a few more months yet.
So really "normal" is what feels right and normal for you and provided your and your baby’s nutritional needs are met, that can be the healthiest option too.
If you are struggling to make this decision, try using the BRAIN method. Explore your choices in the following way:
- What are the Benefits,
- What are the Risks,
- What are the Alternatives,
- What does your Intuition say,
- What happens if Nothing changes?
The Breastfeeding Association representative I spoke to did recommend a great book called: Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner.
I am loving it!
More on baby led weaning in my next post but a great text to read is Baby-led Weaning by Jill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about who I am and what I do... please visit my website: www.ivegotlife.com.au