As your child grows they will reach many milestones that mark their passage to adulthood. As a parent you’ll take a great deal of joy in seeing your child reach them, but deep down there’ll be a little sadness at they leave their childhood behind. Surely, the most poignant of all is when a mother stops breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional support for your baby during its first year. For the first six months your baby needs nothing else. However, there does come a time when the process of weaning your child begins. Weaning is a natural and gradual process. Some babies can begin to wean from as early as four months whilst others may not start until they are around one year of age. Your child needs to develop muscular and nervous coordination in order to eat solid food. Before four months of age a baby does not have the ability to move food around in its mouth or the coordination to swallow at the times it should. Your baby will still have the natural and instinctive action of thrusting its tongue forward when it eats. This reflex is ideal for sucking but no so when it comes to eating solids. Also, before your child reaches at least four months of age, the digestive system is not yet ready to deal with solid food; it is unable to extract the nutrients and protein from the food.
By observing your baby closely you’ll be able to see the first signs that your baby is ready to be weaned. The first, and most obvious sign, is the appearance of teeth. After all, this is what teeth are for; chewing food. Also – and very handily – babies are usually about ready for weaning when they are able to sit up on their own, either on your lap or in a baby high chair. You should also begin to notice how your baby pays close attention to what you’re eating; a natural curiosity for what other people are eating. In fact, so curious may be your baby that they’ll grab the food right off your plate!
As mentioned before, weaning is a natural and lengthy process. The best approach for most mothers is to let baby eat both solid food and breast milk until baby no longer wants mother’s milk. Gradually introduce your baby to solid food. Don’t stop feeding breast milk in one go, as this be very traumatic for a baby and emotionally upsetting for the mother. Stopping suddenly can also cause mother problems such as engorgement. You may need to try out different baby foods; babies, just like adults, have preferences for certain food.
Try to feed your baby organically grown food. This important as a lot of fruit and vegetables can contain residues of organophosphates, as wells as pesticides and other chemicals. These can be harmful to your baby. Also, non-organic produce tends to be low in certain minerals your baby needs, such as zinc, selenium and chromium. Certain foods are best avoided before your child is twelve months old. These include, cow’s milk, salt, sugar, nuts (and nut pastes), eggs. Certain food stuffs can be given before your child is one year old but should be avoided first the first seven months; these include cereal, pasta, bread and yogurt. Your child may also be allergic to some of these. Best advice is to closely monitor your child when you first introduce a new item of food. If you are concerned get medical advice straight away.
Children learn life skills through play. Learning to eat solid food is no different so expect a messy time. The best advice is to relax and accept that your child seems more interested in playing with the food rather than eating it. Banging the spoon, throwing the food to the floor, throwing the spoon to the floor, throwing the bowl to the floor is all part of the learning experience. Have fun with your child and let her have fun eating food for the first time. Teaching table manners can come later.
Inevitably your baby will suckle for the last time. During the last few weeks or months, breastfeeding will be mainly indulged as a comfort – by both child and mother. Stopping breastfeeding will be a mutual decision made by both. Breastfeeding will become a memory for a mother; a remembered, beautiful and intimate bonding between a mother and her child.