Weaning your baby

Webster's Dictionary defines weaning as "accustoming a young mammal to take food otherwise than by nursing." Although this event may be very cut and dried in the animal world, for humans the process of weaning is much more complicated, but only because we make it that way. 

Weaning your baby is part of the natural breastfeeding experience. It doesn't have to be a time of unhappiness for you or your baby. If done "gradually, and with love. “ It can be a positive experience for both you and your little one. You actually begin weaning your baby the very first time you offer him any food other than your milk. Weaning should be a process, rather than an event. Depending on how you go about it, weaning can be abrupt or gradual, and may take days, weeks, or months. 
Abrupt weaning should always be avoided, if at all possible, for the sake of both you and your baby.  If you suddenly stop nursing, your breasts will respond by becoming engorged, and you may develop a breast infection or breast abscess. Your hormone levels drop abruptly, and depression can result. Mothers with a history of depression should especially consider this when making decisions about weaning. 
Abruptly withdrawing the breast can cause emotional trauma in the baby. Since nursing is not only a source of food for a baby, but a source of security and emotional comfort as well, taking it away abruptly can be very disturbing. Weaning gradually lets you slowly substitute others kinds of attention to help compensate for the loss of the closeness of nursing. 
If you are told to wean your baby abruptly for medical reasons, you need to make sure that there are no other options. It is well worth getting a second opinion from someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding. Even if you do have to take a drug that isn't safe while nursing, you have the option of just weaning temporarily and picking up breastfeeding where you left off. This involves expressing your milk during the interim, so that you will ready to resume nursing, and also to avoid engorgement. 
There are many benefits of extended breastfeeding:
Your baby continues to get the immunological advantages of human milk, during a time when he is increasingly exposed to infection. Breastfed toddlers are healthier overall. 
-When he is upset, hurt, frightened, or sick, you have a built in way to comfort him. Often a sick child will accept breast milk when he refuses other foods. 
-Many of the medical benefits of breastfeeding (lower cancer risk in mother and baby, for example) are dose related - in other words, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the protective effects. Human milk offers protection for the child who is allergic. 
-Mothering a toddler is challenging enough - nursing makes the job of caring for and comforting him easier. There is no better way to ease a temper tantrum, or put a cranky child to sleep than by nursing.- Nursing provides closeness, security, and stability during a period of rapid growth and development. 
Letting your baby set the pace for weaning spares you the unpleasant task of weaning him before he is ready. When to wean is a very individual decision, and sometimes early weaning is the right decision. If a baby is not happy and thriving, and a mother is so stressed that she can't enjoy her baby, then it may be time to wean. Most babies do quite well on formula and breastfeeding at all costs is not the most important consideration. 
If you do decide that early weaning is right for you and your baby, here are some guidelines to follow: 
Try to do it as gradually as possible. Eliminate one feeding each day for several days to allow your milk supply to decrease slowly. After a couple of weeks, he should be down to nursing just a couple of times a day. 
Usually the last feedings to go are the first one in the morning, and the last one at night. If you're not in a huge rush, you may want to continue these couple of feeding for another week or two. 
Talk to your baby's doctor to find out what formula he recommends. Since babies are not ready for cow's 
milk until they are a year old, it is important to find the appropriate formula. 
Offer lots of physical closeness during this time. There is a tendency to avoid cuddling, because the baby associates the nursing position with breastfeeding, but it is important to snuggle your baby and get lots of skin-to-skin contact, even if you avoid the cradle hold. 
If possible, allow several weeks of concentrated time and attention to the process of weaning. Any baby who has nursed for a year or more is obviously really into it, and isn't likely to give it up easily.-Don't offer, but don't refuse. 
Nurse him only when he is really adamant about it, but don't offer to nurse at other times.-Make sure that you offer regular meals, snacks, and drinks to minimize hunger and thirst. Remember also that babies nurse for reasons besides hunger, including comfort, boredom, and to fall asleep. Try to change your daily routine to minimize situations where he wants to nurse.

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