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The decision to wean your baby is not an easy one. Most breastfeeding mothers are very reluctant and get disheartened when they have to wean their babies and let go of the special bonding nursing sessions. Some mothers do get excited to wean their babies but do not know how their babies would be able to take the transition.
Most mothers have the question of when to exactly start weaning a baby? Some say that between the age of 4 to 6 months is the period that one can start weaning. But there are risks that are involved if you are weaning your baby too early.
According to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), babies should be exclusively breastfed or infant formula fed until they complete 6 months of age. It is up until the age of 6 months that the babies receive all their nutrients and calories from breast or infant formula milk. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the baby is 6 months of age. The full health benefits of breast milk are provided during the first 6 months of a baby’s life when the baby is breastfed.
What happens if you are weaning your baby too early?
Children who are weaned too early will be at a risk later in life (according to a BBC report). This is because babies who are weaned too early risk becoming overweight later in life and also develop health problems.
Here are a few reasons why weaning your baby too early might be a problem:
#1. Babies are not ready to chew food before 6 months
They suck or swallow. Even after 6 months, you will need to give them mashed food as they hardly have teeth. So starting solids before 6 months poses a danger of food getting stuck in the baby’s airways.
#2. Increases the risk of baby’s obesity
Research has shown that most bottle-fed babies are weaned early and put on solids from the time they turn 4 or 5 months old. Babies who are weaned of infant formula or even breast milk are more likely to turn obese. However, there is no relation between obesity and weaning early which has been proved but babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months have a very low rate of becoming obese later in life.
#3. It deprives your baby of the rich nutrients that breast milk has to offer
Research shows that babies can get all their nutritional needs from breast milk or formula milk for the first six months of their life.
#4. Your baby’s digestive system needs to mature
Your baby’s digestive system is still working and being built until the baby reaches 6 months of age. Weaning early can lead to upset stomach and digestion problems in many babies. They tend to have allergies from food and also become prone to colic.
#5. Tongue skills
Your baby has not yet mastered new tongue skills: All small babies have a tongue-thrust reflex that means they push out anything with their tongues if they have the risk of choking themselves. This reflex should start diminishing before you decide to wean your baby. Your baby also needs to learn how to keep the food in his/her mouth and swallow it from the front to the back and inside the neck. This will come only once the baby is 6 months or older.
A baby should be ready to be weaned when he/she:
- Shows good head control and is able to sit well with support
- Gains a healthy weight since birth. Usually, a baby should be double the birth weight by the age of 6 months.
- Is able to reach for objects and bring them to his/her mouth
- Takes an interest in your food and opens his/her mouth when you are eating.
Does the timing of solid food introduction matter?
Introducing solids too early or even too late can develop the risk of having food allergies later in life. It can also cause your infant to drink less the amount of breast milk or formula at the point where they need the extra dose of their milk and its nutrients. Thus it is best and is advisable to wean your baby after 6 months of age.
Why is there a 6-month benchmark for weaning babies?
The nutrients required by a baby for the first 6 months of his/her life is provided by breast milk. Breast milk is the storehouse of minerals, vitamins, fats and is more than a wholesome meal for the baby’s first 6 months. The WHO recommends breastfeeding to be continued for 1 year and even beyond if the mother and baby desire. But after a period of 6 months, the baby should be given mashed solid food in order to support the breast milk. Human milk provides the required amount of iron that the baby needs for the first 6 months of his/her life. The iron is stored inside the baby’s liver during pregnancy. Once that iron is used up by about 6 months of age, iron-rich foods such as meats or iron-fortified cereals need to be added to your baby’s diet.