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Two practical issues for breastfeeding women are when to give their babies something other than breast milk, and when to stop breastfeeding.
First, let's clear up some confusion over the basic terminology. The word 'weaning' comes from an old English word for 'accustoming'. Many people use it to mean weaning from the breast - gradually stopping breastfeeding as a baby gets used to other foods. However, it can also mean accustoming a baby to other foods while still breastfeeding.
When, how and why you start giving other foods, and when, how and why you stop breastfeeding, are up to you and your baby. However, a wealth of experience from other mothers, plus many years of scientific research, provide some useful guidelines.
Introducing Solid FoodsThe day you give your baby something other than your milk is an important milestone. Some babies take to it enthusiastically; others are less eager, especially at first. Weaning foods are traditionally called 'solids', however runny they are.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended in 2001 that babies should have no foods or drink other than breast milk for their first six months. This means you shouldn't give formula either. The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition agrees, but says there should be some flexibility - as long as solids aren't introduced before four months.
Start Solids After Six MonthsIt's better to wait until your baby is at least four months before you start solids, and it's arguably even better to wait until six months. Six months seems a natural time, because many babies allowed to decide for themselves when they want to start solids (by picking up pieces of food) don't begin until around then. This is also the time when many get their first tooth.
Most babies benefit from solids no later than eight or nine months old. A few, though, are satisfied and well nourished on breast milk alone for longer. Indeed, studies in Africa and in Australia suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is adequate for some babies for as long as 15 months.
Dr. Penny Stanway
You can buy Dr. Stanway's book 'Breast is Best' here
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