Considering weaning before 6 months from breast milk or want to start feeding your baby solid foods? You may want to know the impact of early weaning first.
Thinking of Weaning Before 6 Months? Know the Facts First!
Have you seen those videos on YouTube and social media that show the adorable reactions babies have to their first solid foods? Perhaps you can’t wait to see your baby’s face scrunch up in dislike or eyes light up with pleasant surprise. While parents once fed their babies solid foods within the first few months of life, the World Health Organization recommends that all parents breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the same schedule with parents gradually introducing solid foods as a supplement to breast milk sometime between six months and the baby’s first birthday.
That includes water, juice and other liquids. Babies receive the water that they need through breast milk. When you add more liquids, you fill you fill your baby’s stomach and reduce the amount of breast milk consumed. Water can also prevent proper absorption of nutrients from your breast milk, potentially leaving your baby malnourished.
Related Article> Benefits of Exclusive Breastfeeding
5 Reasons to Breastfeed Exclusively for At Least Six Months
You could breastfeed exclusively for at least six months based only on professional recommendations, but it helps to understand the reasons behind those recommendations.
1. Breastfeeding seeds and strengthens a growing baby’s gut microbiome.
A microbiome is a collection of microorganisms that live on the human body. You can’t see these small living organisms, but you may sometimes feel them in the form of stomachaches, illness and disease caused at least partially by imbalances in the harmful and helpful microorganisms. The gut microbiome refers to the community living in the gut.
Research has shown that close to 30 percent of the bacteria found in a baby’s gut comes from breast milk. Approximately 10 percent comes from skin cells transferred from a mother’s areola to the baby’s gut during breastfeeding. Each day that a baby receives breast milk, the gut is further populated with essential bacteria that are needed to strengthen the baby’s immune system and promote overall health and wellbeing.
Another study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2018 found that babies who aren’t breastfed exclusively in the first six months of life have more complex gut microbiomes than babies who are exclusively breastfed. Their gut microbiome is a closer match to an adult’s gut, which means that the babies lack some of the benefits that breastfed babies enjoy, including:
- Enhanced lipid metabolism
- Improved detoxification
- Enhanced vitamin and cofactor metabolism
The study found that babies who receive formula or supplemental food in the first six months have guts better able to metabolize carbohydrates than the vitamins found naturally in breast milk. Another study published in a 2018 issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that formula feeding in early life contributes to changes in the gut microbiome that increases the risk of a baby becoming overweight later in life.
All of this evidence points to one idea: Exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of a baby’s life is essential to developing a healthy gut microbiome that supports health and wellbeing for years to come. Studies are showing that exclusive breastfeeding could give your baby many advantages, including protection from learning disabilities later in life.
2. Breast milk contains hormones and other essential nutrients that help babies control their pace when eating.
Humans depend on leptin to control appetite so that they don’t eat too much and ghrelin to stimulate appetite when the body needs energy. Researchers have found that the amount of leptin in a baby’s body correlates to the amount in the mother’s body. Ghrelin is naturally found in a mother’s foremilk, so it’s readily available to help the baby regulate hunger during feeding sessions.
Bottle-fed babies lack the benefits of hormone regulation on their appetite, which is possibly why they suck down bottles of formula much faster than a breastfed baby finishes a feeding session. By allowing your baby to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of life, you encourage healthy appetite control.
3. The more women adopt breastfeeding, the more infant lives are potentially saved.
In 2010, the journal Pediatrics printed the results of a detailed cost analysis that determined the number of lives and the amount of money that the U.S. could save if more mothers breastfed exclusively for the first six months of every baby’s life. The study considered the cost in dollars and lives for some of the leading causes of infant death. Researchers compared the current rates at the time of the study to projected savings if 90 percent of American women adopted exclusive early breastfeeding.
The results estimated that more than 900 lives would be saved with 90 percent breastfeeding compliance. Most of the lives saved would be infants. The United States would also save approximately $13 billion at that compliance rate.
This study represents the overall health benefits that babies receive when they breastfeed exclusively for at least six months. If these numbers were projected across the world rather than just one country, thousands of infant lives could potentially be saved just by increasing breastfeeding rates in the early months of life.
4. Babies are less likely to experience diarrhea or other gastrointestinal distress when fed breast milk exclusively.
Some of the research studies already discussed also reveal that babies who are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life are less prone to diarrheal illnesses. That’s likely because breast milk is made in a sanitary environment and meets the exact nutritional needs of your baby in every phase of growth and development.
When you start feeding your baby foods that are prepared in factories, stored in warehouses and shipped across the country, the risk of giving your baby bad bacteria or a virus increases. Some babies also don’t tolerate formula well and do better with breast milk for unknown reasons.
Newborn babies have undeveloped stomachs and digestive systems, so they need the simplest foods that are as easy to digest as possible. That means their mother’s milk in most cases.
5. Breastfeeding is more affordable in terms of finances, time and quality of life.
Breastfeeding allows you to double the return of investment for the food that you consume for the first six months to two years of your child’s life. You don’t have to pay for formula because your body takes resources from your body and creates breast milk that is perfectly formulated for your baby’s current stage of growth. You also don’t have to pay for bottles, sterilizers and other supplies that are needed for bottle feeding.
Most new mothers are stressed out and sleep deprived for at least the first six months of a new baby’s life, so it helps that breastfeeding is the fastest way to nourish a growing baby. There’s no need to warm up bottles because your breasts keep the milk at the perfect temperature until the moment it’s delivered to your baby’s mouth. You don’t even have to wash and sterilize bottles after each feeding.
Assuming there are no challenges or barriers to breastfeeding, many new others also find breastfeeding less stressful than bottle feeding. They don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching into their milk from plastic bottles or the weight of glass bottles in their diaper bag. As technology continues to evolve, breastfeeding supplies will become even more sophisticated, making the most natural way to feed a baby more and more convenient.
If you can wait to complicate your life with sippy cups and toddler-friendly dinnerware, why not give yourself that advantage? Stick with the breast for at least six months to give your little one a strong start in life while allowing your family to adjust to the new addition.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready for Solids
Once you get close to the six-month mark, you should start watching for signs that your baby is ready to start exploring solid foods. Not every baby is ready to take that step right at six months, but keep in mind that most babies do need a mix of solid food and breast milk before they reach their first birthday. You should slowly transition from exclusive breastfeeding to a mix of solid foods and breast milk as your baby gets closer to the end of his or her first year.
The prerequisite for eating solid food is being able to maintain an upright position without support. If your baby cannot sit upright on his or her own long enough to eat, they aren’t ready to try solid foods safely. The following list will help you identify other common signs of a hungry baby ready for more variety:
- Increased demand for breastfeeding that isn’t explained by factors other than excessive hunger
- Reaching for or staring at food as other people eat
- Smacking lips or opening mouth when looking at solid foods
- Accepts items into the mouth without pushing it out on reflex
- Displays the ability to chew
- Picking up small items with the forefinger and thumb – pincher grip
- Birth weight has at least doubled
Your baby may not display all of these signs of readiness, but you should notice at least some of them taking place around the six-month mark. Many parents first notice the baby’s growing interest in food when other family members eat. If you allow your baby to sit at the table during mealtimes, this is likely to happen naturally with time.
What are the Best First Solid Foods?
Resist the urge to start giving your baby any soft food in the house. Your little one’s stomach needs to start with simple foods that aren’t likely to lead to gastrointestinal distress when starting out. Go slow while checking for increased spitting up, fussiness and other signs that a food just isn’t sitting well on your baby’s stomach. Build his or her food range gradually over time.
To see what foods you may want to start with, walk down the baby food aisle at any grocery store. Even if you plan on making your own baby food at home, that will give you a good idea of what foods are suitable for babies around your baby’s growth stage.
In general, you will start with foods very similar to what you feed other members of your family minus the spices, herbs and added fat or sugar. That should include:
- Lean meats
Your baby will consume carbohydrates in the form of pureed vegetables and fruits at this point. You never want to give a small baby foods that are chocking hazards, so stay away from rice and other foods that are soft but still need chewing. The more processed, seasoned and preserved the food, the less likely it’s a good pick for your early eater.
Related Article> Best First Foods for a Breastfeeding Baby
Let Your Baby Take the Lead
Baby-led feeding is the most intuitive approach to introducing solid foods to a new baby. Once you start noticing that your baby is less satisfied with breastfeeding and is more interested in the food that you’re eating, start thinking about simple ways to give him or her small amounts of baby-safe foods. Many parents start with small bites of soft foods here and there rather than going all in with a full jar of peas or carrots on day one.
If your baby opens his or her mouth when the spoon comes close and is able to accept a bit of food without pushing it back out with his or her tongue, that’s a sign that you can continue moving forward. If you run into resistance or your baby responds with signs of discomfort, you can slow down or stop and restart in a couple weeks or a month. There are no rules, so pay attention to what your baby wants and needs.
Also keep in mind that solid foods don’t have to instantly replace breastfeeding. You can supplement with solid foods while continuing to breastfeed daily. That allows you to gradually wean your baby off the breast while decreasing your milk supply so that you’re not left with engorged, painful breasts due to a sudden change in feeding routines.