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Introduction of solid foods does not mean weaning from the breast

“Now that your baby has started eating purees, you will gradually stop breastfeeding.”

“Breastfeeding after six months of age doesn’t offer anything.”

“If you don’t stop breastfeeding, the baby will become too attached to your breast, and she won’t eat anything else.”

“After the first six months you should gradually wean and give infant formula.”

“Now, with solid foods, you will breastfeed only in the morning and at night.”

“Don’t breastfeed after the baby’s solid meal; you’ll impede the absorption of the food.”

All of the above are scientifically wrong statements. What is actually true?

 

Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies throughout their first year of life and more. Its benefits accumulate with every additional month of breastfeeding, and in brief, include increasing protection from infections, allergies, celiac disease, diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer of the mother.

Introduction of solid foods doesn’t mean abrupt weaning from the breast. Milk – breast milk or formula – remains the main food for the infant at least until the first nine months of its life. The new foods, which are introduced into the child’s diet – fruits, vegetables, meats etc. – do not immediately substitute milk meals. The period between 5 – 9 months is a period of experimentation in new tastes for the child. He carefully and gradually tastes new foods, with normal setbacks when he has a cold or he is teething.

Gradual weaning does not mean stopping the breast. Weaning does not mean replacement of breastfeeding with formula. With the introduction of solid foods we don’t “wean” the child from its mother’s breast, by replacing it with infant formula; instead we supplement breastfeeding with new foods, which will provide the baby with the necessary extra micronutrients, like iron and zinc. A seven month old infant that has eaten its solids may immediately want to breastfeed. There is nothing wrong with that. The procedure is slow and, normally, breastfeeding does not decrease substantially in frequency and intensity, day and night, until much later, after nine – ten months of life. Mothers are advised, either at two or at ten months, to breastfeed their babies on demand, responding to their needs, according to the signals of the baby, and not according to imposed time frames and schedules. It is normal for the baby to seek the breast in order to feed, but also in order to quench his thirst, to play, for emotional satisfaction, to sleep, or to relieve teething.

Studies have shown, that the introduction of solid foods with continuation of breastfeeding at the same time, offers important protection to the child from infections, which will appear from this age and onwards, like gastroenteritis. Research has also shown that the continuation of breastfeeding provides the child with richer taste stimuli – from the taste of the foods consumed by the mother, which pass to breast milk –, resulting in a child getting more easily used to the tastes of solid foods. Other studies show that the baby that continues to breastfeed learns to control its hunger and its satiety, to “listen” to its body and its needs, to eat small quantities, and often also to progress more fully and more quickly in its dietary behaviour and nutritional development, by preferring foods shaped in soft pieces, instead of purees, sooner. The continuation of breastfeeding constitutes an important shield for your baby against the epidemic of childhood obesity that affects our country.

There is no such thing as morning-night breastfeeding. This guidance is not natural, arbitrary, and leads soon to full discontinuation of breastfeeding. On the other hand, breastfeeding should not remain exclusive after the first six months of life. The baby’s needs increase and should be covered by solid foods, by table foods, which are properly selected, rich in calories, fats, iron, vitamins and micronutrients. The age of six to ten months constitutes a unique window of opportunity for the smooth introduction of the child to the world of food. At this age the infant should demonstrate significant progress in food preferences.  A variety in tastes at this age means healthy dietary maturation, while, on the contrary, adherence to milk – either breast milk or formula –, a small restricted range of choices, and delay in the introduction of significant food categories – as for example grains, legumes, fish, egg – can lead to a dietary difficult toddler, to food aversion, to a child with developmental stagnation in the field of food. In addition, failure to start solid foods in a timely manner always entails the risk of iron deficiency anemia and of weight stagnation.

Give your baby what he deserves – breast milk, after his first six months of life too. Don’t listen to the wrong advice of health professionals and the immediate environment that arbitrarily connect the beginning of solid foods with the cessation of breastfeeding.

 

Stelios Papaventsis MRCPCH DCH IBCLC 2010

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