What is weaning?

Life as a parent means getting our heads around lots of new words and concepts (‘cruising’ is one of our favourites – contrary to what you might think, this is where babies move around upright clutching onto furniture).


Weaning can be a particularly baffling one because it has two meanings. One meaning is introducing solids so a baby is eating more than just milk, the other is where a baby stops having breastmilk.


The word weaning comes from the old English ‘wenian’ which means ‘to accustom, habituate, train, prepare.’ And the idea that weaning is about getting used to something new makes perfect sense both in terms of starting solids and stopping breastfeeding. And this is not just for your baby – both types of weaning usually involve a big emotional and practical adjustment for you too.


Because the same word is used to describe two different things, it is natural to wonder whether they should happen at the same time. But they are two very separate developments.

Introducing solids does not mean that breastfeeding should finish, and equally stopping breastfeeding is not a signal to introduce solids (we discussed signs of readiness in a previous post ). Whether your baby is fed breastmilk, formula or a mixture of both, milk will remain their main source of nutrition until around 12 months. And breastfeeding can continue for as long as you like.


Because it’s potentially confusing for one word to mean two things, lots of health information websites will use the term ‘introducing solids.’ ‘First foods’ is another common alternative, and sometimes health professionals or researchers will use the phrase ‘complementary feeding,’ which basically means ‘not milk.’ But because ‘weaning’ is the term parents are most likely to plug into Google, most websites refer to weaning as well.


Despite the potential muddle the word weaning can cause, we love the fact that getting to grips with something new is at the heart of its meaning. It’s a very fitting way to describe the adventures – and inevitable highs and lows – involved in introducing your baby to the joys of food.

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