Plant-based and weaning. If you have questions about transitioning baby from breast milk or formula, including how to introduce baby to plant-based milks, this post is for you.
Weaning your baby off of breast milk or formula, and introducing him to solid foods, can come with a wave of questions – and emotions.
Whether you’ve been nursing your baby or preparing formula for her, you might feel equally parts excited to gain a little bit of personal freedom back AND sad that your child has reached this milestone. Weaning is a big deal, and we just want to acknowledge that.
New parents and caregivers may also be wondering what the protocol is for weaning babies and introducing them to their first solid foods.
In this post, we’re tackling some of the basics around making this transition, including the use of plant-based milks. Here are a few key things to know to make being plant-based and weaning a breeze.
How do I know if my baby is ready to wean?
Some mamas will intuitively know that it’s time to start weaning – whether it’s because of baby’s signs, her personal desires, or both.
And while we certainly encourage moms who can breastfeed to continue doing so for as long as possible, we also understand that when it’s time, it’s time – and that’s a very personal choice.
Note that the World Health Organizations recommends babies to be exclusively breastfed (or receive formula) for a minimum of at least six months, as this will meet all of their nutrition needs.
After that, the WHO recommends nursing mamas to continue breastfeeding with complementary sources of nutrition (i.e. after introducing solid foods) until the age of two or older if possible.
So, this post is written under the assumption that baby is breastfed or formula-fed exclusively until at least six months of age before considering initiating the weaning process.
Note that health experts state that many babies are ready to try their first solid foods between 4-6 months of age. However, this does NOT mean that breastfeeding or formula feeding should decrease quite yet as solid food intake at this age won’t be adequate to replace nutrition from these sources.
Signs that your baby may be getting ready to begin the weaning process include:
- Sitting up well with good head control
- Can pick up food with fingers and place it in mouth
- Can hold food in mouth and chew it
- Shows interest in food on your plate or on the table (e.g., gets excited looking at it, reaches for it, uses telekinetics to move it toward them, or otherwise indicates that the food is being curiously noticed)
How to transition baby from milk or formula
Being plant-based and weaning isn’t any different. Once your baby is ready to begin weaning, you have a couple of approaches to consider: the traditional way or baby-led weaning, both of which are described below.
In the traditional weaning approach, parents have the most control over the type and quantity of foods baby is offered.
This method starts out with smooth purees (e.g. baby rice cereal or oatmeal, pureed veggies) and gradually moves on to chopped and mashed soft foods, then finger foods, and small bites.
In baby-led weaning (BLW), babies are encouraged to feed themselves from the start.
You can introduce finger foods of appropriate textures right away (e.g., strips of avocado, banana, mango) and allow baby to explore and identify their own preferences.
Contrary to some beliefs, BLW does not increase risk for choking, nor is it an all-or-nothing approach. If your baby likes pureed or mashed foods, incorporate these textures too! BLW is about helping you guide your baby toward a healthy relationship with food.
See our more detailed post on baby-led weaning for vegans here.
As for which way is better for your baby, that’s entirely up to you. We have both been very comfortable using baby-led weaning with our children and, in fact, have an entire E-book dedicated to this method which you can grab here.
Both methods will result in your baby naturally going through the process of weaning off of breast milk or formula as his primary nutrition source.
As baby becomes more comfortable with solid foods, she’ll be eager to try more things and eat more volume, which will naturally result in less and less milk or formula being needed.
Eventually, solid foods will be the main source of nutrition and milk or formula can be complementary.
Transitioning to plant-based milks
What if you want to introduce your baby to plant milk? Is that okay?
Yes. BUT. We suggest waiting until 12 months to more regularly incorporate plant milk as a beverage, as breast milk or formula should be the liquid of choice up until then (note: small amounts of water can be introduced with meals at 6 months).
Here are some important key points to remember about plant milks for babies:
- Plant-based milk is NOT a substitute for breast milk or formula. It will not meet your baby’s nutritional needs and should not be relied upon as a primary source of nutrients. This is why we recommend waiting to introduce it until at least one year of age.
- Not all plant milks are created equal. In fact, there can be significant nutrition differences between brands, flavors, and types. Unfortified plant milks can be severely lacking in protein, fat, and micronutrients. We recommend fortified soy or pea milk, as these have the highest protein content (approximately 8 grams per cup). Soy and pea milk are also nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk.
You may have a lot of questions about being plant-based and weaning, but by keeping a few key points in mind, you can enjoying successfully transitioning baby from breast milk or formula and even incorporate plant-based milk for baby if you choose.
Chime In: What weaning method have you tried or are you planning to try with your kiddos?
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