Weaning woes and ways

Is it safe to use extracts of neem and bitter gourd or coffee?

THE PROCESS OF weaning a baby off its mother’s milk has undergone a sea change. Baby-led weaning (where the baby is introduced to solid food that he can eat on his own), breastfeeding till the age of two and gentle weaning (replacing one feeding with semi-solid or liquid food) have become part of the art and science of breastfeeding today. Alongside these new rules, the old also find sway in our homes. It is not uncommon to find families using the extracts of neem, bitter gourd, gonkurra leaves (sorrel leaves) or coffee to wean a baby off its mother’s milk.

Here is a lowdown on these agents.

Coffee decoction is a highly concentrated liquid and therefore the caffeine content even in a teaspoon can be high. If your child is the type who gets weaned at the first attempt of applying it to your areola and nipple, then you have nothing to worry about. If you have to resort to a daily application, note that prolonged use has been found to cause restlessness, affect the heart and breathing rate and even lead to an upset tummy in the baby. Also note that caffeine is one among substances (alcohol, nicotine, certain herbs, drugs) that is capable of affecting foetal behaviour even when present in the mother’s blood stream.

Neem paste does work like magic on some babies but then again, this method is not foolproof. Some babies are notorious for acquiring a taste for neem-flavoured breast milk. The sharp smell and bitterness are but minor obstacles in getting close to mommy and her milk. The same logic holds good for bitter gourd.

Also, please note that since neem trees lining our homes and roads are exposed to dust and pollution, some paediatricians believe that it might not be ideal for consumption even after being washed and dried, especially for infants under 12 months whose guts are still immature. Insect eggs or other chemicals (from processes such as fumigation) on the leaves can lead to tummy troubles in babies.

Do keep in mind that time-tested rituals need not necessarily work for your baby the way it did for other children in your family since they were in practice during a different time period, possibly under different conditions.

Worldwide, lactation experts are pushing for a gentler process of weaning. Adopting a sudden, forceful approach of weaning when the baby is reluctant―such as not giving milk despite the baby crying continuously for it, forcing the baby to sleep in another room (when he is used to co-sleeping) or using something shockingly bitter to wean―are best avoided. An overnight or forceful weaning can cause distress to the baby and painful breast engorgement in the mother.

Next issue: Growth pains in toddlers

Tips for peaceful weaning

◆ Begin by skipping the baby’s least favourite or least important session of feeding―this could be the one after breakfast or the one nearing noon. Nighttime feeds are usually the last to go. So don’t waste your time and energy fighting them.

◆ If the daytime feeds have come down to zero but your baby wants a feed just for a nap, try taking him for a drive. A quick ride in a car may put him to sleep.

◆ If the child is more than one, follow the ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ dictum. Offer juice, milk or solid food whenever a demand for your milk is made before giving in to the demand.

◆ Try to put your child in his bed or a little away from you. Do not put him to sleep by rocking him on your shoulders, or on his favourite ‘rocking chair’ or sofa―positions which tell him that a feed is due next.

Source: La Leche League International