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Baby being offered baby food Baby eating baby food.jpg
Baby being offered baby food

Weaning is the process of gradually introducing an infant human or another mammal to what will be its adult diet while withdrawing the supply of its mother's milk.


The process takes place only in mammals, as only mammals produce milk. The infant is considered to be fully weaned once it is no longer fed any breast milk (or bottled substitute).


An shellfish diver prepares for her work as a toddler nurses. (Japan, circa 1806) Kitagawa Utamaro - Abalone Divers - MFA Boston 21.7353-5.jpg
An shellfish diver prepares for her work as a toddler nurses. (Japan, circa 1806)

How and when to wean a human infant is controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding a baby only breast milk for the first six months of its life. [1] Many mothers find breastfeeding challenging, especially in modern times when many mothers have to return to work relatively soon after the birth of their child.[ citation needed ]

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the National Health Service Choices UK, and the National Health & Medical Research Council in Australia recommend waiting until 6 months to introduce baby food. [1] [2] [3] However, many baby food companies market their "stage 1" foods to children between 4 and 6 months old with the precaution that the food is meant to be consumed in addition to breast milk or formula and is just for "practice". These practice foods are generally soft and runny. Examples include mashed fruit and vegetables. Certain foods are recommended to be avoided. The United Kingdom's NHS recommends withholding foods including those "that contain wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, liver, eggs, fish, shellfish, cows’ milk and soft or unpasteurised cheese" until a baby is six months old, as they may cause food allergies or make the baby ill. [4] However, recommendations such as these have been called into question by research that suggests early exposure to potential allergens does not increase the likelihood of allergies, and in some cases reduces it. [5]

In many cultures around the world, weaning progresses with the introduction of feeding the child food that has been prechewed by the parent along with continued breastfeed, a practice known as premastication. [6] The practice was important throughout human history in that it naturally gave a child a greatly improved protein source in addition to preventing iron deficiency. [7] The prechewing of food also gives the baby long-term immunological benefits through factors in the mother's saliva. [6] However, premasticated food from caregivers of lower socioeconomic status in areas of endemic diseases can result in the passing of the disease to the child. [8]

No matter what age baby food is introduced, it is generally a very messy affair, as young children do not have the coordination to eat "neatly".[ citation needed ] Coordination for using utensils properly and eating with dexterity takes years to develop. Many babies begin using utensils between 10 and 14 months, but most will not be able to feed themselves sufficiently well until about 2 or 3 years of age.[ citation needed ]

Weaning conflict

At this point, the mother tries to force the infant to cease nursing, while the infant attempts to force the mother to continue. From an evolutionary perspective, weaning conflict may be considered the result of the cost of continued nursing to the mother, perhaps in terms of reduced ability to raise future offspring, exceeding the benefits to the mother in terms of increased survival of the current infant. [9] This can come about because future offspring will be equally related to the mother as the current infant, but will share less than 100% of the current infant's genes. So, from the perspective of the mother's evolutionary fitness, it makes sense for her to cease nursing the current infant as soon as the cost to future offspring exceeds the benefit to the current infant. [9] But, assuming the current infant shares 50% of the future offspring's genes, from the perspective of the infant's own evolutionary fitness, it makes sense for the infant to continue nursing until the cost to future offspring exceeds twice the benefit to itself (perhaps less, depending on the number of potential future offspring). [9] [10] Weaning conflict has been studied for a variety of mammal species, including primates and canines. [11] [12] [13]


Breastfeeding in tandem Lactancia en tandem 1.jpg
Breastfeeding in tandem

There are significant individual and cultural variations in regards to weaning.

Scientifically, one can ask various questions; some of the most straightforwardly empirical include:

As there are significant ranges and skew in these numbers (some infants are never nursed, or only nursed briefly, for instance), looking at the median (half-way mark) is more useful than looking at the average. [14]

Considering biological measures of maturity, notably investigated by Katherine Ann Dettwyler, yields a range of ages from 2 12 years to 7 years as the weaning age analogous to other primates – the "natural age of weaning". [14] This depends on the measure, for example: weaning in non-human primates is often associated with eruption of permanent molars (humans: 5 12 to 6 years); comparing duration of nursing to length of pregnancy (gestation time) yields a factor of about 6 in chimpanzees and gorillas (humans: 6 × 9 months = 54 months = 4 12 years); body weight may be compared to birth weight (quadrupling of birth weight yields about 2 12 to 3 12 years for humans; 13 of adult weight yields 5 to 7 years for humans); and similarly for other measures.

Other studies are possible, as in psychological factors. For example, Barbara Rogoff has noted, citing a 1953 study by Whiting & Child, that the most distressing time to wean a child is at 13–18 months. After this peak, weaning becomes progressively easier and less distressing for the child, with "older children frequently wean[ing] themselves". [15]

In other mammals

In science, mice are frequently used in laboratory experiments. When breeding laboratory mice in a controlled environment, the weaning is defined as the moment when the pups are transferred out of the mothers' cage. Weaning is recommended at 3 to 4 weeks after parturition. [16]

For pet carnivores such as dogs or cats, there are special puppy or kitten foods commercially available. Alternatively, if the pet owner feeds the parent animals home-made pet food, the young can be fed the same foods chopped into small pieces.

In cattle

Weaning in cattle can be done by many methods. Dairy calves in the United States are weaned off their mother at an average of around 7 weeks of age. [17] Beef calves are not usually weaned off their dams until the calves are between 8 and 10 months of age. [18] Before a calf is completely weaned off of milk, for both dairy and beef cattle, the calf must have developed a fully functioning rumen. [19] For beef cattle, there are many methods of weaning that are used. The use of these methods depends on farm management style, feed availability, condition and age of cow (dam), type of production and whether or not the calves are heifers. [18] Results vary between farms, and methods are still being researched as studies have shown contradicting results on stress levels of calves from different methods of weaning.

Traditionally beef calves are weaned by abrupt separation, where the calves are separated from their dams and have no contact with each other, or by fence line weaning where the dam and calf have contact over a fence line. [20] This has shown to cause high stress in both the dams and the calves. [20] Both the dams and the young express high vocalization, reduced feed intake, reduced rumination, and an increased amount of time searching for each other [21] as well as disrupting the social structure of the herd and of the calves. [18] There is evidence that calves can undergo a form of depression post weaning, and have the potential to undergo illness that may need to be treated. [21]

Two step weaning is a newly developed method used to wean off beef calves from their dams. With this method the calf is fitted with a nose flap that prevents suckling for a period of time, after which the calf is separated from the dam preventing contact. [22] The nose flap does not limit the calf from performing any behaviors other than suckling; they are still able to drink and graze normally. [21] Most research has shown that this method reduces the amount of stress that the calves endure. Studies show that prior to separation there is no change in feeding habits, social interaction to other members of the herd. [21] Once the nose flap is removed and the calves are separated from the dams, there has been data showing less vocalization, less pacing and spent more time eating than calves that were weaned on a more traditional method. [21]

Dairy calves are separated from their dam soon after they are born in most dairy operations. In some there is no contact between calf and cow for health related reasons, such as preventing Johne's disease. The main purpose of separating dairy cows from their calves to allow collection and selling of milk. The calves are then fed colostrum from the dam for the first few days, and then milk replacer. [23] Dairy calves do not have ab libitum milk like beef calves. By limiting the amount of milk the calves receive it caused the calves to consume more feed which leads to faster development of the rumen. [23] Dairy calves are usually weaned off milk early, usually at 4–8 weeks of age. [24]

In horses

Weaning in horses usually takes place when the foal is 4 to 5 months old, [25] as by this point the foal no longer needs nutrients beyond what the mare offers. [26] Prior to weaning the foal, there is usually a creep feeder set up to allow the foal to begin consuming feed that the mare cannot access. [26] There are two main approaches to weaning foals, abrupt and gradual weaning. [25] Abrupt weaning is when the mare and foal are separated, [25] usually without contact. Gradual weaning consists of the separating the mare and foal, but still with contact, but not enough contact that allows nursing to occur, and then after a period of time the mare and foal are separated not allowing contact, or, in some cases, sight of each other. [25] Foals that are weaned by the abrupt method have shown to have higher stressful behaviors displayed. [26] Weaning foals in groups for both methods can reduce stress in the foals. [26]

In dogs

With dogs the puppies are slowly weaned off their mother, slowly reducing the amount of milk and care that the mother is giving to them. It generally is started when the puppies are 3–4 weeks old, and usually continues until they are 7–8 weeks old. It is a gradual process that occurs over several weeks. By weaning the puppies slowly, it allows the mothers milk to dry up at a slow pace, making it less stressful for the mother. [27]

Naturally, in the wild, the mother will begin weaning off the puppies because the puppies will start developing teeth which will irritate the mother when the puppies are suckling. This causes her to continually leave the puppies for longer periods of time, causing them to gradually be weaned off their mother. Wild dogs will also regurgitate food to transition the puppies to a new diet. [28]

During this weaning process the puppies will learn from their litter-mates, and from their mother certain behaviors such as understanding dominance, and learning to reduce their biting habit and when to be submissive to others. [27]

While weaning the puppies should be fed a high quality diet that will be fed to them as they grow post weaning. It may be helpful to moisten the food with water or milk replacer for the first while. By feeding the puppies this it causes the puppies to reduce how much they rely on their mother for food. [27]

In rats

Rats that are raised in a laboratory, or are bred for selling purposes, [29] are usually weaned at the age of 3 weeks. [30] If the pups were left with their mother then weaning would not occur until they were older. This can have some health and behavioral benefits in the rats. [30] The main reason that pups are weaned at 3 weeks of age is because often the mother is pregnant again, especially in a laboratory setting or if owned by a rat breeder, and therefore the pups must be weaned off the mother before the next litter is born. [29] By doing this it will prevent trampling of the pups, as well as over crowding, which can easily occur, especially if the mother is being kept in a monogamous pairs. [30] Generally the pups are separated by sex when weaning occurs, but are never housed alone. [29] After weaning has begun, the pups should be fed a supplemented diet for at least a month, but can be done up to 13 weeks. [31]

In kittens

Weaning kittens involves transitioning the kittens from mother's milk to solid food. [32] During weaning kittens gradually progress from dependence on a mother's care to social independence. Ideally, weaning is handled entirely by the mother cat. However, if the kitten, for instance, is separated from its mother weaning may have to be done by someone. [33]

Twenty-four hours after birth, kittens can discriminate between their mother's teat and a foreign teat. [34] Studies indicate that kittens have different preferences when being weaned and this is based on specific prenatal and postnatal exposure to various flavours. [35] For example, kittens exposed to cheese flavor during pregnancy and the first week after birth oriented preferentially toward cheese-flavored chicken. [36] The weaning process normally begins when kittens are around four weeks old, and is usually completed when they reach 8–10 weeks. It is important to remember that abrupt removal from the mother cat can have a negative effect on the kitten's health and socialization skills. [37] Weaning kittens should be done when the kittens reach 4 weeks old. They should be placed in a separate area for a few hours at a time to reduce their dependence on the mother's milk and her overall presence. The kittens should be put in their own special area with a litter box, food and water bowls. [38]

See also

Related Research Articles

Calf young of domestic cattle

A calf is a young domestic cattle. Calves are reared to become adult cattle or are slaughtered for their meat, called veal, and hide.

Veal Meat of young cattle

Veal is the meat of calves, in contrast to the beef from older cattle. Veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed; however, most veal comes from young males of dairy breeds which are not used for breeding. Generally, veal is more expensive than beef from older cattle. Veal production is a way to add value to dairy bull calves and to utilize whey solids, a byproduct from the manufacturing of cheese.

Kitten Juvenile cat

A kitten is a juvenile cat. After being born, kittens display primary altriciality and are totally dependent on their mother for survival. They do not normally open their eyes until after seven to ten days. After about two weeks, kittens quickly develop and begin to explore the world outside the nest. After a further three to four weeks, they begin to eat solid food and grow adult teeth. Domestic kittens are highly social animals and usually enjoy human companionship.

Birth Process of giving birth to one or more offspring

Birth is the act or process of bearing or bringing forth offspring, also referred to in technical contexts as parturition. In mammals, the process is initiated by hormones which cause the muscular walls of the uterus to contract, expelling the fetus at a developmental stage when it is ready to feed and breathe.

Holstein Friesian cattle Breed of cattle

Holstein Friesians are a breed of dairy cattle originating from the Dutch provinces of North Holland and Friesland, and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. They are known as the world's highest-production dairy animals.

Dairy farming

Dairy farming is a class of agriculture for long-term production of milk, which is processed for eventual sale of a dairy product.

Breast milk

Breast milk or mother's milk is milk produced by mammary glands located in the breast of a human female to feed a young child. Breast milk is the primary source of nutrition for newborns before they are able to eat and digest other foods; older infants and toddlers may continue to be breastfed, but solid foods should be introduced in combination starting from six months of age.

Dairy cattle

Dairy cattle are cattle cows bred for the ability to produce large quantities of milk, from which dairy products are made. Dairy cows generally are of the species Bos taurus.

Foal A horse of either sex up to the age of one year

A foal is an equine up to one year old; this term is used mainly for horses. More specific terms are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal, and are used until the horse is three or four. When the foal is nursing from its great (mother), it may also be called a "suckling". After it has been weaned from its dam, it may be called a "weanling". When a mare is pregnant, she is said to be "in foal". When the mare gives birth, she is "foaling", and the impending birth is usually stated as "to foal". A newborn horse is "foaled".

Puppy Juvenile dog

A puppy is a juvenile dog. Some puppies can weigh 1–1.5 kg (1-3 lb), while larger ones can weigh up to 7–11 kg (15-23 lb). All healthy puppies grow quickly after birth. A puppy's coat color may change as the puppy grows older, as is commonly seen in breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier. Puppy refers specifically to young dogs, while pup may be used for other animals such as wolves, seals, giraffes, guinea pigs, rats or sharks.

Beef cattle cattle breed

Beef cattle are cattle raised for meat production. The meat of mature or almost mature cattle is mostly known as beef. In beef production there are three main stages: cow-calf operations, backgrounding, and feedlot operations. The production cycle of the animals start at cow-calf operations; this operation is designed specifically to breed cows for their offspring. From here the calves are backgrounded for a feedlot. Animals grown specifically for the feedlot are known as feeder cattle, the goal of these animals is fattening. Animals not grown for a feedlot are typically female and are commonly known as replacement heifers. While the principal use of beef cattle is meat production, other uses include leather, and beef by-products used in candy, shampoo, cosmetics, insulin and inhalers.

Baby-led weaning is a method of adding complementary foods to a baby's diet of breast milk or formula. A method of food progression, BLW facilitates the development of age appropriate oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience. Baby-led weaning allows babies to control their solid food consumption by "self-feeding" from the start of their experience with food. The term weaning should not be taken to imply giving up breast milk or formula, but simply the introduction of foods other than breast milk or formula.

Black Hereford (crossbreed)

The Black Hereford is a crossbreed of beef cattle produced in the British Isles with Hereford beef bulls with Holstein-Friesian dairy cows. Black Herefords are not usually maintained from generation to generation, but are constantly produced as a byproduct of dairy farming as a terminal cross. They are one of the most common types of beef cattle in the British Isles, outnumbering many pure beef breeds.

Breastfeeding Feeding of babies or young children with milk from a womans breast

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman's breast. Health professionals recommend that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby's life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first few weeks of life babies may nurse roughly every two to three hours, and the duration of a feeding is usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. Older children feed less often. Mothers may pump milk so that it can be used later when breastfeeding is not possible. Breastfeeding has a number of benefits to both mother and baby, which infant formula lacks.

Cattle Most common type of large domesticated ungulate

Cattle, or cows (female) and bulls (male), are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos taurus.

Dairy farming in Canada

Dairy farming is one of the largest agricultural sectors in Canada. Dairy has a significant presence in all of the provinces and is one of the top two agricultural commodities in seven out of ten provinces.

Cow–calf operation Method of raising beef cattle

A cow–calf operation is a method of raising beef cattle in which a permanent herd of cows is kept by a farmer or rancher to produce calves for later sale. Cow–calf operations are one of the key aspects of the beef industry in the United States and many other countries. In the British Isles, a cow–calf operation may be known as a single-suckler herd. The goal of a cow–calf operation is to produce young beef cattle, which are usually sold. A rancher who works within such a model is often called a "cow–calf operator" in the United States.

Creep feeding is a method of supplementing the diet of young livestock, primarily in beef calves, by offering feed to animals who are still nursing. Creep feed is sometimes offered to swine, and it is possible with companion grazing animals such as sheep and goats. Creep feeding is used almost exclusively in situations where animal prices are high, feed costs are low, offspring is born in the spring, and the animals are purebred.

Bunting (animal behavior)

Bunting is a form of animal behavior, often found in cats, in which the animal butts or rubs their head against other things, including people. Bunting as a behaviour can be viewed as a variation of scent rubbing. This is when an animal, typically a carnivore, will rub its back on a scent such as prey or the urine of an animal of the same species. Evolutionarily speaking, scent rubbing is the oldest form of scent communication and bunting is a derivative of this behaviour. Rolling in the scent of another animal was an adaptation to camouflage the scent of a predator or outside male in order to get closer to mates. Bunting is generally considered to be a form of territorial scent-marking behaviour, where the cat rubs the scent glands on their cheeks and forehead on the object being marked. After a display of aggression, a cat will begin bunting objects in that immediate area as a form of territorial display toward a rival cat. Bunting and allorubbing are also part of feral cat behavior within colonies. An elaborate ritual which can take several minutes, two cats will rub along the side and tail of the other cat. This behaviour in domestic cats involves a system of hierarchy and may have evolved as a way to channel aggression where the costs of a conflict is too high. Cats also use bunting as a way to familiarize themselves to their environment and the pheromones secreted work to ease the cat's anxieties about an unfamiliar area.

Pea milk plant milk made from yellow peas

Pea milk is a type of plant milk made using pea protein, which is made of yellow peas. Commercial pea milk typically comes in sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate flavours, and is usually enriched with vitamins. It is marketed as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to almond milk and a non-GMO alternative to soy milk. The two largest brands of pea milk are Ripple Foods and Bolthouse Farms. Pea milk is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. It is available in several countries including the US, UK and Australia and is vegan, nut free and lactose free. Pea milk is a part of plant milks, which are gaining in popularity due to increased lactose intolerance among consumers and demand for environmentally sustainable products. The plant-based milk industry as per 2019 estimates is worth approximately US$5 billion and will reach a value of US$26 billion in 5 years. There has been research in the role of pea proteins in preparing infant formula, yoghurt and calf mixtures. The colour is off-white and pea milk is made through crushing yellow split peas and mixing the soluble components with water. Pea milk may also be prepared at home. It is perceived to be environmentally sustainable and requires less water than the production of dairy milk. There is limited information on the total carbon emissions and water consumption of producing ready to drink pea milk.


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