The Weaning Project


Weaning is the transitional time when a young child's diet gradually changes from breastmilk alone to a diet that includes what the family eats. During weaning, a child is gradually introduced to foods other than breastmilk. The child should continue to receive breastmilk since this is an important source of nutrients. During the weaning period, the incidence of diarrhea and malnutrition often increase, putting the child at greater risk of severe illness and death.

The Weaning Project (1984-89) was undertaken to find low-cost, nutritionally sound and sustainable solutions to nutrition problems of the weaning age child. The project was supported by the Office of Nutrition, USAID.

The Weaning Project developed a protocol for exploring young child feeding practices and refined it in six countries. The protocol, first implemented in Indonesia and Cameroon, included a large amount of foreign technical assistance. Later, in Swaziland, Ecuador and Zaire, the most salient pieces of the multi-step protocol were chosen, modified and implemented primarily by host-country researchers with periodic technical assistance. After these experiences, there was an opportunity to utilize the protocol in Ghana. The protocol was streamlined and implemented with only brief orientation from expatriate consultants.

The protocol included the following steps:

Assessment of current practices: Identify critical problems impeding the proper feeding and care of weaning-age children and the resources available to alleviate or solve these problems. The assessment phase combined market, anthropological and nutrition research techniques.

Formulation of program strategies: Determine feasible intervention strategies—including plans for legislation, training, food products, communications and other activities. A creative strategy was developed and materials were developed, tested and produced.

Implementation: Apply the creative strategy and develop a workable intervention. Special attention was given to training counterparts and program staff in communication skills, particularly in counseling.

Evaluation: For each demonstration project, the evaluation found significant improvements in knowledge, attitudes, practices and anthropometric measurements.

Lessons learned: The lessons have been applied in subsequent projects and include:

  • Build partnerships with host-country institutions so the partner organization "owns" the project
  • Begin training for institutionalization early in the project and look at public-private collaboration
  • Do not compromise the qualitative research. Continue to probe into people's motivations and resistances and to bring their voices to program planning
  • Use the research for broad program planning to facilitate behavior change.

The Weaning Project: Final Report (1992) [260KB Word doc]