Weaning begins when your child starts to take something other than your breast milk as part of his diet. For most of us, that is around the six month mark. Weaning for some happens quickly, and for others lasts for a very long time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue to breastfeed until at least 12 months. Breastfeeding may continue beyond this point for as long as it is mutually desired by both mother and child. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.
No matter when you decide to wean, do so with love, kindness and compassion and do so gradually.
When my son was born, I knew that I would breastfeed for at least a year. After a few months, I thought that I would breastfeed for two years. I was lucky in that I had many role models who had breastfed their babies for longer than 1 year. Eventually I thought I would like to let my son self-wean and I had heard so many stories of children that had self-weaned. I definitely thought that was for me.
Let me start at the beginning. My son was born via emergency c-section and had to be suctioned at birth amongst other complications. He had a lot of trouble latching on and we had to use a nipple shield to finally get him latched. My milk also took FOREVER to come in and my poor little son was dehydrated. After a very rocky first 2 weeks, my son was nursing like a champ! After 3 weeks, we were able to wean from the nipple shield and by 4 weeks he was a great nurser (nursed literally every hour during the day time hours) and a great sleeper (was sleeping 8 PM to 4 AM by the time he was 4-5 weeks old – NOTE: this amount of sleep for a baby this young is NOT typical – I was SUPER lucky). But like I said, my son literally nursed every hour for the first year of his life. Even when he was with his nanny, he would take the bottled breastmilk every 1-1.5 hours. He was a nibbler – didn’t like to drink a lot at once – just liked to drink all of the time! Since he nursed so often, I believe that I have literally nursed in public just about anywhere that it can possibly be done! (but that is another post all-together…)
At 12 months my son was still nursing 10-12 times per day. By 18 months, we were still breastfeeding in public and he was nursing 8-10 times per day. Right around this time, he was able to understand enough and have enough patience, that I could tell him “when we get home” or “not right now” when he asked to nurse and he was OK with that. It was also around this time (between 18 months and 2 years) that I discovered that my son had several breastfeeding “triggers.” These triggers were places or positions that made him want to nurse. For instance, we had a yellow chair in our living room that we always nursed in – from the time he was an infant I used that chair because it had a very firm, straight back and was comfy for sitting and nursing. I found that whenever I sat in that chair, even if my son wasn’t thinking about nursing, he would automatically want to nurse. I also found that if I avoided sitting in this chair, he didn’t ask to nurse quite as much. So I moved the chair off into a corner of the room and stopped sitting in it. Another set of triggers for my son were certain positions that I would hold him in. By this age, he mostly nursed sitting up in my lap. I found that if i picked him up to hold him and he was sitting up facing me, he would want to nurse. But if I picked him up and he was sitting up facing away from me, he wouldn’t ask to nurse. When he turned two, I also developed a “Don’t ask, don’t offer policy” – if he didn’t ask, I didn’t offer (unless he was having a meltdown, of course!).
It was also right about this same time that he was super interested in his toys and the world around him. So by avoiding triggers and encouraging his natural curiosity for the world, we went from nursing 8-10 times per day at 18 months to nursing only four times per day at age two. For a long time, we nursed first thing in the AM (he would come snuggle in bed with me, nurse and fall back to sleep – my favorite time of day!!), before his nap, after his nap and before bed at night.
Then Daddy was out of work for a few months and was around the house all day with us. Daddy started going up to get my son from his naps instead of me. This quickly eliminated the “after nap” nursing session and soon my son wasn’t even looking to nurse when he woke up from his naps – even if Daddy wasn’t home. Then, my favorite nursing session of all – the one that I thought would be last to go – the early AM one, was the next to go. It went all on it’s own. My son just started to wake up and ask to go downstairs to play. I would even ask him if he wanted to come “snuggle” in bed and he would say “no” he wanted to “go downstairs and play.” Occasionally he would come in bed, but most of the time, he just wanted to play. This was the part of “self-weaning” that surprised me the most -that he would just give up what seemed to be his and my most favorite nursing session – just like that! So by age 3, we were down to nursing only 1-2 times per day – before nap (if he took one) and before bed.
We have had several conversations about nursing. He knows that not all children his age nurse. He went to visit a friend with a child his age and a new baby and he came home to tell me “Jen nursed the baby, but not Leo.” He also asked questions like “Does Kenny nurse?” (his 13 year old cousin) or “Do firemen nurse?” So he knows that when he gets older he won’t need to nurse anymore. We had even discussed that when he was four, he might not need to nurse anymore – and he “kind of” agreed with that.
My son goes to preschool. One day he came home from school and said “Mommy, not all big boys nurse.” This seemed like a good opportunity to talk about weaning and how he was getting older, so I seized the opportunity. I told him that he was right, not all big boys nurse. I told him that he could nurse as long as he wanted to, but that someday he wouldn’t nurse anymore either. Then I told him that since he was such a big boy now, maybe he didn’t need to nurse EVERY day anymore. He agreed, and we decided that he would nurse every other day instead of every day. So for the next 3 months, we nursed every other day (unless he didn’t ask, which happened occassionally). Every day when I was putting him to bed, he would ask “Do we nurse today” and I would say “no” and he was fine. And on the days when I said “yes” he would ask “why?”
Then one day, we were playing with some of his animals, and he said that one of the animals was the “big brother” and that he was a big boy who didn’t need to nurse anymore. So again, I seized the moment. “That is great that this animal is such a big boy that he doesn’t nurse anymore. You are big boy too. Do you think that since you are such a big boy now, maybe we could nurse every third day instead of every other day?” And he agreed. The first week, he still asked every day “Do we nurse today?” and he nursed every third day. By the end of the second week, he was forgetting to ask and he was forgetting to nurse on the days that would have been his nursing days. He now routinely goes four to five days between nursing sessions. He is now 3 years, 8 months old. This is where we are today. It is a lovely journey from such a small baby to such a big boy! It makes me happy and sad to think that our nursing relationship will soon be over. There was a time when I thought he would never wean on his own and now there are times when I wonder if he will ask again or not.
What is your breastfeeding story? Did your child self-wean or did you encourage weaning? I like to think that I have done a mixture of both – self-weaning with encouragement. Please leave a comment and tell us about your “Journey Through Breastfeeding.”