Friday, September 17, 2010

Natural Weaning

Excerpted with permission from the excellent book, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, by Norma Jane Bumgarner and published by La Leche League International. Visit the Mothering Your Nursing Toddler website here, or purchase Bumgarner's book on Amazon.



The Child under Three
 
Because of the good results, both for their children and for themselves, parents are becoming more comfortable with allowing nursing to take its course and waiting for weaning to occur on its own. Some people choose such an approach because it makes the most sense to them, as did the mother who writes, "She hasn't shown any signs of weaning, and I'm not going to push it. Why put a strain into a so-far carefree experience? I believe it should end as it started – naturally." Others, like one mother of six, have more practical reasons. "She'll have to wean herself," she says. "I don't have the time to worry about it, and it doesn't matter." For these reasons and others, more children these days have the good fortune to be born into families in which they do not have to give up nursing in anyone's time but their own.

A few children, of course, come to a spontaneous finish to their nursing before their second birthday. For the few who leave behind this part of their babyhood very early it will be in some other behavior that parents will likely see signs of their immaturity for some time yet. They will continue to need babying, but they will need it in other ways.

One mother, disappointed when her fourteen-month-old weaned, realizes now that weaning came from her approach to breastfeeding, not an active weaning campaign. She emphasized solids, offered other food before nursing once her child was eating solids, and did not nurse her child just for comfort. As this mother found out, children who start taking other foods and liquids before four to six months may come to depend upon these foods for most of their nourishment in the second half of their first year, a time when most nurslings still thrive for the most part on mother's milk. Often, children who take in a great deal of food and liquid other than mother's milk at six to twelve months tend to lose interest in nursing sooner than they might have otherwise. They will wean from the breast and cling to other objects for comfort.

Some children seem less interested in nursing and become easily distracted sometime between nine and fourteen months of age. Many advisers suggest that you take advantage of your child's decreased interest, if in fact her interest does show a decrease, to initiate weaning. If you don't want to nurse a toddler, this may be the least traumatic weaning time there will be for at least two or three years. But if you expect to find it easier to care for your child if she continues nursing, do not hesitate to remind her to nurse a few times daily until she outgrows this phase. If you do not want to wean, the time around nine months, a little later sometimes, may be a sort of danger time in which you may want to make sure your nursing relationship is not interrupted or disturbed.

Most children nurse without a pause through the months before and after their first birthdays, and a very few will wean in spite of efforts to the contrary, but you can nearly eliminate the possibility that your child might wean prematurely just by offering the breast a few times a day during those weeks or months.

Most youngsters around their first birthday still enjoy receiving a nice tummy full of milk when they nurse, and if other forms of feeding and sucking take the place of feedings at the breast, there will be, as a direct result, less of the milk that so many of these children look for. This is an effective way to encourage weaning, whether that is what mother has in mind or not. For many children such a pattern constitutes a satisfactory parent-initiated weaning. Also, if bottles and pacifiers are handy to offer children, mothers are likely to make use of them to put off a feeding while finishing this or that project they are working on. This also will lead to an earlier weaning, whether intended or not.

The way to achieve a natural weaning, if that is your objective, is to feed and care for your infant without contrived interferences. Nurse on demand from birth. Forget about other foods until your child shows he is ready for them (and not before a minimum six to twelve months of age). Then feed your child sensibly. Eating foods other than your milk in the first year is more for fun than for nourishment. Except in very hot weather, a baby who nurses often but has begun to ask for other foods does not need any more liquids besides your milk than he mooches from your cup or glass. Quenching his thirst with water or juice in a sippy cup can result in less interest in nursing. An excellent way to avoid overfeeding or over-watering your baby is to make tasty foods available and attractive, but let her feed herself, in her own way, and in her own time.

Unless you are in a situation where you absolutely cannot nurse your baby, a pacifier is no help to you or to your baby. It is mostly a nuisance that, unlike your breast, is always getting dirty or lost. There is no need for bottles, either. Both pacifiers and bottles tend to become mother substitutes and are not satisfactory replacements for the full embrace of nursing.

Without the distraction and confusion brought on by pacifiers, bottles, and too much other food too soon, your child can nurse and wean in his own time and have a chance to outgrow his baby needs so completely that he can leave them behind, whether that be in his second year, or fourth, or whenever.

Not all children give up nursing gradually. Some children seem to reach a new plateau in maturity all at once and turn their backs on this or that baby behavior seemingly overnight. One mother writes of her two- year-old:

He had always nursed to sleep, but one afternoon he got two new trucks and was afraid his brother would take them while he was asleep. When I sat down to nurse him he pushed me away, took a truck in each hand, and plopped down on the bed. He never nursed to sleep after that, though he did not wean from other nursings for several months.

It is very common for little people to toilet-train themselves all at once. A few children also wean this way, especially when they are not nursing very often anyway. Surprisingly, the events that can bring on weaning in a child who is ready may be the same ones that may cause an increase in nursing at an earlier stage. A new baby, a move to a new home, or lots of company, often threatening to very little people, may at other times be so exciting and pleasant to your older child that he will drop nursing to have more time to devote to the happy new circumstances. If your child is weaning quickly just because that is her way of doing things, and if your breasts do not become overfull, then let the matter rest and go on to other ways of being with your child.

After Three
 
Most of my experience is with children who weaned between three and four, but clinical observations and research suggest that completely child-led weaning is unlikely to take place before the child turns four. (1, 2) Mothers in East Bhutan, where nursing well into childhood is socially acceptable, say that self-weaning usually occurs between three and five years. (3) In any case, weaning may come dramatically enough that your child will brag about it as one little girl did, telling her grandmother, "I'm going to be a big sister when I'm almost four – and now I'm weaned!" Or it may be so gradual that no one will know for sure when it happened.

For most children in this age range weaning is a slow, unpatterned change in behavior, so unpredictable that it is not always even headed in the same direction. At times, maybe even for long periods, your child will nurse frequently and intensely. When conditions change, either around your child or as a result of his own growth, he will begin to prefer other things over nursing – playing, eating, sleeping, or even cuddling with you sometimes. Then things may change again for him so that he needs to be at your breast almost as often as before.

As the weeks go on, though, there will be movement, whether you notice it or not, away from many periods of frequent nursing toward more periods of less nursing. In some children this movement is regular and swift. In others it is so erratic and unpredictable that it is easy to understand how people come to believe some children would never wean without urging. Some children even wean from one breast long before the other.

Such is the unpredictable course of an uncoerced weaning. At some age, very young or "shockingly old," your child will not find nursing so absolutely essential to her well-being. And you may even miss it, as did a mother in India, who found herself unable to answer her e-mail messages as soon as she had gotten used to:

You know how things get with a busy four-year-old around the place! Sadly he's stopped automatically latching on when he sees me sit down at the computer, and pulls me off to play instead!

Your child may be distracted from nursing by anything and everything. You can see that, though he may have some months to go yet, he is on his way toward a time when he will no longer need you in this exact way.

Is child-led weaning completely child-led? Yes and no, depending on your definition. You will probably respond, and appropriately so, to your child's increasing distractibility as he matures. He may pull you to your favorite nursing spot, sit you down, latch on, and then instantly abandon you to chase his sister or watch a TV commercial. When this has happened several times, you will very naturally and with hardly a thought respond less quickly to his requests to nurse, at least when he seems to be asking rather superficially, and when the world around the two of you is busy and interesting. In this way, even without planning it, you play your part in his weaning. You are following his cues and your own common sense.

You will probably come to a time when you yourself are impatient with nursing. If you have been enjoying loving your child this way, you may be puzzled at the change in your feelings. No doubt your impatience will flare at times and subside at others, depending on what is going on in the rest of your life. Some of what you may be feeling, though, is part of natural weaning and an indication that you are gradually outgrowing the relationship. You too are growing toward being ready when the time for weaning comes.

In time – how much time no one can say – your child will abandon all but a very few favorite nursing times, usually the times when he is falling asleep or first waking up in the morning. When you are down to these few times, your milk production will dwindle. Then some children who have especially liked the milk will quit nursing in favor of a breakfast or bedtime snack. Others continue to enjoy one or more of these special nursing times for a long time yet, dropping them slowly until a few days, then a few weeks, go by with no request to nurse.

Every spontaneous weaning is unique, however, so it is impossible to guarantee anything about it except that it will happen.

Resuming Nursing after Weaning
 
For most children before age three or so, weaning, spontaneous or mother-initiated, is all but final when two or three weeks have passed without your child's tugging your shirt. After this amount of time most of these little ones do not ask again, or if they do, they find they have forgotten how to suckle. "Is it broken?" one little guy asked when he could not remember after a year just how to go about nursing.

Once in a while someone suggests that your milk may become "poison" or "spoiled" if your child does not nurse for some certain amount of time. This is an old wives' tale, one that is heard in many parts of the world. In rural Zimbabwe, for instance, mothers are told that if milk remains in the breast for a whole day, it will hurt the child. (4) But you can be assured that milk doesn't spoil in the breasts any more than blood does in the veins. Your child can nurse safely after any interval.

Occasionally a child will ask to nurse again after you have regarded her as totally weaned, but most forget how. A mother who was sad because her body just would not cooperate with her son's need to nurse during her pregnancy wrote:

I still have regrets because I see many LLL moms nursing their two-and-a-half-year-old sons, and I know that if I hadn't gotten pregnant I'd be nursing my son too. I think it would help because he doesn't talk, and it would be a great way to stay connected to him. He has tried to nurse since the new baby was born two months ago, but he doesn't remember how. I let him try whenever he wants (it's not very often).

The most likely circumstance for such requests is when you have a new baby, but also once in a while when a child discovers that mom is pregnant. Or your child may be upset about something, as in this situation recalled by the mother of a now grown daughter:

It was a disastrous time ending up with a breast abscess and an angry weaning at about two-and-a-half. She missed nursing so much though that we gradually started up again, nursed through a pregnancy and tandem nursed. She finally weaned by contract a couple months after her sixth birthday.

There is no reason that you can't allow your child to try nursing again, even though you have probably told all the relatives he is weaned. Chances are that he is weaned. A request to nurse from a child who has not nursed for a while is usually a request for reassurance and acceptance. You may not be able to discover any explanation for your child's desire to return to nursing other than the mysterious workings of his growing little mind. It feels good to a little child to know that if he ever did need you again that way, you would be there for him with open arms. One mother says of her weaned twins that they both had to try nursing several times when the new baby came, but gave it up after a few tries. It is much easier for a little person to wean himself if he knows that his decision does not have to be final.

One mother had nothing but positive feelings when her child wanted to nurse again a few times after over a year without asking for the breast: "I never realized just how important and memorable those nursing days were to her and that she would actually remember at all. This was her 'thank you' for the loving patience and time I took when it was needed." A brief return to the mostly outgrown way of loving can be a chance for mother and little one together to enjoy a bit of reminiscing.

Another mother writes of a child who resumed nursing – sort of:

When our daughter was about eleven months, [her two-year-old brother] started to become very interested in what nursing was. He shocked me one day by pretending to nurse on one breast while his sister was at the other. I didn't try to discourage him because by now I had read a little about tandem nursing and I hoped if he was to start nursing again after two years that it would help our relationship. I had already noticed the difference between my two children's behavior that I attribute to our nursing relationship. My son is a very energetic boy who likes to tell me "No!" as often as possible while my daughter is helpful and calm most of the time.

Now that she is fifteen months and he is two-and-a-half years old, he still continues to pretend but doesn't actually latch on. He even tells Baby, as he calls his sister, that it is time to nurse and he directs her to the breast he chooses. I am kind of sad that I didn't nurse him as long as I have nursed his sister but it is wonderful that he has joined our breastfeeding relationship.

For a child who is apparently weaned to actually resume nursing for a while, sometimes for no reason that you can perceive, might make you feel panicky, especially if you are very happy for your child to relate to you in a different way. Yet it will be helpful to your child for you to go along with him if you can. Just as we adults sometimes make a mistake in deciding to wean our children too soon, occasionally very small growing people make mistakes in deciding to wean themselves too soon. There is a reason, no doubt, whether we can see it with our adult eyes or not, that your child needs to nurse again for a while.

Although it may seem like it at first, you and your child are not going back to the beginning of the weaning process. After a few days of adjustment your child is not likely to nurse any more than do other children his age. He is not returning to babyhood, but picking up a behavior that is appropriate for his age. He will nurse and wean also in a way appropriate to his age – maybe in the next few days, or maybe some months hence.

Weaning need not be any more dramatic and final than toilet-training. We are not surprised when a child who is supposedly toilet-trained forgets and "backslides" for a while. It should be no more disconcerting that a weaned child would remember and nurse when he needs to. In a household with a new baby, being welcome at mother's breast, if he feels the need, can be quite a help in overcoming a child's feeling of displacement. There is no harm done by stepping back to baby things for a while – and considerable good in the long run.

Spontaneous Weaning in Children over Four
 
We commonly hear that most younger children do not ask to nurse again after they are weaned because they forget about nursing. This may be true, though I am not sure. It is certain, however, that children over four (or even over three sometimes) do not forget. As I have said, many of them will remember nursing as long as they live. So it should not be surprising that children over four are notorious for going about weaning each in their own way. Many seem to give a lot of consideration to weaning. One little girl, asked when she would wean, thought about it and then replied, "Oh, probably I will try when I'm five, 'cause you can't come to school – can you?!"

Children usually wean at a time that is easy for them, when their lives are otherwise stable. From their behavior it is often evident that they are making quite a rational choice for so young a person. Some children tell their parents that they are weaning because they themselves decided to do so, and it is easy to see from watching other children that this is the case with them as well. In some children the process that leads to weaning is not readily apparent; but this is probably not because it is so much different for them, but because they are children who keep their own counsel about it.

In the months that follow a decision to wean (or at least what appears to be such a decision) many children encounter rough spots that cause them to reconsider. These times can worry you if you have regarded the child as weaned. But you have not lost progress toward weaning. A child this age who goes weeks or months without nursing is definitely working on growing up. When she asks to nurse again after such a long time you can be sure that she has just come to a time in her life which she can handle better if she can still nurse a bit. Once she works her way past it, she will get back to the business of weaning.

Many mothers are quite hesitant to say that their over-fours are weaned, even after months without nursing. So often it seems that the minute mother pronounces her child weaned, he needs to nurse again. Needless to say, spontaneous weaning with older nurslings can be gradual indeed!


References

1. Lawrence, R. A. and Lawrence, R. M. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession. 5th edition. St. Louis: The C. V. Mosby Company, 1994; 345.

2. Sugarman, M. and Kendall-Tackett, K. A. Weaning ages in a sample of American women who practice extended breastfeeding. Clinical Pediatrics 1995; 34(12):646.

3. Behler, E, and Ingstad, B. The struggle of weaning: Factors determining breastfeeding duration in East Bhutan. Social Science and Medicine 1996; 43(12):1809.

4. Cosminsky, S., Mhloyi, M, and Ewbank, D. Child feeding practices in a rural area of Zimbabwe. Social Science and Medicine April 1993; 36(7):944.



Purchase Mothering Your Nursing Toddler on Amazon, or visit the MYN Toddler website today.


Additional Information on Natural Weaning and Nursing Strikes:

A Natural Age of Weaning

A Time to Wean

How Weaning Happens (book)

Natural Weaning Age (pdf) from The Baby Bond (book)

The Joy of Nursing Toddlers Gallery & Resource Collection

Do Babies Under 12 months self-wean? (KellyMom.com)

Breastfeeding Older Children (book)

Adventures in Tandem Nursing (book)

La Leche League International Nursing Strike FAQ

Is Your Baby on a Nursing Strike?


Toddler Nursing Strike

Is Your Baby on a Nursing Strike?


Help! My Baby Won't Nurse (KellyMom.com)

Surviving a Nursing Strike

Breastfeeding Latch Trick (if baby is young and latch is a problem)

When a Baby Won't Nurse

La Leche League International: Helping Babies Reluctant to Nursing


Helpful books, articles and websites for nursing mothers linked at Breastfeeding Resources


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34 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this excerpt. I have been struggling with my feelings about weaning my 15-month old daughter. I am often wishy washy about the desire to nurse until she weans herself. It was so nice to read about several possibilities through the process. I feel a great amount of relief after reading this article. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  2. Thank you for this article - very interesting!

    My nearly 6 yo started weaning around 3.5yrs, finished weaning a little after 4. My 3 yo is on the weaning path now. He'll go for weeks without, then suddenly comes back to it.

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  3. Thank you for myth busting on this super important topic, and explaining different ways kids can naturally wean - I always wondered if they weaned early, did it automatically mean they need 'less babying'.

    I find it so hard to imagine SB weaning, and I'm so pleased I've ignored 'advice' to quit the morning feed so he would 'eat more breakfast'. At 2, something has changed in him and he's eating like a horse - but his feeding hasn't changed....

    I love bf, I had no idea I would be such an activist for it now. I was one of those 'I'll *try* make it until 12 months, if I can'. Stupid society.

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  4. I have a question that might seem weird. I nursed my son until 6 months, I wanted to go longer but I was experiencing extreme fatigue so I had to stop. Now I have a new baby and I am nursing her and he wants to nurse again, he is 3. Advice?? Should I keep saying no?

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    1. I personally think you should let him try. It will not only give his immune system a boost, but I think it will also help him adjust to having a new baby in the house easier. I have a 3 and half year old and a 9 month old and we are tandem nursing. I believe it has helped my 3 year old to be better at sharing, as well as help to reassure her that she is still important and that she is loved.

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    2. I would let him try. Like the above poster said it will likely just give him the reassurance that he needs to feel like he's still special and not being replaced by the new baby. It probably won't last long but will be a big help to him.

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  5. This is one of those bandwagons I've gotten on lately. Children are biologically wired to need breastmilk, and I too believe that no child self-weans before 2-3 years of age - before that, it is mother-led weaning, even if it is accidental....
    Weaning causes:
    *biggest one: Cow's milk - they substitute cow's milk for breastmilk. If you are breastfeeding, there is NO need for cow's milk, ever. They don't need it for nutrition, and it is a fast path to weaning for *many* babies.
    Another caveat with cow's milk - if your baby/toddler is allergic to cow's milk, she will crave it - she will drink several cups/bottles a day. This of course will quickly take the place of breastmilk. Check for food/dairy allergies with your doctor if your baby is preferring cow's milk to momma's milk.
    *Pregnancy - the taste of milk changes. Some babies are not bothered by this, some are. This is why in many traditional cultures, sex doesn't happen for two years after birth, lol.
    Many children though can still be taught to relatch after the birth. Research this, or find a lactation specialist that specializes in this.
    *Too many solids - especially between the 9-14 month mark - at this age, they only should have one "solid" meal a day, the rest of their nutrition should be coming from breastmilk. There are some scientists who believe babies don't biologically need solids until about 14 months of age. Even at 2 years of age, the ratio of breastmilk to solids should be somewhere between 75/25 to 50/50.
    *Not offering the breast first.
    * Only nursing once at night and once in the morning. Sigh, I hear this all the time among nursing mothers of toddlers. They still should be nursing 5-7 times minimum daily during the toddler years.
    * Night weaning - which is usually mother-led, and leads to faster weaning overall.
    * Nursing Strikes - this is a common misconception that happens to babies before one year old. Moms think their babies are self-weaning, but they are actually are just on a nursing strike. Nursing strikes tend to be overcome quickly, especially when solids are decreased and dairy is eliminated. Research Nursing strikes if you think you might be having this problem.
    *Remember, the baby doesn't know what century he/she was born in. S/he does not know s/he was born in a society that is biased/prejudiced against breastfeeding, and whose society is still influenced by formula feeding (formula is so inadequate that babies need to be supplemented with solids before one year of age, breastmilk babies do not need solids. Remember, breastmilk has over 400 nutrients that formula does not have) that everyone just assumes that they must start solids by a certain number of months, and that it is perfectly ok to substitute cow's milk for momma's milk, and that Full-term breastfeeding is considered to be weird instead of a normal process.
    *Other external causes

    Basically, I don't mind/judge a woman for weaning whenever she wants to - just don't call it self-weaning. Its the semantics/wording that just gets to me. There is a simple difference between mother-led weaning and child-led/self weaning. As peaceful parenting says, when you know better, you do better.

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  6. thank you! my 3 1/2 year old is still nursing. I weaned him, from daytime nursing when i became pregnant again otherwise he would still nurse all day long.

    i love the idea of child lead weaning but somedays...it's hard. even though it's only bed time and nap time and has been for over a year now he still asks all the time. I have conflicting feels on the matter and of course society is NOT on my side.

    When I have 'bad days' I'm going to come back and re read this article.

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    1. This sounds like me and my daughter. Though, I am also nursing a 9 month old.

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  7. great article, this did a really good job of explaining the nuances of the long slow gradual wean. i have such trouble explaining the how and why of it all to "interested" parties, i will bookmark this for future use. (celebrated 43 months of bf my son yesterday... only been "weaning" for 37 though... ;))

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  8. Thanks for posting this.

    I'm still nursing my 4.5 year old daughter. She nursed through my pregnancy, even when my milk dried up. After the new baby came I had to cut back on nursing her to just first thing in the morning and last thing at night because I was losing weight and couldn't handle nursing her a zillion times a day along with the baby. Recently she's started to "forget" about nursing when she wakes up in the morning, which is bittersweet. She still always nurses before bed though, and sometimes if she wakes up at night from a bad dream. She talks about weaning sometimes, but she isn't ready to give up nursing yet. It's kind of like our "dirty" secret...society is not very open to the idea of nursing preschoolers.

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    1. This sounds like us. My daughter is 3.5 and my son is 9 months. My milk dried up too, but my daughter just kept on nursing. She said there was still milk, but I couldn't express any no matter how hard I tried. She went a couple of days with out nursing right after her brother was born, because my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and it hurt so much. (And here I thought I was a pro)I had to use a nipple shield to help my baby latch correctly. She resumed after that and was just nursing at when she woke up and went to sleep for bed and naps. She now goes a couple of days with out nursing, and when she does nurse, it's usually in the mornings only now. It kinda makes me sad to see that relationship ending.

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  9. Thanks Amy for posting your 'secret' - I'm nursing a 4.5 yr pre-schooler too, just like you described, at night and sometimes in the morning. Just wanted you to know you are not alone.

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  10. I'm still nursing my soon-to-be 4-year-old. I haven't explored the idea of weaning verbally with him, because I don't want him to feel pressured to stop before he's ready. I've had a few issues with my dad making snarky comments to my son like "when are you gonna stop that (nursing)?" or "Aren't you getting to be a little big to be nursing?!" It runs all over me, and as soon as my son is no longer in earshot my dad hears about it. Between me and my mom, who is very supportive, we've pretty much lined my dad out enough that he keeps his thoughts to himself. Lately I've really been struggling with the whole child-led weaning thing myself. Sometimes I wonder if he's still nursing because I encourage more than I should. Not that I want to discourage it, but I guess I think indifference is best? I'm not sure. I do believe he is in the weaning process though, because he rarely nurses for more than a few seconds anymore, and often he'll just latch on for a second and then roll over and go to sleep. It really is bittersweet, but I think I'm finally ready. Now I'm just waiting on him to be ready.

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  11. Thank you SO much! I needed this!!!

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  12. Can I just say how FANTASTIC Melissa Neece's comment is?

    My 2.5 year old still gets between 75-90% of his diet from milk, and I feel like I never hear of anyone else saying that! He's very healthy, he's 41 lbs, and we have THE most amazing bond. He nurses day and night, as we sleep cuddled up right next to each other. There are days when I wish he'd wean or at the very least cut back some, but I'm also super proud of myself for continuing to meet his needs.

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  13. Oh gosh I am glad I found your blog! Such wonderful encouraging articles!
    How I wish I had this sort of information when my daughter was young, I was 19, mother to a 20 month old with another on the way, I had no idea I would have been fine to keep feeding...

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  14. I nursed my older child to 3.5 yrs. The last 6 months was basically me saying to myself & other moms "Is he weaned?" LOL. He all but gave it up abruptly when his brother was born & then randomly would here & there ask again. I had read up on tandem nursing 7 was all geared up for it & not ONE time did I nurse them simultaneously & never again after the birth of his brother did he do a full nursing session. After my new milk came in he complained that he did not like it - that it was too sweet & that he wanted me to make it stop. :( He told me one time after I got pregnant that my milk was yucky - but that it was okay. I thought he would be glad to have the old milk back. Guess not. I could not help but be a little sad & I found it completely unacceptable for me to talk about that to anyone other than an online group I am in that is for full term nursers. Others "want their body back" and cannot fathom why I would choose to continue. I myself cannot explain why I was sad about it. Not only did he wean basically just like that - a month after the birth he abruptly decided he was going to go on the potty now. I had started setting him on the potty as a baby (like 8 months old) and he would go back & forth showing interest & resistance & I just followed his lead. But now suddenly in a month he tells me he is all done with boobies & all done will dipes. It felt like I had a new baby & landed in teh twilight zone. In the months before the birth he was adamant that he didn't wan tot look at a toilet much less go on one & he was nursing 8-12 times a day right up to delivery. LOL It just goes to show you NEVER know what your kids are going to do & when you are following their lead you often have no clue what to expect. In the day before labor I would have believed NO ONE that said "these are your last full nursing sessions" - no one. EVERYONE was floored by how quickly he switched gears. He still climbed into my lap & put his cheek on my breast & stroked the baby's head or held hands with the baby while the baby nursed, but it was like a switch got flipped in him & it never flipped back. So very bittersweet. He asked on occasion for almost a year after & many times got there & ready & then said "I just want to put my cheek on your booboos". <3

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  15. My son self-weaned after his third birthday (he was 37 months old). His sister had nursed until 3.5 years old but then was abruptly forced off when he arrived.

    He started dropping sessions, nursing for shorter and shorter periods of time. Eventually, before his third birthday, he was only nursing in the morning and at night (we were co-sleeping too). Then he started "forgetting" to ask for the morning session. My supply dwindled and just after he turned three, it was gone--I couldn't even express a drop. I consider it to be truly self-weaning because I did not instigate any means to try and get him to quit (I actually hoped he go until 42 months at least) and I was always available for him if he asked. He just stopped requesting to nurse.

    It was definitely bittersweet for me. I'm still a bit emotional about it. I'd been nursing continually since 2004--through pregnancy as well. I'm a little sorrowful that that aspect of my life is now over, but I'm still proud that I did it for 6.5 years.

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  16. Question...among reasons for early weaning, any thoughts on whether my inattention in nursing sessions would contribute? My daughter is 13 mos old, and her brother is 4 and still nursing once in the morning (he's always been way into it). She seems to be nursing less and less in the evenings (I work all day) but we cosleep so she seems to catch up at night. BUT I'm SO worried that me trying to give her brother attention while she nurses for most of her life (so he wouldn't feel left out) is a factor in her not being as into the boobies...and even worse I'm worried that the frequency of me scolding/saying "no" to her brother WHILE she nurses is making her associate "no" with nursing. :( After reading this I'm a little encouraged that we might be in that 9-14 mos distractible age and this may pass? I really really don't want her to wean until at least 2.
    Annie

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  17. And then there are children like mine who despite offering other drinks in cups and bottles and other solid foods continue to nurse ;) I had one who nursed until she was four and for my health I weaned her and it was still hard. I am now currently nursing twins who are 21 months but true be told I am ready for them to stop and offer cups and sippies and solid food and it seems one of them would stop if only the other one would. But he is too cute when he asks he turns his head to one side and says duh which means please.....And my heart melts :)

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  18. Great article; it speaks to what I've known intuitively all along, but in this culture, I need reassurance that my mothering style is "good" and "right" from time to time. My first born son, 26 months, still nurses regularly, some times up to 10 times a day. (Which, when a nosy mother-in-law asks about, I just shrug, as if it's no big deal. Who's setting the standard for what's "normal" in terms a toddler's nursing frequency? He gets to choose! Breastfeeding is a human right, a birthright!)
    I did night wean at 23 months b/c I felt the nursing at night had become a crutch for him, but it came about organically, with a gentle push from me and my partner, not a shove; we did not have to put up with nights of screaming and pleading, we explained what and why we were doing it, and then stood our ground in a kind and firm manner. Paying attention to the subtle rhythms of my son's development is key. I too, love breastfeeding, and never fail to inform those willing to listen of its many amazing attributes, as well as rattle off stats. about breastfeeding and its place of honor in other cultures (any else love that "breastfeeding in Mongolia" article in Mothering magazine two winter ago, as much as I did?)
    However, there are days when I too feel overwhelmed by my son's need for "milk mama." Mainly, it's when I've taken some judgement personally, or I've spent time w/ some other child who was weaned at 9 months, sleeps in her own bed all through the night, etc, but then I have to remind myself, that my path and my son's path are our own. I do sometimes pity those mom's who gave up early, b/c there is an amazing joy to be asked to have milk. The relationship seems more reciprocal now that we can communicate and that experience I am treasuring.
    I noticed quite a bit of mamas expressing the need to wean b/c of fatigue, weight loss etc. which speaks to me of the utmost need for a nutrient diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Making milk is a big deal! Anyone who's ever had dairy animals knows you put them out on the best pasture, give them the best hay, the purest water, supplement w/ minerals if necessary, to make the highest quality of milk! My midwife always said that breastfeeding takes more out of a woman's body than the initial growing of the baby inside! I am a huge fan of the Weston A. Price Foundations work, and the research that has been done on nutrient dense foods. I encourage mamas to check it out at www.wapf.org

    THANKS FOR SHARING everyone!!

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  19. I re-read my post and thought I'd clarify the "forced off" sentence. I was all set to tandem nurse and had planned on it--having nursed through pregnancy, but my newborn son was on there all the time (as they usually are) that his 3.5 year old sister had really limited access. Then she gradually stopped asking, was often playing with her father while I was nursing, off doing other preschooler type things, and then in a blink of an eye, she was weaned. It was actually more abrupt than I would have liked and I still wish it had been more gradual for her.

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  20. Today my son, at 38 months, 4 days, got up for the first time of his life without nursing first to go play... I love what this author has to say about nursing between 3-4. It is very, very true indeed. I feel rather bad because I know our dwindling of nursing times is due to me -- for the past 3 months I've often said 'not right now' or 'wait' or 'milk is sleeping' or 'let's have something else' instead of nursing... so it is 100% a result of me that my milk has decreased, and our nursing has decreased to a typical 2-4 times a day. I'd like to nurse until 4. That is my new goal. But i almost am not sure now if we'll make it another 10 months. And it's kind of sad... but at the same time I occasionally get annoyed now a lot of the time with nursing, he and I both have other things to do and I feel almost 'touched out' after 3+ years... Yet I'm not sure I'll have another baby, and I'm not quite ready for our nursing relationship to be coming to a close. So I am left with huge mixed feelings I never expected to have.

    Thank you for this eloquent wise article (and love the full book as well!).

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  21. Thanks for the article. I have a 5 month old daughter and it seems that all interested women in the family keep mentioning cheerios and such to my baby, like they are going to be the ones to initiate it sometime when they watch her for me. She refuses a bottle of pumped breast milk regularly but is interested in and drinks water from cups. I couldn't figure out why their comments seemed to trigger such an aggravated/anxious response in me. Half of the women breastfed, the other used formula. This is my 1st baby and I guess I feel like everyone is taking the decision out of my hands by not asking me what I want - but it just goes to show you what a schedule our society puts on babies. I guess I find it difficult at times to sort through what I find best for her, what she would be happy trying out (i.e. she SEEMS like she would be happy to try solids, she loves watching people eat, and mimics chewing) and what is really even necessary at this early stage.

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  22. good article - I unfortunately really need to get back on a medication I have been thrilled to have been off of long enough to nurse my daughter for her first 23 months, but for my health, it looks like weaning will have to come soon. I did a ton of research and, while ours will be mom-lead, I have scheduled a full two months, so my daughter can have the most gradual possible experience, given my circumstances. The only thing I would very respectfully (I LOVE your posts, and very often share and re-post) question is your stance on pacifiers. My daughter has the round-nipple one, which unlike the flat ones, does not discourage proper latching, and frankly, I don't have the ten hours a day she would love to be suckling - not actually drinking milk, mind you, but just experiencing the satisfaction of suckling. The world is an intense enough place to get used to, I figure if a paci makes it a little bit easier to take in, great! p.s. they make amazing pacifier clips you can get at Target (Way cheaper than the fancypants baby stores) <3

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    1. I feel the same way about pacifiers. I would love to sit and breastfeed all day but the paci has been great for me to be able to get things done. I have 3 boys and I homeschool so the baby can't get my attention all the time. This is my personal experience.

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  23. My daughter nursed until she was 39 months (somewhere after her third birthday, she started to slow a bit, and a month or two later, she just decided one day she was done).

    I did not push her, but I think an illness that caused my nipples to be really sore, may have had something to do with her stopping. I got frustrated with her one day and she really didn't want to nurse much after that.

    She's 4.5 now and suckles still once in a while, though she knows there is no milk. She will still hold my breasts for comfort however. And she's indicated that if I ever get milk again for another baby, she wants to share it. I confirmed she is welcome.

    I was somewhat saddened and somewhat relieved when she stopped because I felt I finally had been able to regain my body, my body dropped the extra fat it had been using to make the milk which felt great for my flexibility and strength (milk production kept my muscles soft), but my breasts completely deflated. Mixed blessings, I guess.

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  24. I've been so nervous about stopping feeding my five month old, not for a long time obviously, because people say that if he's feeding for too long he'll want to until he's a teenager, but this is very helpful.

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  25. I wonder why it continues to bother me so much when I hear people say their baby is 'self-weaning' at 13 or 15 or 18 months... Maybe because I wish *everyone* had this information and the resources to distinguish between a nursing strike vs. a normal weaning process (that lasts YEARS) - for the sake of their little ones if nothing else.

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  26. I know this is old, but hopefully someone will respond. My soon to be 5 year old still asks to nurse daily. She was weaned by me after her 3rd birthday. Get brother was born when she was around 2 1/2 and I had always dreamed of nursing then both. However, it became too much for me and I have always regretted not being able to fulfill both of my little one's need for "nummies". I am always sad when my eldest asks for nummies because I feel like I have to say no. It breaks my heart to think that she will always remember me saying no to her instead of recalling all the times (over 3 years) that we shared that special bond. Sometimes I feel like she may feel as if I'm rejecting her. (Especially when I'm nursing her 2 year old brother.) Sometimes I actually consider just allowing her to, but I worry that she's too old and my family will frown upon it. Please be kind with any responses.

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    1. There is nothing wrong with letting your 5 year old try. It may be that she just wants to *try* and that will be enough. It is unlikely she will remember how to effectively latch in order to get milk, but being close and knowing you are open to her 'need to nurse' even at this point is more important than actually getting milk. This is, by the way, very, very common. A lot of children around 4-5 years of age have a rekindled desire to nurse when they see their younger sibling doing so - especially if they prematurely weaned, for any reason. There really is no reason your family needs to know... and if so, you are doing what is best for your child - not for their insecurities and lack of information about the normal weaning process.

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    2. If she hasn't nursed in 2 years it's unlikely that she will be able to. My daughter got very sick about a year after she weaned (right before she turned 4), she wasn't eating anything, so I let her try nursing. She wasn't able to latch effectively enough to get milk out. So I say there is no harm in letting her try...when she can't get any you can talk about why not (how their mouths change as they get older), maybe see if she would like to taste some in a cup (if you are able to hand express a little).

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    3. I am pregnant with my 3rd child, due in Nov, and have a son who will be 4 when his brother/sister is born. He and I have always been very close, lots of skin on skin every day, even now. He self weaned at 13.5mos and it broke my heart! I tried to relactate a few times but he would never latch back on. If he asks when the new baby comes I will absolutely let him nurse again!! It sounds like your 5yo really needs or wants it, or at least the chance to try! I say go for it!! Love and light Momma :)

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