When it works, breastfeeding is a delightful activity for mother and child. It provides the best source of nutrition for an infant, as well as health benefits to the mother. It’s the most environmentally friendly way to feed a baby as well, needing no extra equipment such as bottles, and no need to buy can after can of formula. But inevitably the time comes when you start to think about weaning.
There are a lot of differing ideas about when to wean. Some say sooner, some say later. But what really matters is what works for you.
Some say to wean early. My mother-in-law tried that when I was breastfeeding my first, wanting me to wean at 6 weeks, then six months, and on it went. For some mothers, that’s the right choice because they can’t afford the time it takes to breastfeed, or it’s painful for them, or they have to work and no place to pump. These things happen, and it’s not always possible or reasonable for a mother to continue breastfeeding, even when she wants to.
And of course some simply don’t want to. It doesn’t appeal to them for one reason or another. While this means they’re going to have to use formula, I’m a firm believer in bodily autonomy, and that means they have the right to not breastfeed.
Weaning at One Year
A lot of moms wean their babies at one year. It’s a time recommended by many pediatricians. Babies no longer feed exclusively on their mother’s milk by this age, and are easily enjoying pureed foods. It’s also felt to be a safe time in most cases to introduce cow’s milk, as an allergic reaction is less likely as baby gets older.
Weaning at Two Years
Age two is another popular time, as the World Health Organization recommends at least two years of breastfeeding. The baby has become a toddler and can chew many foods.
Child Led Weaning
Child led weaning is my personal favorite. It’s more comfortable for mother and child, if the breastfeeding relationship has lasted this long. You rely on signals from your child to decide when to wean.
This age varies tremendously. My two oldest self weaned by 18 months. My youngest is firmly in favor of continuing the breastfeeding relationship, at age 20 months.
Child led weaning can lead to extended breastfeeding, with children aged 3, 4 and more before they want to wean. It takes some extra dedication to breastfeeding to let your child decide when it’s done. On the plus side, you get to enjoy the closeness of breastfeeding for as long as your child cares to continue it.
When breastfeeding works, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the mother-child relationship. No one can get as close to a baby as a mother who is breastfeeding. Giving a bottle of expressed milk lets others participate, but it’s not the same as nursing a suckling child. It can be more than an obligation; it can be a delight.
As for my current breastfeeding situation, I’m giving very gentle nudges toward weaning, mostly making other drinks more readily available. She’ll take the hint or not, it’s not a major matter of stress for me, although I’m ready to be done.