All good things come to a timely end. While timely weaning is the ideal, it is realized that the ideal is not achievable for many families. Nevertheless the ideal is presented and the alternatives that make allowances for life-styles. There have been many articles that portray one of parenting’s most beautiful relationships, breastfeeding. Now here’s how to guide it to a graceful finish.
What Does “Weaning” Really Mean?
“Weaning” is not a negative term. Weaning does not mean a loss or detachment from a relationship, but rather a passage from one relationship to another. Following is the real definition and history of weaning.
In ancient writings the word “wean” meant “to ripen” — like fruit nourished to readiness, it’s time to leave the vine. When a child was weaned it was a festive occasion, and not because of what you may think — “Now I can finally get away from this kid….” Weaning was a joyous occasion because a weaned child was valued as a fulfilled child; a child was to filled with the basic tools of the earlier stages of development that she graduated to take on the next stage of development more independently. A child who is weaned before his time enters the next stage of development more anxiously and is consequently less prepared for its challenges and less ready for its independence.
An insightful description of weaning is found in the writings of King David: “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” The psalmist David equates his feeling of peace and tranquility with the feeling of fulfillment that a weaned child has with his mother. In ancient times, and in many cultures today, a baby is breastfeed for two or three years. Our Western culture is accustomed to thinking of breastfeeding in terms of months. Here is a challenge to that mind-set.
How Long To Breastfeed — Opinions From The Experts used to be that few physicians openly advocated extended nursing, and the mothers who breastfed babies past a year or two years (or longer) kept mum about their child’s continuing to nurse. Long-term breastfeeding may not yet be universally accepted, but it is getting more backing from health professionals and other scientists. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated in 1997 that breastfeeding should continue “for at least twelve months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.” The World Health Organization, which concerns itself with public health issues in developing nations as well as in the developed world, recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. Perhaps these statements from respected organizations will usher in an era when more babies will get to breastfeed longer and more mothers will learn how much easier it is to mother a toddler when that toddler is still nursing.
When to Wean
Early Weaning not recommended for babies. If you view parenting as a long-term investment, why sell your options short? Timely weaning occurs when the sucking need dissipates — sometime between nine months and three and a half years. Medically speaking, nutritionists and physicians advise breastfeeding at least until your child’s first birthday, and there is nothing sacred about one year. Many babies given the opportunity choose to breastfeed much longer. Nutritionists and physicians advise at least one year because by that time most infants have outgrown most of their food allergies and will thrive on alternative nourishment. Weaning is a personal decision. Basically, when one or both members of the mother-infant pair are ready, it’s time to wean.
Weaning before Baby’s First Birthday
Does weaning under a year mean you have failed Parenting 101? No! There may be life-style choices, circumstances beyond your control, and medical situations that require premature weaning. Also, the occasional baby will be filled and ready to wean before a year, though not as a rule.
Breastfeeding After the First Year
If you breastfeed longer than a year, you may wonder if you are spoiling your child, being possessive, or making him to dependent. Spoiling is what happens when you leave something (or some person) alone on the shelf — it spoils. As any breastfeeding veteran will attest, a breastfeeding baby is anything but left alone. Possessiveness means keeping a child from doing what he need to do because of some need you have. Then comes the myth of over dependency. Be prepared for well-meaning advisers to shake your confidence a bit by exclaiming, “What! You’re still breastfeeding?” This statement shows a lack of appreciation of a toddler as a little person with big needs. Both experience and research have shown that extended breastfeeding does not foster dependency. The opposite is true. Securely attached babies (those who are not weaned before their time) eventually grow to be more independent, separate more easily from their mothers, move into new relationships with more security and stability, and are, in fact, easier to discipline.
If breastfeeding in terms of years sounds strange to you, ask yourself this: Who gets horrified at the sight of a two-year-old still having a bottle? The need to suck can be an extended need for many babies, breastfed or bottle fed. A need that is filled goes away. A need that is not filled may surface later to cause trouble.
How to Wean
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “wean”: “To withhold mother’s milk… and substitute other nourishment.” There are two phases in weaning — withholding and substituting. As you gradually withhold your milk, substitute solid foods, alternative milks, and other forms of emotional nourishment. Here’s how.
Wean from Person to Person, Not from Person to Thing
Don’t rely on a fluffy teddy bear or plastic toys to bribe your baby from the breast. Babies are not like that. As baby begins to wean from comfort at mother’s breast, you begin to substitute other forms of emotional nourishment. Also, another person, ideally the father, takes on a more significant role in comforting.
Avoid weaning by desertion — leaving baby to go on a getaway vacation. Sudden detachment from mother’s breast and from the whole mother all at once may be a combined stress that is too much for baby to handle. The key to healthy weaning is that it must be gradual. Some mothers purposefully start skipping the least favored feeding, for instance the midmorning time when mom and baby would really rather go to the part or read a book or have a snack. Other mothers find they are doing this without actually planning it. It just happens. After a while they make another adjustment, then another, either intentionally or just as life unfolds, so that months (and months) later they find they are down to just one or two feedings, usually nap time and bedtime.
The time-honored weaning method of “don’t off, don’t refuse” seems to work the best for most mothers and babies. Weaning means releasing, not rejecting. Minimize situations that encourage breastfeeding (for example, sitting down in the familiar, inviting rocking chair), but be open during needful periods of the day. It is quite normal, as babies are naturally weaning into other relationships, for them to use mother as their home base for nutritional and emotional refueling. Be prepared to back up a step or two if you see negative behavior (tantrums, anger, sadness) cropping up, telling you that you are going too fast. during illness the frequency of breastfeeding will pick up, becoming an important comforting tool, as well as supplying needed disease-specific antibodies.
Be Prepared for “Regressions”
Between eighteen months and two years baby may have occasional spurts of marathon breastfeeding, as if it were newborn time again. Here’s why: As your budding explorer comes across new situations, it is necessary for him to check into home base frequently for a brief boost, reassuring himself that it is OK to resume exploring unknown territory. Breastfeeding, like a familiar friend in a strange crowd, helps the child to progress from the known to the unknown, from dependence to independence. A problem can develop here if mother is too busy to accommodate these brief but frequent pit stops. Baby may then insist on lengthy hour long feedings, as though once he gets you to where he needs you, he knows he better hang on for dear life.
It’s OK to Say No
In day-to-day dealings with their toddlers some mothers feel trapped by a breastfeeding contract without an escape clause. They think “don’t offer, don’t refuse” means they can never say no. There are many creative ways to say no that will not get regarded as “Mama is hardening her heart” but rather as “Mama want to help me find a way to be content.”
Develop Creative Alternatives
If you are comfortable letting your child take the lead in weaning, realize she may be two or three (or older if you have a family history of allergies) before she decides to wean. Although this not part of our culture, there are definite benefits to those children who need a prolonged weaning process. Zone the other hand, if you feel it is time to wean (a clue is that you chronically resent continue breastfeeding), you can take the initiative. There is a unique book recommended that thoroughly explores the benefits of longer-term breastfeeding and includes two chapters on nudging the weaning process along a bit: Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, by Norma Jane Bumgarner (La Leche League, 2000).
If your child resists weaning, picture what is going on in her mind. In what we call our deep groove theory of child development, we believe the developing memory is like a big, blank phonograph record; experience cuts grooves in this record. The breastfeeding groove is probably one of the deepest your child will ever cut, and this is why she returns to it frequently until alternative grooves are etched into her memory record. Your goal is to encourage these alternative grooves at a pace that is neither too fast for your child nor too slow for you. One key is to keep your child busy. Nothing triggers the desire to breastfeed like boredom. Next, minimize scenes that remind her of breastfeeding. Many mothers relate, “As soon as I set down in the rocking chair, she pounces.” Expect nap nursing and night nursing to be the last to go. Many toddlers retain a desire to be breastfed to sleep well into the second or third year. When one (or both) of you is ready to drop breastfeeding as the ultimate sleep inducer, you will have to come up with something equally convincing. You should already have a bedtime routine, or nap routine, which includes quieting activities. Reading bedtime stories (over and over), a sling ride through the house saying night-night to everything and everybody, or a back rub accompanied by a lullaby can be the finishing touch to the standard fare of healthful snack, bath, and pajamas.
Plenty of exercise earlier in the day sets you little one up for the sandman. Wind-down, mood-setting tools can be thrown in: Turn off stimulating TV programs, turn on relaxing music, dim the lights, or draw the drapes. A variation of the bedtime story is to sit together and watch a classic, low-key video such as Winnie the Pooh. You can try telling a story from when you were a child (or make one up using the current favorite fictional hero) and weave in a lot of lulling repetition and counting. The main feature of all these routines is that dad or anyone other than mother can do the honors. And remember, if your toddler has not had much time with dad, he will resist sleep just because of father hunger. So dads, don’t try to shortchange this necessary contact time.
Finally, weaning is easier if you gradually develop creative alternatives to breastfeeding when your baby needs comforting. If you automatically offer the breast as a solution to every cry and setback in your baby’s life (because it works so well), it will be more difficult for your baby to settle for anything else as he gets older, and it will be more difficult for you to get out of the rut, so to speak, of your limited comforting resources. Stories, toys, games, songs, outings, projects, may be just the reserves you need. Consider weaning as broadening your relationship with your baby, not losing it. As with all parenting styles there is a balance. Some mothers are overly attached to their babies, so that their total relationship revolves around breastfeeding. Consequently it is the only form of relating that their babies know. If you begin to feel that you are resenting so much breastfeeding, it’s time to slow it down and consider other ways of relating to your child. As you develop more playful interactions as alternatives to breastfeeding, your child will gradually learn to be content with them and actually prefer them as a substitute.
Life is a series of weanings for a child: weaning from your womb, weaning for your breast, from your bed, and from your home to school. The pace at which children go from oneness to separateness should be respected in all of these weaning milestones. To hurry children through any of these relationships before their time increases the risks of what is called diseases of premature weaning: anger, aggression, habitual tantrum-like behavior, anxious attachment to caregivers, and less ability to form deeper and more intimate relationships. A study on the long-term effects on thousands of children who had timely weanings and it was found that these children:
* are more independent
* gravitate to people more than things
* are easier to discipline
* experience less anger
* radiate trust
Ideally, try to give your baby the best physical, emotional, and mental start — a gradual and timely weaning. In the normal process of oneness to separateness, it is not the mother who weans the baby, but the baby who weans from the mother. Again studying the long-term effects of long-term breastfeeding, the most secure, independent, and happy children are those who have not been weaned before their time.