“Many times I have heard mothers say, ‘I will wean him when he is ready to stop’. This sounds beautiful and I do agree to a certain extent but don’t get me wrong…weaning a child is not just about them. Breastfeeding is a relationship…”
Yes. I am “still” breastfeeding. It’s quite funny to me how the comments are starting now that my little (yes, he is still little) nursling is two years old. I get it. He looks huge to you. He you think he looks like he should not be breastfeeding anymore. You think I need to be “discreet”…
What some do not think about though is that the reason most people think he is too old is because you just have not seen many (or any) toddlers breastfeeding. Many toddlers are busy when out and about and breastfeed more often when at home. I remember quite well the first time I saw a breastfeeding toddler. I had gone to talk with a La Leche League Leader (breastfeeding counseller) and as I sat there breastfeeding my tiny little three month old I watcher her 18 month old hop up onto her lap and latch on, all while peering out at me with his head turned. He looked like a little monkey hanging to his mother in a tree! Little did I know in the future I’d be breastfeeding my own three little monkey kids well into toddlerhood.
We used to live in large, social communities where we saw our family, extended family and friends every day. We lived together, cooked together, hung out together daily. This meant then that many people saw breastfeeding toddlers all the time (and communities around the world who still live like this continue to see this now). Women who live in these communities are not questioned about “still” breastfeeding their children. People within these communities recognize this as the biological norm.
What does this mean? It simply means that if we look at what naturally happens (following the child, breastfeeding on demand and being with our child for most of the day and night) we see that they actually breastfeed well past babyhood. How we live now, in “modern” times actually halts the breastfeeding process for many women well before weaning would have naturally occurred. It is when we go back to work, start spending time away when they are still little, greatly decrease feedings or start to schedule feedings that we see our little ones weaning quite early and of course mothers actively weaning before toddler-hood for a variety of reasons. This is not an issue about how old but an issue about the need for people to see it more and giving the women who do want to breastfeed past babyhood, the support they need to reach those goals. Kathy Dettwyler has written about the natural human age for weaning and found through her research that this is between the ages of 2.5-7 years old. HEAD HERE to read more about this.
My two year old is breastfeeding. I breastfed my oldest boy until he was just over two years old and my middle boy breastfed until he was three and a half. I know! A breastfeeding three year old! Quick, shield your eyes!! Seriously though…he was still so little. Three is little. He did not breastfeed forever. Weaning does not just happen in one day though, especially when you are doing gentle weaning and following the lead of the child. He gradually, over time started to decrease how much he was breastfeeding. He started to skip breastfeeds and then skipped days all together until I realized one day that he had not breastfed for about one week! There were a few times I thought he was done only to find him latched on again here or there at random times…this is how gentle weaning happens. It’s the biological norm, not weird.
Many times I will hear mothers say, “I will wean him when he is ready to stop”. This sounds beautiful and I do agree to a certain extent but don’t get me wrong…weaning a child is not just about them. Breastfeeding is a relationship. Breastfeeding is not just about the child and their needs and wants. Sometimes I don’t want to breastfeed my little two year old. Maybe I’m cooking dinner, trying to eat while actually sitting down or he has just breastfed FIVE HUNDRED times and I need a break! I’m touched out!! Now I am not actively weaning him at that moment but setting boundaries is apart of the gentle weaning process. It’s not just about him and his needs all the time. If it was I would go insane…
Weaning is about our child and when they are ready but it is also about us and when we are ready. When my middle boy started to reach the age of three I said to him, “you can have boobie in the morning and boobie before you go to bed”. This was about him continuing to breastfeed but it was also about setting my own boundaries and what I could manage during the day.
Steps to gentle weaning…
*It is important to note here that sometimes these will work for your little one and other times they will fail miserably! Just go with it. Gentle weaning is two steps forward, one step back. You WILL get there but it will take some time.
1. Solid Foods
This might sound a bit odd but introducing solids is actually their first step towards weaning! You might not wean for another three years but it is part of the weaning process!
2. Spending some time away from your child
As your baby gets older you will have the opportunity to leave them for a few hours here or there without needing to pump or bottle feed. This time spent apart from your child allows them to see what navigating the world is like without the boob in their mouth. 🙂
3. Night weaning
Night weaning is a huge step! Most of us nighttime breastfeeding mothers get to the point where we just need some sleep! As your child grows up and gets closer to the 18 month mark, they are developmentally ready to start understanding the difference between day and night. If you need some help on night weaning, CLICK HERE to have a read of my blog post on gently night weaning your toddler.
4. Setting boundaries
You do not have to breastfeed your child every second that they ask for it. My two year old does have to wait sometimes if I am doing something important and cannot stop right at that moment to breastfeed him. Sometimes he gets cranky at me but he does understand what I’m saying to him and he has the ability to understand that he must wait.
5. Talking to them
COMMUNICATION IS KEY!! Talk to your child. If you are eating tell your little one that you need to finish your breakfast before you can breastfeed. If you feel too sick to breastfeed then let them know you are not feeling well and they will need to wait until you have had a rest.
My friend did this with her three year old and it worked really well during the day. Tell your child that they can breastfeed until you count to “ten”…or pick whatever number you want! Then you count out loud to them and when you reach that number you de-latch them and do a different activity with them.
This works really well for some children. Offer to read them a book, take them for a walk or paint a picture.
8. Don’t sit down!!
If you sit down in that comfy chair or couch your child will find you! They will lift your shirt! They will demand “boobie”!! Try to avoid sitting where you normally breastfeed them. I don’t usually breastfeed while at my computer but if my little guy finds me typing away he of course immediately wants to breastfeed.
9. Keep them busy and give them lots of attention and cuddles.
Often times if we can do something else with them and really pay attention, then it becomes easier to stop them from having a breastfeed. Read to them, take them to the park or just sit with your little one on the floor.
10. Offer a drink of water or a healthy snack.
No, not a lollipop! Offer your little one a smoothie, glass of water or a little snack.
Weaning does not have to be black or white. You can decrease the amount of breastfeeding you are doing without weaning 100%. Remember it’s not just about your child and their needs, but also about the relationship you have with them and your own needs and circumstances.
Do you need some help with weaning? I cover this topic in my BOOBinar! Click here to check it out…
I have helped many women with night weaning and setting boundries during the day. Head HERE for more information on breastfeeding consultations.
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