By Nina Palmo
Dear Attachment Parent: My baby is almost 18 months old. I never thought I’d be breastfeeding a toddler, but my child is so attached to it. How do I wean?
Many mamas today feel pressured to wean their children before either party is ready because of pressure from a society that doesn’t support breastfeeding. They may be too embarrassed to nurse in public once their children reach toddler age, and may fear comments and questions from friends or relatives. Many mums even have partners who pressure on them to stop breastfeeding too soon. That is a problem. Breastfeeding has a wealth of health benefits for both mothers and children. Children benefit emotionally, nutritionally, and immunologically. Mothers reduce their risk of pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years and thereafter as long as the mother and child desire it.
A great option in line with the philosophy of attachment parenting is to allow children to self-wean. This usually happens between the ages of 3 and 6 or so, with some children self-weaning earlier and some later. Letting your child breastfeed until they outgrow the need is a wonderful gift, and these stories too often go untold.
On the other hand, there are also cases in which mothers start to tire of breastfeeding before their children do. As someone nursing a nearly-6-year-old and a 3.5-year-old, I get it. It’s no longer about gazing dreamily into the eyes of your newborn. It’s toddlers or preschoolers tugging at your shirt and melting down because they want miiiiiiiiiilkiiiiiieeees.
I once read some great advice in a La Leche League publication: If you feel the need to wean, it is a sign that your nursing relationship is out of balance. Sometimes feeling the need to wean can be addressed by putting more limits in place. You may need to say “no” to some nursing sessions in order to feel good about and continue the overall nursing relationship.
Sometimes all of this advice fails and mothers truly need to wean. The gentlest weaning method is a slow process that involves dropping one feeding at a time. For younger children who would prefer to nurse once every three minutes, this starts with simple limits like breastfeeding only in the morning, before nap time, after nap time, and at bedtime. Once nursing sessions are consolidated to a predictable number each day, the next step will be to drop a feeding. For many kids, the midday feedings are the first to go and the bedtime feeding is the last to go.
Nina Palmo is a Nordic-born, Midwestern-raised, Texas denizen. She teaches sociology at a major university and blogs about attachment parenting, unschooling, alternative schooling, and intentional living at Raising Wildflower Kids. She lives in the Austin, Texas area with her husband and two daughters.