A question that gets posed a lot by new mothers is, “When should I wean?” Or, “What will weaning look like?” And as we embark on motherhood we have a lot of ideas of what we think weaning will look like.
My premotherhood self was an expert at everything related to motherhood. I was reading every book and article I could find, and getting hands on experience (thanks to my bestie after the birth of her baby), and I knew EVERYTHING.
Even when it came to nursing. In my mind, not only was it going to be easy, I knew when I’d stop. I looked at moms that nursed past infancy as odd and knew I didn’t need to do that. I would be more “in control,” I thought, and would nurse until around six months.
I think we all do it. We get an idea in our minds (mostly thanks to society and what’s viewed as “normal”), even before our baby is born, about what our journey will look like, and then, what it will look like when it ends.
And not all this is bad! Because we need to feel like a bad ass going into this thing! We need to feel confident and feel like we know everything so we can go in strong – ready for anything. In most cases, we’re way off base, but who cares?! We’re so high up that when we do get knocked down a couple notches (because we will), it’s nice to have that space to fall.
Then real life happens. The age that we thought we’d wean comes and goes and we throw everything we thought we knew out the window. And we forget about weaning for a time and we figure shit out. If you’re anything like most of us, we start out with that idea in our mind of when we might stop, but then, when that arbitrary time comes along, there’s no way we’d stop! Hell, maybe we JUST got the hang of it for crying out loud!
We Find Our Stride
So we find our stride and get comfortable as the nursing mother, and we start to realize that this is what it’s all about. We become a lactavist, even, and work to inspire others to go on this path. We find pride in our nursing ways, unabashedly nursing in public whenever we (and our baby) see fit. We master our wardrobe, our pumping schedules while we’re at work, our evenings and weekends when we’re with our baby and everything in between. Our identity transforms and we proudly proclaim ourselves as the awesome, bad ass nursing mother we have become.
Celebrating the Nursing Mother
We receive cheers from our peers, our support groups, our pediatricians and our spouses. We have given our babies life and now we are sustaining that life. It’s celebrated, and rightfully so.
If you’re a mom, you know first hand that time goes by way too damn fast. We watch days go by like seconds and weeks go by like days. We suddenly look up and our baby is walking, talking and eating full course meals. We do our best to stop to “smell the roses” that is our baby’s soft, baby head as they quickly transform into a big kid that we can barely keep up with to get any cuddles… except for when we nurse. And regardless of how hard we try to soak it all in, time just happens anyway.
And eventually we revisit the question of
“So, when should I wean?”
As we continue on our merry ways, nursing becomes part of the routine. It’s our normal. But then we start to get the looks. We start to get the questions. We have a bad day or week, even. And then we take a look at the statistics, and we discover that if we’re nursing past 18 months we’re in the group of less than 10% of mothers according to Kellymom.com! And here we sit with our two and a half year old like WTH!? Where’d all my people go?!
So it gets us thinking – can you blame us?! We think, “Maybe I should wean.” And we google ways to wean and what age is ideal, especially when it’s hard. And even when it’s easy we worry about what others will think and what is “normal”. We listen to our peers and our pediatricians or doctors about how the baby doesn’t “need” it anymore. We listen to society (especially if we’re in The States) and worry if we’re ‘weird’ or ‘off base’ by nursing our toddler into their toddler years.
Support System, Where You At?!
As more time passes we even get to a point when our support system even starts to break down. The same champions of our breastfeeding early on start to question us on if we’re nursing “too long” or if the baby is “too old”. That same support system that cheered us on to start, then to continue, then to do it exclusively, then to get a better latch, then to get a better system, then to make it normal, then to nurse in public with no regrets, then to have no shame and be strong, is now making you question if you’re doing it for too long!
Then a sad thing happens. We hide.
We get tired of all the bullshit; tired of all the questions and the criticism, and we just stop talking about it. We nurse only at home when all the noise is off and we don’t have to worry about anyone looking at us in a weird way or feel the need to talk to us about how old our nursling is. We become ashamed. We become closet nursers.
What we need to do instead is
Find OUR Truth
If we meditate (or find five minutes to think quietly) with only our own thoughts, turning OFF the noise of the outside world and we ask our self,
“Do I want to wean my baby from breastfeeding? Do I want to stop?”
Ask it out loud and say those words. Let ourselves HEAR those words.
If the answer is,
then I’m here to tell you a few things:
If you don’t want to wean, then DON’T.
Stop googling, first of all. And get back to living.
Stop worrying what others think.
It’s nobody’s business how you feed or comfort your baby.
Society is wrong (especially in The States).
We are being bombarded by misinformation in a lot of cases so let me put some of the debates to bed:
Your baby STILL benefits from breastfeeding for as long as you do it.
Your baby WILL wean. Unless you need to or want to, it’s never OUR job to wean our baby. Let that go. Relieve yourself of this and take it off your “To Do” list. (Did you feel that weight come right off your shoulders?!)
Nursing is NOT just about nutrition.
You’re comforting them. You’re helping their development through touch. You’re helping their immune system with your antibodies (yes, for as long as you nurse – this doesn’t go away). You’re helping them become more secure.
“Turns out if you wean a toddler, you still have a toddler.”
After posing the question, “Does weaning help with tantrums and sleep” to a support group this was by far the best answer. Among others that stayed in the same vein like, “I regret weaning because the tantrums don’t stop, just your ability to stop them more quickly stops,” made me realize this – weaning will not fix anything if we’re having an off day. In fact, our off day or night would very likely be worse if nursing was not an option. So I put that curiosity to bed real quick. Teething, growth spurt, and the like are still going to be there if we wean. None of that changes. One mom even responded to say that she regretted weaning because bed time and tantrums are MUCH harder because she’s lost her tool, her go-to, for comforting her little one.
So the long and the short of it is…
If you want to keep nursing,
Time will keep going as it always does, and one day, we’ll be waiving at them as they go off into the world as adults when they don’t need us anymore. Right now, they DO. So just turn the noise off, and enjoy that while it lasts.
Nursing is one of the most powerful bonds we, as mothers, will ever have. If we’re fortunate enough to experience that bond, why on earth would we will it away. If we’re fortunate enough to experience that bond beyond infancy, into to toddler hood, let it be, and enjoy it. Don’t rush to get rid of that. Time rushes our lives away enough already.
Of course every story is different. If you are looking to wean, that’s OK, and here’s some help on that. Just try your absolute best to do two things if you can help it –
- DO NOT wean cold turkey, and
- DO NOT wean when you or your baby are having a bad day
Weaning cold turkey can lead to mastitis and be traumatizing for your baby emotionally. Additionally, your hormones will go absolutely crazy. But for your baby, this is all they’ve ever known. If you wean, do so gradually, and be sure to give extra cuddles and be ready to give extra attention to make up for the loss of the closeness breastfeeding provides.
Weaning should never be thought of a solution to a problem. I know that’s hard, because that’s exactly what I thought of when I was having an off day. But it’s best to meet any transition when you and your little one are at your best.
And of course, please read my disclaimer.