A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Weaning: Your Story. You Own It.

By Wendy Wisner

Wendy Wisner breastfeeding son

We need to come up with new language for long-term breastfeeding.

Here’s the thing: I’ve used all the terms myself. I have said I’m doing “child-led weaning.” I’ve called it “natural weaning.” I say often that I am nursing my children “until they are done.” I have called myself an “extended breastfeeder” and I have said I am nursing my kids “long-term.”

But all of it sounds either too absolute or too vague.

If I try to eliminate a nursing session, am I not being “natural”? What exactly does “extended breastfeeding” mean? To some, nursing past six months is “extended.” And “child-led weaning” makes it sound like it’s a one-sided thing, with no agency for the mother—like the mom is just lying back and letting her child decide how long the nursing will go on.

None of this language really describes what it’s like to nurse your child for a longish time. Nursing is a relationship. There are two people here. Me and my kiddo. You and your kiddo.

Of course my children “need” to nurse, and I’m cool with them doing it for many years (if you aren’t, that’s cool too). They are attached to nursing, in much the same way they are attached to me. Nursing calms them, it helps them navigate the crazy world of little-kid feelings, it grounds them, brings them home.

Wendy Wisner's son

And while they’re babies and young toddlers, breastmilk forms a large part of their nutrition. For the whole time I nurse them, I am protecting their little bodies against viruses they encounter; my milk helps them fight off the illnesses if they get them. And my milk provides lifetime health benefits for them.

Yes, they need to nurse. And yes, they ask to nurse. And in all those ways, I am following their lead.

But I get something out of nursing them too (oxytocin rush, extra snuggles, lifelong health protections, love). I recently published an article about this. It was a personal essay about why I nurse my two-year-old, and a lot of it had to do with the benefits to me. You’d be surprised how shocked people were that I had a stake in this “extended breastfeeding” thing! Of course there are endless benefits to kids, but it benefits moms as well.

Sometimes I don’t like nursing at all. I’m touched out, I can’t sit down to nurse again, I don’t want to nurse all night long. My period’s coming, and my breasts are sore and tender. And so I’ll delay a bit. I’ll try to distract my son with a toy, a snack, a conversation, and yes (I’ll admit it) an iPad.

This is totally normal, even if you want to breastfeed long-term. But does that mean the weaning isn’t “child-led,” or that I am not letting things unfold “naturally”? Of course not! I have chosen this path of long-term nursing. I have chosen to be mindful of letting my children nurse when they need to, for however long they do. But nothing is black-and-white in parenting. Nothing. We are figuring things out as we go along. We are listening to our kids, and to ourselves.

I think when we use absolute terms like these, we are setting up mothers for feelings of guilt, or confusion. New mothers especially want to belong to a tribe. They want to know how they should do this parenting thing. They want a choice with a clear path. But nothing is like that, exactly.

Wendy Wisner

It would be strange if mothers just nursed “on demand” forever. We need to trust ourselves to know when it’s time to say no sometimes. We have to trust that the relationship of breastfeeding will endure. It’s really awesome when both mom and child feel good about how weaning unfolds. I have gone through a full weaning myself, and there is nothing like the feeling of reaching a milestone like that with both the mom and child feeling good about it.

I nursed my first child well past the “norm” and am doing the same with my younger child. But there are limits; there are times when I steer him away from the breast. I see myself doing this sometimes, often at night, or in the early morning. With my first child, I felt pangs of guilt about this—I wondered if I was being “pure” about his weaning. But now there is no guilt, no wondering if this is the right thing to do, or if I am “unnaturally” speeding things along.

I am doing what comes naturally to me, while listening to him. This is our story. We own it—not any book or movement or website or group on Facebook.

The same is for you, whether you want to nurse for a long time, whenever you feel that it is time to stop. It’s your child’s story. It’s your story. No one can make it up for you. No one can tell you how to do it.

Breastfeeding is a relationship that goes on for as long or as short as you and your child want it to. There are no rules. You make them.

 

Wendy Winser breastfeeding; The Badass BreastfeederWendy Wisner is a mom, writer, and lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is the author of two books of poems (CW Books), and her writing has appeared in such publications as Huffington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Scary Mommy, and Mamalode. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. She does all her writing on her phone while she lies in the dark waiting for her kids to fall asleep. Find Wendy at www.wendywisner.com.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Comments

  1. I do not even know how I finished up here, but I thought this put up was once great.
    I do not recognize who you are but certainly you’re going to a
    famous blogger if you happen to aren’t already. Cheers!

  2. Hey Wendy !
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is not the first article written by you I read.
    Very pleasant and inspiring, I wish all the luck to your kids!

  3. stephanie says:

    Do you have suggestions for possibly steering a long term breast baby in the direction of weaning? My daughter is very close to three and a showing NO signs of slowing down. She’s actually wanted a lot more lately. I’m being pushed to stop cold Turkey by her daddy and her doctor. (He dad didn’t think babies needed breastmilk passed 6months and mom made it to three years so we’ll call that a win) I was just hoping for suggestions of a gentler way to wean than just stopping.

  4. I always enjoy reading articles that address toddler and young children nursing, as these articles seem so few and far between in the general discussion of nursing. I am absolutely committed to nursing my now 19-month-old for as long as he freely chooses to nurse, and while I have a very supportive husband, which I’m grateful for that, I’m a very independent-minded person and would be adamant about nursing as long as my son wants regardless of any outside pressure to stop.

    So it’s not like I need support or encouragement to continue — but it’s still uplifting to read about other women who feel a similar commitment to letting their children nurse in the fashion our biological evolution and nature designed for our species.

    That said, I find this comment a little curious from this article: “It would be strange if mothers just nursed ‘on demand’ forever.” I’m curious as to why the author feels this would be strange?

    Whenever I’m home with my toddler, I am more than happy to nurse him on-demand. I figure there’s a good reason, in his worldview, of why he is making the request. It does mean my husband might have to step in to continue preparing dinner, or pick up a chore where I left off — but nursing a toddler on demand seems as biologically and evolutionarily normal for to me as nursing a younger baby on-demand.

    Perhaps I just don’t have a completely solid understanding of what “on-demand” nursing is … So I’m really more curious than anything about the origin of that comment.

    I also bedshare with my 19-month-old and choose to let him nurse throughout the night as much as he wants. It has meant that I have not slept through the night once since before he was born (since, in the later stages of my pregnancy, I’d wake up anyway to have to turn over as things got a bit more uncomfortable). But I figure the need and desire to nurse during the wee hours is also part of Mother Nature’s design for our species.

    Sometimes, even amid the chorus of women who do support extended or long-term breastfeeding (or whatever you want to call it), I feel like I’m alone on this point. Virtually everything I read about nursing toddlers and young children suggests that mothers eventually want to eliminate those middle-of-the-night feedings….

    I would love to hear from some other mothers who do not feel this way. The funny thing is, your body completely adapts …. And recent research on natural sleeping patterns for humans (before the advent of artificial lighting started interfering with natural body rhythms) has shown that waking at least once during the dark hours is the way our bodies are designed to work …… Fascinating research really.

    At any rate, not that I would ever stop night-nursing my baby simply because other people might think me strange for continuing to do this, but I’m curious if more women are like me and choose to do this — or if I really am in an extremely small minority of women who plan to let all aspects of breastfeeding take their natural course with their little ones, including night feedings for as long as my son desires.

    • It appears as though our kids are about the same age. Now, almost a year after this comment, my child is 2.5+ and I’ve been wanting to gradually be done nursing but there’s a part of me feeling very sad about that. My daughter is growing up and still always wants milk but it seems she just likes being there with me more than anything. And that’s ok, but sometimes I just want my body back! All night and a few times during the day is getting to feel a bit much. Maybe less time but we usually fall asleep together. I told her when she’s a big girl she won’t want mama’s milk anymore and as she begins to make big girl decisions, like suddenly not letting me trim her nails that dig into my nipple as she plays, I get irritated and tell her she can’t have milk then because big girls don’t drink mama’s milk. Then I feel really bad even though she makes the decision to not trim and not drink but will then refuse a nap and turn into a little Tasmanian devil! I eventually let her have milk again and feel like I’m emotionally tormenting her and I don’t want to do that but I’m just getting ready for our relationship to lessen I guess. I sometimes think it’s maybe our way of getting closer to her being ready, as she realizes just how much she is growing up, but I also know she’s still just a baby in the larger scheme of things and I want to nurture her any way I can, especially because I go a little nuts sometimes and feel like a terrible parent as I yell at her to just stop talking for a minute! She’s totally my child and just talks all the time! I love her so unconditionally, but oh my gosh, mama needs a break! So, sometimes, I feel just less boob time would give me the break I need. I know once it’s over, it’s over, so I’m ok not ending it until she stops, but yeah, what role do I have in that? I never thought about the end of the breastfeeding relationship until after 2 years, because that was my “goal”, and once 2 years came and went, I thought, “Ok, I’m good still! However long it takes I guess!” But I’ve begun seeing the end I think so I’m probably losing the desire so much because it’s a way to detach without being too sad. And maybe she wants to hang on me so much because she knows it’s coming too. Who knows! Maybe she feels me letting go so she wants to hang on tighter. Whenever it ends, I just hope we do so with ease. And, yes, everyone I know thinks I’m doing this too long. Oh well.

  5. Thanks for experiense, it must be useful for future moms))

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