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Is Your Baby Weaning?

Alisa Ikeda


Many of us are sold on the merits of natural, or child-led weaning-of letting a child outgrow nursing in his own time and at his own pace. Proponents of natural weaning see it as yet another developmental skill, or milestone, to be achieved with the gentle support, guidance, and encouragement of his mother. But how do you know when the time for weaning has come?

It's Up to You

Don't let others decide for you when the time has come to wean. Everyone has-and all-too-readily offers-an opinion about the "right" time to stop nursing. There will undoubtedly be people in your life who think you've waited too long already, and just as many others who will question your decision to wean so soon. What's ultimately important is that you and your child feel ready.

By all means, set goals for nursing your baby - "I'd like to breastfeed until I return to work." "I hope to make it to nine months." "One year is my target."-but don't be ruled by them. If your target date comes and goes and you see no apparent reason to wean, don't! You may find, for instance, that you're a crackerjack pumper, and you're able to easily express plenty of milk when you return to work. Keep on keeping on. On the flip side, if you're especially eager to wean and have "tried everything" to do so to no avail, the time probably isn't now. Trust yourself and your baby to know what's best and when. Not even the "experts" can agree.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, while the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding for at least two years-which, incidentally, is the worldwide average. It's generally accepted, however, that the longer you are able to keep your baby on at least some breast milk, the better.

It Will Happen

Rest assured that all babies will wean themselves eventually. When you start to see weaning as a process and not an event, you realize that it begins when your baby consumes anything other than breast milk (supplemental formula or solid foods) and can then last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to several years.

Heed your baby's cues and go slowly, providing support and encouragement along the way. When you suspect he'd prefer a meal other than breastmilk-perhaps he's salivating over your dinner each night-go with it. But remember that gradual weaning is always best for both your baby and you. Taper off by no more than one feeding every few weeks in order to give your baby adequate time to get used to the change and allow your breasts to adjust to the decreased demand. Weaning can also be fraught with emotion for moms, who may feel relieved, freed, sad, and frustrated all at once. So go easy on both of you and relish the changes as they come.

In time, your baby will develop enough new skills (like scarfing down solids) and new ways of relating to you (like hugging and kissing and verbally expressing emotions) to meet all his needs for sustenance, comfort, and love that were once met by nursing. Only then will your child be fully weaned. Just remember that weaning needn't signal an end to the intimacy you and your child have established through breastfeeding; rather, it is a milestone to be celebrated, one that marks the beginning of a new and unparalleled closeness between mother and child.

For Further Reading:

Bengson, Diane. How Weaning Happens. La Leche League International, 2000.

Bumgarner, Norma Jane. Mothering Your Nursing Toddler-Revised Edition. La Leche League International, 2000.

Huggins, R.N., M.S., Kathleen, and Linda Ziedrich. The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning. Harvard Common Press, 1994.

Alisa Ikeda is a writer and editor in Marin County, California, with a B.A. in sociology and a background in book publishing. She loves the sweet-and wild-ride of motherhood and is utterly smitten with the two most charming men in her life: her April 1999 baby Sawyer and her husband Mike. At The Baby Corner, she enjoys writing about that which is nearest and dearest to her new-mom heart-all things baby! A work-at-home mom, Alisa is a member of Mothers & More (previously known as FEMALE) and her community mothers club. When not writing or chasing her giggling little bundle of mischief around the house, she dabbles in web design, amateur photography, gardening, and gourmet cooking.

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