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Thread: How does child-led weaning occur?

  1. #1
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    Default How does child-led weaning occur?

    My DS is 2 (25 months to be exact). We are still nursing somewhere between 4-6 times per day. I work full-time so this is a few times in the morning, a few more in the evening, and usually once overnight. I am fine with him continuing to nurse for now and in fact would be sad to give it up. However, I know my DH and family will disapprove of me nursing a 3 or 4 year old and I'm not even sure I want to do that. I asked my pediatrician, who is reasonably supportive of breastfeeding (even of toddlers) if it was likely that my son would wean on his own by age 3 or so, and she said she didn't think so, that some kids just love nursing and if DS is like that he probably won't give it up on his own and I'll have to actively wean him. This makes me sad I don't want to take something away from him while he still wants/needs it. At the same time I'm not so sure I want to nurse a 4 year old (not to mention the grief I will get from DH and family about that).

    I'm wondering how natural, child-led weaning happens? DS still asks all the time now, and would nurse 8+ times a day if allowed (and does on weekends sometimes). I know he's still little and his behavior will probably change dramatically over the next year or so. I'm wondering, for those of you who followed a path of child-led weaning, how and when did it happen? Was your LO still nursing so enthusiastically at age 2? Did it stop fairly suddenly? Did they cut down the frequency very gradually? Did you have to encourage it at some point? How does this happen?

    I'm not even feeling great about cutting down to 5ish times a day, as I've done over the past few weeks. I'm feeling sad and missing my DS more when at work (I'm also away from home longer each day as we recently moved and my commute is longer, which sucks). However, DH is clearly happy not to see me with my boob out literally all.the.time and has reverted to being if not supportive, at least neutral on our nursing relationship (as some of you may remember from a prior post, he was giving me a hard time about it a few weeks back). So that's been good. I just don't like having to tell DS "no" so often! He accepts "no" fairly gracefully, and I do think many times it is not so much nursing he wants, as my cuddles and my full attention. Nursing is just his bid to get my attention and usually he's happy enough to do something else with me. So he seems to be doing okay with the cut-back in frequency.
    First-time mama to Joshua, 10/29/11. 29 months and going strong! for 14 months; now finished with pump weaning!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    DS1 was nursing like that at 2 years (and after) but weaned with a very gentle nudge just after his 4th birthday. I understand being concerned about your family but frankly it is none of their business when you wean they have no control over it. I know it seems now like he will be soo grown up at 4 but they are really still little. You should go for as long as YOU feel comfortable nursing. DS1 was not strictly child led because I got pregnant just before he was 2.5 years old and had some tenderness so I did restrict him some. At the end he was nursing for just a couple of minutes in the morning when waking up. We talked one day about how when he was ready to stop nursing mommy would get him a surprise and he went for it.
    Jessica

    Moma to DS1-the monkinroanie (3/09) and DS2-the sweet pumpkin (5/12)
    Strong Women- May we have the delight of knowing them, the courage to be them and the privilege of raising them.
    And yes I know my spelling terrible (is that spelled right? )

  3. #3
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    I think that in the majority of child-led weanings, the child gradually loses interest in nursing a his independence and interest in the world around him increases. As the child nurses less often and for shorter time periods, the mom's milk supply will diminish, maybe even vanish, and the lack of milk will make the child even less interested in nursing. Eventually the child will simply forget to ask to nurse, and the mom will realize that it's been a couple days since he last asked. And then a week, and then a month... Eventually, the mom realizes that weaning happened without her having to really do anything about it.

    That's basically how my kids weaned, anyway.

    The only issue with child-led weaning is the timetable. Our societal paradigm for weaning is that it should happen early, either at or around 1 year of age. That's probably why your DH, family, and pediatrician are so down on child-led weaning and natural term nursing- your child is already two and they've probably never seen ANYONE nurse a baby this long. But 1-2 year-old babies/toddlers are only very rarely ready to self-wean. Children typically don't self-wean until age 2, at a minimum. Most of them will nurse until age 3-4, and some will go longer- but the ones who do tend to be nursing very infrequently and if nursing is really getting to the mom, she can easily communicate with her child and negotiate a better deal- like nursing only under specific circumstances.

    If you and your baby are happy nursing right now, that's awesome! And if you decide that you want to wean, that's fine, too. Just don't let anyone push you to wean ahead of your timetable. My mom still talks about how her MIL- who never nursed her children!- pushed her to wean my siblings and me, and how she still resents that pressure and interference. When your child weans is not your family's business. Nor is it your pediatrician's business- just because she has never seen child-led weaning doesn't mean that it doesn't exist! The only person outside of you and your child who should have a say in the weaning process is your DH- if weaning or lack thereof is becoming a relationship issue between the two of you, it's probably time to have a sit-down and discuss WHY he thinks weaning is a good idea. Often those concerns will evaporate, or at least be mitigated.
    Coolest thing my big girl said recently: "How can you tell the world is moving when you are standing on it?"
    Coolest thing my little girl sang recently: "I love dat one-two pupples!"

  4. #4
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    my experience was that my son, who turned 5 in October, gradually reduced nursing for over a year, from just after his 4th birsthday he began to miss days and each time I thought this is it, only to take it up again. During that last year he only nursed to sleep, or when he woke from a bad dream, but woulld have liked to nurse mornings too - which I did not like and therefore prevented by getting up before him.

    Before that, at around age 2 he was an avid nurser, many times a day, but I did encourage him to only nurse at home and not in public by telling him we wold do it later. (not no but later).
    By age 3 it became an issue for me, for one because he started day care and I returned to work, and also I really felt the social pressure to wean so I from that time only ever nursed him at home. Around 3 1/2 I was fed up with bf and joined this forum basically in order to find advice on weaning.
    Thanks to all the lovely ladies ;-) I was able to continue on until he turned 5. I felt I was unable to continue closet nursing. He did not want to finish but I gently worked at it for about 5 or 6 months. But I think the final push was that he contracted hand mouth foot disease and had such a sore mouth he could not suck, and afterwards lost his latch. We both cried. Coincidentally this was on his 5th birthday.

    Anyway what I think is that mother induced weaning becomes difficult and hard once the child is older than 10 or 12 months. I don't mean this as an argument for weaning at that age at all, only that because the child matures in expressing their desires and wants and as the ability to express their needs matures it becomes less easy to just wean.

    Toddler bf was the most difficult for me when he was 3 to 3 3/4, afte that I got reconciled to it again. At that age I could only have weaned him by brute force which I was not willing to do. At age 4, he still was not ready at all but by 4 1/2 I felt that if I just nudged gently we could do it without major trauma.
    And if I was not such a whimp we mgith even have continued to but I was not prepared to remain a closet nurser any longer - for which I am partly ashamed.

    My advice would be to ignore the relatives if you can, most of them will assume anyway that you weaned long ago unless you volunteer information. And as PPs said focus on husband, that is much more important that he is on board.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    I just don't like having to tell DS "no" so often!
    You know, i think you don't have, at his age it should work to tell him later, at least this did work with mine when he was about 2 yrs. Not right away but after a while he understood i would keep my promise.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    Quote Originally Posted by @llli*mammi View Post
    Anyway what I think is that mother induced weaning becomes difficult and hard once the child is older than 10 or 12 months. I don't mean this as an argument for weaning at that age at all, only that because the child matures in expressing their desires and wants
    I think Mammi makes a good point here- that there's a window during which weaning is very difficult. Weaning a new baby- say, less than a few months old- is really easy. Put a bottle in a very young baby's mouth, and the baby will instinctively suck and eat. A slightly older baby becomes harder to wean, because they know what they want and they are willing to fight to get it. My sister, for example, was weaned at 3 months (due to bad medical advice), and while she fought very hard against the bottle she did eventually take it because she was so hungry. My dad, who was the one who gave the bottle, said it was "hands down the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life". My experience with weaning was that it actually became easier and easier as the child got older. I could never put my 1 year-old off from nursing just because it wasn't convenient for me. She would scream and cry if I tried! But when she was 2, she could start to understand things like "we'll nurse when we get back to the car" or "we'll nurse until mommy counts to 10." And she could accept substitutes for nursing, like a snack, or playtime with daddy, or whatever.

    My point- and Mammi's too, I think- is that as a society we tend to think that weaning is hard because we often force it to happen so early, at the most difficult time in a baby's life. When they are deeply attached to nursing for both food and comfort. When they cannot yet understand "later" or "you just had some" or "mommy is too tired" or whatever rationale a mom has for cutting out or delaying a nursing session. But if we were more willing to allow things to proceed by the baby's timetable, it would be a lot easier and no-one would think of weaning as this difficult, emotionally traumatic event!
    Coolest thing my big girl said recently: "How can you tell the world is moving when you are standing on it?"
    Coolest thing my little girl sang recently: "I love dat one-two pupples!"

  7. #7
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    Quote Originally Posted by @llli*mammi View Post
    You know, i think you don't have, at his age it should work to tell him later, at least this did work with mine when he was about 2 yrs. Not right away but after a while he understood i would keep my promise.
    To clarify, I don't really tell him "no" but I do tell him "later" all the time. The thing is I have to keep repeating myself and he keeps insisting. E.g. I am in the shower, he is playing outside the shower stall, and he will say "nu-nu Mama?" (We call nursing nu-nu). I'll say "Yes, when Mommy is done with the shower and all dressed". This satisfies him for about 10 seconds, then he'll ask again "nu-nu Mama?" "Yes, when I'm out of the shower and dressed". "No, nu-nu now!". Etc. Repeat ad infinitum. It gets old. I don't know if this is just a very short toddler attention span, causing him to forget what I said 15 seconds earlier (although it doesn't seem like it, as his attention span for other things is very good) or if it's some kind of game he's playing with me, or what. When I stop responding to the requests for "nu-nu" he usually stops asking for awhile. Then the moment I get out of the shower and he sees my boobs, BIG smile and "nu-nu Mama?" again. Lol. It's cute but it can also be irritating.

    I don't know how much of the requests for nu-nu are really just requests for my attention. Quite a bit, I think. He is usually satisfied with some other form of attention if I'm not in the position to give him nu-nu right that minute. I guess I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I really don't like to deny my baby. On the other, I guess I feel I should be encouraging him to relate to me in other ways besides nu-nu...that is definitely his favorite thing to do with Mommy right now. Often we do nu-nu AND we read a book at the same time. I just don't want his only way to relate to me to be through nursing because I can't see what will happen when we wean, or how we will wean if it's still his primary way to relate to me? We do play together, read together, etc. but nu-nu is still his favorite thing.
    First-time mama to Joshua, 10/29/11. 29 months and going strong! for 14 months; now finished with pump weaning!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    Quote Originally Posted by @llli*mommal View Post
    I think that in the majority of child-led weanings, the child gradually loses interest in nursing a his independence and interest in the world around him increases. As the child nurses less often and for shorter time periods, the mom's milk supply will diminish, maybe even vanish, and the lack of milk will make the child even less interested in nursing. Eventually the child will simply forget to ask to nurse, and the mom will realize that it's been a couple days since he last asked. And then a week, and then a month... Eventually, the mom realizes that weaning happened without her having to really do anything about it.

    That's basically how my kids weaned, anyway.

    The only issue with child-led weaning is the timetable. Our societal paradigm for weaning is that it should happen early, either at or around 1 year of age. That's probably why your DH, family, and pediatrician are so down on child-led weaning and natural term nursing- your child is already two and they've probably never seen ANYONE nurse a baby this long. But 1-2 year-old babies/toddlers are only very rarely ready to self-wean. Children typically don't self-wean until age 2, at a minimum. Most of them will nurse until age 3-4, and some will go longer- but the ones who do tend to be nursing very infrequently and if nursing is really getting to the mom, she can easily communicate with her child and negotiate a better deal- like nursing only under specific circumstances.

    If you and your baby are happy nursing right now, that's awesome! And if you decide that you want to wean, that's fine, too. Just don't let anyone push you to wean ahead of your timetable. My mom still talks about how her MIL- who never nursed her children!- pushed her to wean my siblings and me, and how she still resents that pressure and interference. When your child weans is not your family's business. Nor is it your pediatrician's business- just because she has never seen child-led weaning doesn't mean that it doesn't exist! The only person outside of you and your child who should have a say in the weaning process is your DH- if weaning or lack thereof is becoming a relationship issue between the two of you, it's probably time to have a sit-down and discuss WHY he thinks weaning is a good idea. Often those concerns will evaporate, or at least be mitigated.
    Yes, the way you describe weaning happening is kind of what I thought would happen...the child just gradually loses interest. I guess I'm getting nervous because I don't see that happening with my son yet, AT ALL. I'm happy to still be nursing him now and probably for the next year or so but I think I would be encouraged if I saw any sign that he was outgrowing this need. I am afraid we're going to get to the point where I really DO want to wean (maybe around age 3 or so) and yet he'll still be so attached to it that it will be very, very difficult. I've been hoping he'll outgrow it on his own on a timetable that I find acceptable so I don't have to actively wean him. I really don't like taking it away before he's ready. And it's possible I will feel differently about continuing to nurse once he gets to be 3, or 4, etc, but what if I don't? I just don't know at this point. It might seem silly to worry about something that's probably a year or so away but I would just like to see some sign that he is eventually going to outgrow this on his own, and so far I'm not seeing it.

    I agree with what you've said about how there's a window in which weaning is easy. I know I've missed that window (I'm not sorry about missing it--I enjoy toddler nursing and feel we would have missed out on so much if we weren't still nursing the past year--I just realize that I did miss that easy window when I didn't wean right at 1 year). That's what the people around me don't understand. E.g. my MIL claims DH "self-weaned" at 10 mos (yeah right...not biologically possible since baby is still mostly dependent on breastmilk at that age. What happened is 1)she returned to work and didn't pump so her milk dried up and 2)she started restricting when he could nurse. But I'm not going to tell her that and make her feel bad that she weaned him early). So they don't understand why weaning an older baby/toddler is difficult, because weaning wasn't difficult for them. They also can't understand why I would want to continue nursing a 2 year old since they never did, and I get the feeling it makes them uncomfortable/they find it distasteful/something like that. I think they think I'm trying to keep DS a "baby" by continuing to nurse him, rather than that I'm trying to respond to my toddler's needs. I think they also think it's about encouraging an unhealthy attachment to me and/or keeping DS from getting as attached as they would like to them (e.g. I usually still get him at night and first thing in the morning rather than letting MIL do it when she's visiting). This isn't the case, I'm not trying to keep him from forming bonds with other people, it's just that he still prefers Mommy, but that's what they think. Oh well. I'm glad DH at least isn't giving me a hard time about nursing at the moment. I'll take victory where I can get it.

    Thanks for listening to me ramble.
    First-time mama to Joshua, 10/29/11. 29 months and going strong! for 14 months; now finished with pump weaning!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    Quote Originally Posted by @llli*mammi View Post
    My advice would be to ignore the relatives if you can, most of them will assume anyway that you weaned long ago unless you volunteer information. And as PPs said focus on husband, that is much more important that he is on board.
    I wish I could just let the relatives assume I have weaned. DS still asks for nu-nu all the time in front of them when they visit or when we visit them, so that's not possible. Maybe when he's a bit older I can get him to keep it between us but on the other hand I don't want him to feel like it's something secret or shameful. As long as he is still nursing with such frequency it's very difficult to hide what's going on when they're staying with us, or vice-versa.
    First-time mama to Joshua, 10/29/11. 29 months and going strong! for 14 months; now finished with pump weaning!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: How does child-led weaning occur?

    I wish I could just let the relatives assume I have weaned. DS still asks for nu-nu all the time in front of them when they visit or when we visit them, so that's not possible. Maybe when he's a bit older I can get him to keep it between us but on the other hand I don't want him to feel like it's something secret or shameful. As long as he is still nursing with such frequency it's very difficult to hide what's going on when they're staying with us, or vice-versa.
    I guess I was lucky in that we do not live so close to the relatives that they saw much of his demands for nursing and also because they did not know what he meant as he said something like give me kissies (not in English).

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