When should I wean my daughter?
– mother of a 14 month old in Mumbai
Who is asking? You? Your baby? Your family? Random strangers on the bus? (It has happened to me.) Since you have asked me, I will go by the book and say, after at least 2 years of age, when you and baby are ready. The World Health Organization has taken care of defending the importance of breastfeeding for two years and beyond so let me talk about the further years.
Of all the years of nursing my daughter, I would say I am most grateful for the fourth. It was in that year that my daughter fell ill three times, each time with high fever and loss of appetite. By that age (three-and-a-half) she had grown bold in exploring the world; that may have exposed her to more bugs. Whenever she was sick, she nursed day and night – so not only did she get rest and nourishment, but I didn’t lose sleep either, because she was comfortable throughout the illness.
What if baby shows signs of pausing or stopping nursing? Thanks to the WHO, before age 2 is generally regarded as too young to stop, and mothers are encouraged to try more skin contact and other measures to keep nursing . (See Kelly Mom for more tips.) While two years is the recommended minimum, there is no recommended maximum. Nursing continues to be healthy for years beyond the minimum age of two.
Young children will continue to go through phases when they nurse more as well as times when they nurse less. Gradually the peaks of increased nursing grow less frequent and eventually do not return.
Around age two most children are eating a variety of solid foods and also increasing the range of their social interactions. Whenever exposed to illness, and especially when sick, children nurse more. Breastfeeding enhances immunity and also supports the mind and body while little children go through physical, emotional or intellectual growth spurts. Just observe after a spree of nursing – you will find that something exciting follows.
You may not know when your child feels a queasy stomach or bad throat coming on, but his body will signal him to take less solid food and nurse more. This eases the work of the digestive system, brings in fluids and channels resources to the immune system for the job at hand. Many times a baby who is allowed to listen to her body and adjust her diet as needed will nip an illness in the bud, and will remain in tune with her body even beyond the nursing years.
At other times your little one will need less milk and your body will continue to make just the right amount for him, since the more he drinks the more you make. He himself will gradually take less and less and you don’t have to worry about when. Remember that nursing supplies far more than food, it is also a source of comfort. Having a safe haven to return to definitely encouraged my little one as she became more outgoing.
While there is no uniform age at which the nutritional, immunological, intellectual and emotional benefits of nursing disappear, every child weans, even without any suggestion or push. As I read in Norma Jane Bumgarner, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, the answer to the question of weaning, as far as health is concerned, is that you do not need to think about it. The wide world beckons and they are little only once.
My nursing / weaning story is here.