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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

Mama, It’s OK to Wean

Listen, weaning is a deeply personal choice and very much a journey of its own within the breastfeeding journey.

I get this question a lot...

How long should I breastfeed?
My best answer - The choice if yours and yours alone. That is a decision to be made between parent and child, not me, not the world/society.

I'm a breastfeeding advocate and lactation consultant, yet I'm also a former breastfeeding mom so I'm about choice and options from the view point of empathy. I understand that everyone had their own reasons for things and I'm respectful of that. I promote breastfeeding, but I don't preach it. I will cheer for you to do it, but I won't try to convince you to do it. As a lactivist, I work to protect breastfeeding rights and encourage it as the standard and attempt to normalize it as a part of my lactation advocacy. As a Blactivist, I support the breastfeeding rights of the Black community. This doesn't mean I'm going to tell you to continue breastfeeding when you want to stop. I'm going to explore the reasons you want to stop and give you options that support you to do what is best for you and baby. As with all things in life, all things must come to an end. I'm here to support you when that time comes.

The general recommendation answer to that question:

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) & WHO (World Health Organization) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer.

Extended breastfeeding is the "norm" in many cultures around the world. This is generally nursing beyond 2 years and this is also more than OK!

I do weaning consults pretty regularly. People wean for various reasons. From need to want and everything in between. It can be a very emotional process and more so for the parent(s) than the baby.

In my practice, I focus on gentle weaning strategies with my clients to help them reach their individual weaning goals. We come up with those as a team. By team, I mean, me, parent(s) and baby(ies) and we reevaluate those goals often to make sure we are all on the same page.

For many, the idea of weaning might make you uneasy, sad, anxious or excited. Sometimes and usually, a combination of all of the above and more. Despite all the big emotions that come with weaning, one thing I know for sure, is no matter what the reason or timing, if your baby could articulate it, they would say "mama, it's OK to wean"

Other things your baby would say:

"This is going to be hard for us, but we can do it."

"There are other ways you can show me love like you already have...reading, dancing, singing, playing, hugs and kisses are all things you do to bond with me when we are not feeding."

"I'm not too old for you to hold, hug or wear me. This helps me feel safe and loved."

"You've helped me through hard times without nursing, like the time you kissed my forehead and gently rocked me when I got my vaccine(s)."

"No matter what you feed me, I love you and thank you for caring for me the way you do."

"You got me through cluster feeding, many milestones from cooing to sitting to crawling and more."

"This way of bonding in our relationship might be gone, but I can't wait to see what new ways we find to bond on our journey."

"I love you for every drop that you made and I enjoyed every suckle, even through struggle."

"You gave me life, sustained me and will continue to help me grow with your love and affection."

"And when I'm sick, you'll comfort me with a blanket, my favorite snack, all curled up laying in your lap. Even though I'm not nursing, I will remember the times we did and I will be happy because I'm still with you."

"Whatever choice you make, when you decide to make it, I will be OK and I will still love you."

Particularly after the age of 12 - 18 months, breastfeeding becomes somewhat of a scared ritual than pure nourishment. This is why it can feel so difficult to let go and can make you nervous about stopping because you are concerned that your baby will not like it. I've worked with tons of babies and all have been OK after weaning, some of them may be a bit reluctant, but they are OK in the end, especially when you do it with guidance, support and love.

You are all they need and they love you regardless of whether you are providing them with milk or not. On behalf of your baby, thanks for making the choice to breastfeed, no matter how long, how much, or how often. Each drop of your milk was created with love and they will forever carry that with them.

I'm going to give you a few strategies to explore in the next weaning blog. So stay following!

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