What's the best age to wean?

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Our life is in flux - what's the best tine to wean?

December 2002

My 21 month old is an avid nurser and I do enjoy nursing him an average of 3 times a day--although given his druthers he would nurse more like 6-8 times a day! We have had a lot of changes in our lives recently (2 moves in 6 months to different states) and I think further flux is in our future. So, I'm wondering whether there is an age that is better to wean at than others or a particularly bad time to wean? Is there an age when he's likely to wean himself? What have your experiences been?

My other question is that he has always nursed himself to sleep for naps although he goes to sleep by himself at night. Now he isn't sleeping always after nursing at naptime. He seems almost asleep and then pops off bright eyed and ready to play. My husband and I are debating whether the same routine for night (3 lullabies while snuggling, into crib, 2 more lullabies) will work for naps if we persevere (it didn't at 8 months which is the last time we tried and today I tried it and it produced an hour of crying). My husband says he thinks it's too late to train him and we should just walk him or drive him until he sleeps or give up the nap. But 21 months seems young to give up napping...

Any advice you have is welcome! thanks, Katya G.

My boy is just about to turn 2 years old. But, when he was 18 months I went back to work part-time and really enjoyed the times when I returned and I could nurse him for our special time. It was really important to him. He too would nurse anytime he wanted if he could. And up until 22 months my motto was, ''don't offer, don't refuse''. Sometimes it seemed he wanted to nurse constantly. But one morning, at 22 months, when I was busy getting ready for work and he wanted to nurse while I went to the bathroom, that was it. I said enough. And I literally stopped any none 'nurse to sleep', nursing times. He would ask a lot at the times he was used to. He would see things that reminded him of it and I removed those sorts of reminders. I stopped sitting in our nursing spots. He still asks sometimes, and I still say, ''is it nappy yime. OR is it sleepytime?'' He used to get a little upset, but now he just moves on . I just give a real blank non emotional face and divert him. It totally worked with very little problems. Maybe a few tantrums in the very beginning, but after a few minutes, he was over it. Now my problem is nursing to sleep. I have not been able to tackle that one yet and he still wakes me a lot during the night. I think I'll wait another 3 months and revisit that one. good luck. anon
Re: weaning. The worst time to wean is any time the child's life is in upheaval (moving, a new sibling). The best time (assuming there's no imperative medical issue on mom's part) is whenever the child himself seems to be doing it on his own. Which can happen anywhere from about 9 months to about 6 years, but, based on the experiences of people I know, is most likely at either 13-15 months or at around age 3. At about age two is when most *moms* seem to want to wean, but it can be a very difficult time for the child, who is going through the peak of the whole 'learning independence, needing connection' toddler thing at that age. If you can, work on getting into a 2-3x daily routine that you can live with, and let your child decide when he's ready to drop those last few nursing sessions.

Re: naps. 21 months does seem early to give up napping, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. (Have you tried shifting his nap *time* earlier or later to see if that makes a difference?) Is he cranky in the afternoon when he doesn't nap? If not, maybe he really doesn't need it. If so, but not until very late, maybe you can just shift his bedtime earlier (or his morning wakeup later) to compensate for the lack of a nap. If he really does still need the nap, there's no harm in trying other methods of getting him to sleep, but chances are it will be easier for someone other than mom to do it. We use walking (with the kid in a stroller, sling or carrier) and often singing, but this works much better for Daddy and the nanny than it does for me, since my son knows I could nurse him instead! A modified (shorter) version of your bedtime routine is worth a try.

Just so you know you're not alone, we have the 'nursing = recharging' problem often -- not at naptime, but at bedtime! Sometimes I can basically manhandle the kid back into my lap and onto the breast; other times Daddy takes him for a little walk first; once in a while we just let him stay up and play for a while longer and then try again. Good luck! Holly

Did you wait too long? What's the best age?

December 2001

I've read the postings and have found that some feel that they waited too long to wean. I don't want to have a battle with my baby once I do decide to wean, but I also don't want to wean too early. My baby is 5 months old and sleeps through the night, so the last feeding is around 7pm and the first is around 7am. I also pump around midnight to have an extra bottle in case I'm not available during the day (I'm working a modified schedule and sometimes am unavailable when she's hungry). I'm just curious as to what others think is the ideal age. Thanks Susan

I really think it depends on the baby and the mom. My 18 month old still nurses, and we're both happy with the arrangement. She has days where she only wants to nurse in the morning and at bedtime, but usually she likes to grab a little snack during the day as well, especially if we're together. I feel good about her strong immune system (she gets fewer colds than her weaned friends), and helping her prevent allergies. I also am happy to report that nursing seems to minimize menstrual pain for me. Because she's a very active child, it's sometimes a nice way for both of us to have a quiet moment during the day. I know not all moms feel this way and not all babies sustain their interest. You'll just have to watch your baby and yourself closely to see what suits you both. -- Ilana
I planned to wean my daughter when she was 8-9 months. I felt that nutritionally and emotionally that would be sufficient. I thought, based on others' experiences, that nursing any longer than that would make her objections to weaning stronger than I wanted to deal with. However, due to my work schedule and her feeding schedule not matching very well, she weaned easily at about 7 months. She is now 18 months and perfectly happy and healthy. --Anonymous
I weaned both mine at 7-8 months. They had teeth, they were eating solids, they were crawling, and they were more interested in exploring the world than nursing. It seemed like a natural time to wean. I was ready to wean them - I was working fulltime, didn';t have a lot of sitting-around time at home, and wanted to spend that time playing with them instead. Anon.
It's great that you are nursing your child, so many mothers don't do it when it is so good for baby and mother. My answer is that the best age to wean is when you feel you need to wean. Pediatrician's these days are recommending up to a year of breastmilk is advisable. But I believe that the mother needs to balance the baby's needs with her needs and the family needs and make a decision and not feel guilty about it. I nursed my first child until she was 3 and allowed her to self-wean. She told me when she did not want it anymore. My second child is 16 months old and I am still breastfeeding her. For me, extend nursing is a wonderful thing. It's great to be able to calm a toddler with a nursing session, she gets a good snack of momma milk about 3 times a day, and it allows me to have special time with my child since I work. That said, I fully acknowledge that extended nursing is not for everyone, and each family needs to decide what works for them. jeanne
i'm sure you'll get lots of responses on this, but in my opinion, nurse as long as you can. the american acad of peditricians recommends at least one year, and the wolrd health organization recommends that your child breastfeed for at least two years. i nurse my two and a half year old daughter and i think it's well worth what some might think is a hassle. if you wean your child from your breast, you'll still have to give lots of comfort in other ways, so weaning doesn't really grant a parent any more independence... and breastfeeding is a remarkable flexible method of care/feeding--you can cut out a few nursings while you're at work and still nurse in the evenings and mornings, giving yourself freedom from pumping and your child the comfort of nursing. good luck! Jessica
I weaned my son at nine months because it seemed like a natural time to do it - he was pulling off the breast a lot to look at other things, and I just sort of sequed him onto the bottle. He was very amenable to it at that point and has never missed it. Among my reasons were that I felt that by nine months he'd received the best of what breast milk could do for him. I also did not want a toddler pulling my top up whenever he wanted a nip. Good luck in whatever you decide.. Julie
Your posting didn't say why you want to choose when to wean your child. At five months, your child should be beginning to supplement breast food with baby food, and you can naturally and gradually reduce the amount of breast feeding as she eats more solid food. Even if you are working, you can continue breast feeding on a reduced schedule that is manageable for you. I'm not aware of any benefits to early cessation of breast feeding, although there are circumstances that make it necessary.

I would say generally children should breastfeed until they want to stop; but I think that you have some say about this arrangement. I finally told my daughter when she was 3-1/2 that I wanted to stop, and she agreed, reluctantly. My son lost interest when he was about 2. At that point, both of them were just breastfeeding once in the morning.

I think the nutritional and general health benefits of breastfeeding at least through the first year are well established. Breastfeeding is also a fundamental source of security and comfort for babies and toddlers. For these reasons, early weaning is best done only if absolutely necessary. Once children get into the toddler and preschool years, breastfeeding becomes less interesting and is relatively easy to give up. Louise

There is a ton of research to show that there are many health benefits to breastfeeding for at least one year. I think the average weaning age internationally is 3 years. Meredith Small in her book Our Babies, Ourselves gives some perpective on this. Personally we thought we'd let our child wean himself, but at just over 2 years, he seemed to forget how and it was quite painful so we initiated the weaning process which was gradual and fine. anonymous
You may not want to go in this direction, but I let my daughter make the decision; by 21 months she had had enough, and that was it: no conflicts, no problem. The key, though, was to push it a bit whenever she got inconsistent with a particular feeding and not to worry if she regressed here and there.

For example, I started working full time when she was 6 1/2 months old; during that time I pumped at work and had the nanny supplement with formula during the day when necessary. For a long time I nursed the minute I came home from work, but at about 14 months or so, though, I noticed that my daughter didn't need to nurse anymore the minute she saw me. So I tried not offering it until she requested it. Soon she started having days during which she didn't ask at all until bedtime and we basically just skipped the afternoon session. If she did request to nurse I tried offering a drink or a small snack instead; believe it or not, that usually satisfied her. There were some days when it didn't, though, so in those cases I just nursed without worrying that we had just lost all our progress (this is the regression I mentioned). Gradually, the drink-or-snack option became more and more acceptable to her and before I knew it we had cut out the afternoon nursing altogether. We did this with the morning session next, and, finally, the bedtime session -- until finally, like I said, she just stopped asking for it and we were done. I did find that she tested the limit a couple of times after that by asking to nurse at bedtime months after she had weaned, but by that time I could just tell her that we couldn't nurse anymore and I would be glad to snuggle her instead. That was fine with her.

This may sound overly idealized, and I know some moms whose kids would have nursed 'til they were 21 if they had had the choice, but you might want to try this if it sounds like it can work for you. Good luck. Lauren

You'll get lots of responses, but I suggest that you decide based on your own feelings and your baby's responses. Babies go through periods of being less or more interested, and if you can catch the cycle right, it will be a better experience for both of you. My child and I enjoyed it enough that we went until nearly age 4; weaning itself was spread out over years, really, so that it wasn't much of a change to finally stop.

Berkeley joke: When my son turned two, I told a friend, Well, I guess I'm going to have to start lying now when people ask me if he's weaned. Oh, she said, in Berkeley, you don't have to start doing that until they're four. You don't have to start weaning until they're four? No, you don't have to start LYING about it. L. Carper

Every baby is different. I stopped breastfeeding mine when they got the idea that it was fun to bite me, 9 and 8 months respectively. They were already used to the bottle because I expressed as well (got a two-week rotation going as I worked full-time) so it was easy for me to stop and they didn't seem to miss it much after that. They still wanted to be cuddled, but they didn't mind the bottle and then the cup by age 1. I think it's more a matter of what the mother is comfortable with.
The question is the ideal age for whom? Very rarely babies wean themselves before a year (if they stop nursing before that age it is most likely a nursing strike, due to an ilness or other upheaval, that can be overcome with patience and support). Your mother in law, and even complete strangers will very likely think that nursing a one year old is way too old. You (or/and your husband) might want to have your breasts back at any time. The ideal time to wean is when the baby outgrows the need, but the ideal time to nurse is not when both parties are not happy. Should you have compeling reasons or need to stop breastfeeding on your timetable you will find it easier to convince a baby under a year to take a substitute for breast milk especially if he/she is used to taking a bottle. At around 6 months the babies can be pretty skillful with the cup also. Around a year you can introduce whole cow's milk and skip the formula all together. > Because of the well known benefits to health, development and emotional security to baby (and mom) the recommendation from American Academy of Pediatrics is to nurse at least a year and then as long as you like. The World Health Organization recommends two years (and not just for the poor babies in third world countries). Ksenija
I liked the Berkeley weaning joke - but would add that in Berkeley you feel that you have to lie more about early weaning than late. I rather feel that nursing is like choosing to be a stay at home mom - there are alot of considerations and you have to make a personal choice that reflects who you are, your specific philosophy of child raising, and your life situation. I ended up exclusively nursing both of my children for 4 mos. and then flexed between nursing and formula for another 2 mos After 6 mos. I stopped nursing. Factors included how long I was a stay at home mom, my disinclination to pump at work, my milk production (not pumping during the day significantly slowed down my milk production for the before/after work and weekend nursings and in my opinion made my children more inclined to choose a bottle as they got older and hungrier) and the timing of my children's introduction to solid foods. My personal goals were, at a minimum, to give my children my natural immunities (nursing for at least 6 weeks) and then to try to at least partially nurse until they started solid foods (4-6 mos). I really didn't want to nurse longer than that and believe that my children received the most critical benefits of nursing. I have friends that nursed until their children were more than two years old, some that nursed for 6 weeks, and others that tried and stopped within two weeks. All of us are good moms and have healthy, well-nutured (and sometimes even well-behaved!) children. Karen