Child-Led Weaning

It is now only two days until World Breastfeeding Week begins, and I’m examining the topic of child-led weaning. Dr. Sears discussed the idea of attachment parenting. If you force a child to wean from something before they are ready, he says, the child will transfer that unfulfilled need to the next thing they use for soothing. For example, a child who has been weaned from nursing before he is ready, might become attached to a security blanket instead.

With my own nursing relationship, I decided to allow my son to lead his weaning. Before I gave birth, my plan was to nurse him for one year. After he was born I started to revise my thinking. When my son was a year old, nursing was still his very favorite thing to do. He was still my baby and it seemed natural to continue our nursing relationship.

What many pregnant first-time mothers don’t realize is that a toddler eats most of his diet as solid foods and nurses far less often than a newborn does. I say I nursed my son for three and a half years, but by the end we were nursing only once a day, at bedtime, to help him sleep. That’s what weaning is about. Nursing slows in frequency bit by bit. Not only is baby-led slow weaning easier for the baby, it is also easier for the mom.

Nursing mothers get used to the soothing effects of prolactin and oxytocin which are released during nursing. These hormones help moms relax. If a mom weans too abruptly, the sudden change in hormone levels can lead to postpartum depression. Baby-led weaning is a gentle weaning for both mother and child. Being a mother means watching your baby grow and mature and make strides toward independence. Each of these changes is a kind of weaning. It’s great to see your child grow independent—but it’s nice for mom if the changes are gradual, so she can get used to how big and independent her baby has become!