In his book, Hygienic Care of Children, Dr. Herbert M. Shelton said, “Weaning should be gradual, as we see it in nature, beginning at the age of two and lasting at least until the third birthday.” If weaning is abrupt, it is no longer natural as no other creatures who suckle their young would suddenly cut them off. Babies need time to adjust to new foods as well as to emotionally adjust to not having the close physical contact with their mothers any longer. Also, women’s breasts would become swollen and sore if they abruptly stopped nursing—they would become filled with the milk that was meant for their babies. Another problem with sudden weaning is that the natural child-spacing effect breast-feeding creates would be halted.
In the book The Womanly Art of Breast-Feeding by the La Leche League, the philosophy of weaning is to let the baby do it—let him nurse until he wants to stop. A mother should be sensitive to the specific needs of her baby and not follow the rigid guidelines of any book. Just as some babies get their first tooth at only five months old and others not until they’re well over a year old, some are ready to wean at younger ages then others.
2.1 Should Baby Be Weaned?
This is a question asked by Dr. Shelton in his book, Hygienic Care of Children. He discusses the various reasons women have for weaning their children. He claims that most of the reasons are invalid and that babies need not be weaned at all until they are ready to. In other words, when the baby is six or nine months old or even a year old, he or she is most likely not ready to be weaned and should not be if superior growth and development is desired.
2.2 When to Wean
Naturally there is no specific date to wean your child. As I mentioned earlier, each individual child has its own needs and each grows and matures at different rates. You need not decide in advance when to wean. For example, most mothers when asked how long they plan to nurse their babies have an exact age in mind. Usually this date ends up passing and the baby is still nursing. The mother then wonders where she went wrong. I had planned to nurse my two sons for only two years and each one went months past that date. In fact, they would have nursed much longer if I had let them. Planning a time when baby and you will be ready is incorrect and may lead to disappointment or abrupt weaning. Let nature judge when the time is right.
But how will I know how to read nature’s signs? When the time comes, your baby will let you know. This may be quite a bit later than you anticipated so you may wonder if there will ever be signs to know when to wean. But if you’re patient, they will come. He/she will show an interest in food and this interest will gradually increase with his/her needs.
There is in our western culture an unacceptance of children nursing for two or three or perhaps four years. If you’re out in public and your toddler expresses an interest in nursing and you nurse him, people may show disapproval in their facial expressions and comments. Ignore them if possible. Your breast-feeding relationship with your child is based upon your mutual needs and the opinions of others are not as important as you and your child’s welfare.
In other cultures where lengthy breast-feeding is acceptable and weaning is done in a relaxed way children grow up to be gentle and agreeable and more well-adjusted. People may suggest that your baby will be too dependent if you nurse him too long but just the opposite appears to be so. La Leche League has shown that “little ones who have been allowed to grow out of nursing gradually and at their own pace, without anxiety or prematurity on the part of the mother, are happier, more independent little people.”
Dr. C. E. Page in his book How to Feed the Baby explained that if a breast-feeding mother had fed her baby properly of breast milk, there would be little problem with weaning. He says, “They are virtually weaned already; for not being excessively, or too frequently, fed, the appetite will be sufficiently healthy to accept needed food whenever, and however presented.”
In choosing the proper time to wean Dr. Page also says: “There are good grounds for preferring the cooler months of the year for weaning from the breast, and in general I would recommend an observance of this rule, though I do not hesitate to say this is less vitally important under the system herein recommended …” Dr. Page did not give any specific reasons for this, however.
Many people in this country still recommend early weaning from the breast. In the book, The Complete Book of Breast-Feeding, it is said, “At six months of age, the baby in a modern industrialized society can meet his nutritional needs through cow’s milk and a wide variety of solid foods. … After nine months, a nursing mother usually produces less milk and her let-down reflex takes longer to operate. … at about nine months of age, when a baby can crawl around after food, has several teeth to chew it with and has the intestinal maturity to handle a diversity of foodstuffs.” This is not good advice.
First of all, most babies (and adults) cannot properly handle cow’s milk because they lack the enzymes to digest it properly and it is naturally for calves—not people. Second of all, nursing mothers naturally produce more milk as their babies needs increase. I, for one, produced just as much milk for my babies well past their second birthdays. Nursing is a supply-and-demand mechanism and, if you nurse regularly, and eat right of course, there will be, plenty of milk for your baby. It’s when you start feeding your baby more and more solid foods that your milk production slows down.
Another falsity of this statement is that babies do not “crawl around after food.” It is true that they put many things in their mouths but not necessarily for nourishment. This is their way of exploring various objects they come into contact with.
Having several teeth does not allow the baby to chew things very well either. Most of their food would have to be pureed in order for them not to choke on it. This, in itself, is unnatural. (Certain foods, however, do not require much chewing, such as watermelon which when the seeds are removed baby can merely squash with his/her gums and swallow.) Babies at nine months of age do not have the “intestinal maturity to handle a diversity of foodstuffs.” Why do you think so many babies have “allergies” to so many fine foods at this time? They are not ready for them, that’s why.
Basically, good advice as to when to stop nursing your baby completely is when he/she has all teeth and seems to enjoy the foods (preferably fruits) given. If the foods he/she eats, digest without causing the baby any discomfort, then baby is ready and nursing can be replaced with foods—gradually of course.
2.3 Why to Wean
The foremost reason to wean is because baby is ready for solid foods. He indicates an interest in foods and exhibits an ability to handle them. Gradually the child comes to ignore mother’s milk.
As mentioned earlier, some women feel the need to wean because of social pressures. A child may be weaned from the breast prematurely and still have the need to suck. Therefore a bottle may be given. But is it any worse for a toddler to be nursing at the breast than it is for him to be running around with a bottle hanging out of his mouth?
If baby is going through emotional adjustments, such as a major move of the family, divorce of his/her parents, etc., it is best not to wean. He/she needs time to adjust to one new situation before being confronted with another.
Other reasons to wean are justified. For instance, if the mother has an acute or chronic disease that may impair the quality of her milk, it is best to feed whole, natural foods than to continue nursing.
If you should become pregnant again, immediate weaning is unnecessary. This is usually advised because it is too much of a drain on the mother to nourish two others besides herself. But, if mother is eating whole, natural foods and taking care of her other basic needs, she should have no difficulty in nursing well into the pregnancy. You can begin weaning early in the pregnancy so that by the time the second baby is born the first one will be completely weaned from the breast.
To sum up this section: baby needs to be weaned from the breast because he/she needs outside sources to obtain nutritional needs. The child needs to make gradual adaptations to these physiological changes. The only other reasons to wean are abnormal as mentioned above.
2.4 Methods of Weaning
Again, do not abruptly wean. Gradually wean baby from the breast. But how, you say?
Eliminate one breast-feeding at a time and replace with a serving of fruits—fresh, ripe, and raw and in a form that baby can properly handle. For example: say baby normally has four breast-feedings a day—one in the early morning upon arising, one in late morning, one in mid-afternoon, and one in the evening. Eliminate the late morning nursing and serve him/her some sliced bananas, a piece of deseeded watermelon, or some other fresh fruit in season. Stick to this schedule for at least a week or two.
Then eliminate the mid-afternoon feeding and replace it with a solid food. Stick with this schedule for a long enough period for baby to adjust to it. Remember not to introduce too many different foods to baby too quickly. Variety is not necessary. If he/she is truly hungry, the mono-meal of the same fruit each day will be relished and he/she will have time to adjust to the new food before another is tried.
It is important to remember not to refuse the breast during these early replacement feedings. Just don’t offer it. Baby may fuss and refuse the foods offered. Try skipping this feeding—no food or breast milk.
If this seems too traumatic for baby, perhaps he/she is not ready to give up this breast-feeding. Try again at a later date.
A hint in deciding which feeding to eliminate first is to watch your baby and see which one is least interesting to him/her. Eliminate this one first. Continue, gradually, in this manner until he/she is completely weaned.
Be flexible in your weaning. If it seems to upset baby too much, wait a while. Also remember never be abrupt about it. This can cause psychological problems in your baby and also discomfort for you from milk pressure in your breasts.
La Leche League adds: “You will find that if you devote your attention to your baby-child not only when he is nursing but in other ways as well, his demand to be nursed lessens. … Even an eighteen-month-old enjoys being read to or just talked to, not in an absent-minded, distracted way while you are preoccupied with other things, but with your whole attention centered on him.” This is good advice. Distraction works with many things as well as weaning in raising your children.