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A time to wean? Your opinion, others opinions and how to deal

Image credit: teresia on flickr

I received an e-mail from a reader who is feeling alone and criticized due to her parenting choices. Unfortunately, she is not alone in feeling that way. A lot of people do. Here is her story:
I am a 23 year old mom, with a 2 1/2 year old son. I really don't know many young women my age with children, so I don't have any friends who are in the same situation. I have a lot to learn from others, this is very new to me, and sometimes I'm not sure whether my gut instinct is enough.

I've had a few issues that I really don't  know how to respond to...

My toddler sleeps in our bed with my husband and I, and unfortunately, family members seem to be enraged that I don't have him sleeping on his own yet. I love having him in bed with us, and it tears me to pieces to force him to sleep on his own.

The fact that I am still breast feeding has everyone up in arms as well. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm always being criticized. I feel an enormous amount of pressure to quit, and while I am ready (I would love to be able to own my boobs again lol) he is still quite attached.  I have no issue breast feeding until he is ready to wean himself off,  (I really thought by 2 years of age he would be done...) but the pressure from others is making me feel like I'm doing something wrong.

I'm even slightly embarrassed to admit to family members that I still am. I live in the U.S, and somehow it seems like its taboo to breastfeed past the age of 1. I hate this pressure that I'm feeling, but I really have a hard time ignoring it. Have you had negative responses to extended breast feeding? If so, How do you cope with negative responses to extended breastfeeding? Do you recommend an age that would be an appropriate to quit?

She raised a number of different issues in this e-mail that I think are quite common for women that are co-sleeping or breastfeeding their toddlers.

Dealing with criticism

Sometimes it seems like everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion about how you should raise your kids. There are a few things that I have found useful to combat this type of thing:

  • Be confident: If you nurse your toddler confidently, with a big smile on your face and your back straight and don't look nervous about doing it, people will be less likely to feel like they have the right to say something about it. But if you look nervous or if you mention any negatives about it, then they will take the opportunity to jump in with all sorts of advice about what you should be doing.  I have found that making it very clear to people that I am happy with my choices and that they work for us usually keeps people from opening their mouths. I call it flaunting my crunch.

  • Pass the bean dip: If none of that works or if you don't even want to discuss it (because it really is no one's business but yours), then you can make it clear that you don't want to talk about it using a technique called pass the bean dip.

That is what works for me, but there are other things that you can do too. There are some more ideas in this article on handling criticism about breastfeeding.

An age for weaning

You asked if there is an age that I would recommend for weaning. I think it is a very personal decision, so I wouldn't recommend a specific age.

As I mentioned above, the natural age of weaning is generally between 2.5 years and 7 years and the WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years. The approach I have chosen is to do everything I can to ensure my children nurse until 2 years and then after that it is up to them to decide when we will stop. But after 2 years I will also take what could be considered risks to our breastfeeding relationship (if I feel my child is ready), like for example going away for a few nights.

If you choose child-led weaning, then you would continue to nurse for as long as he continues to have that need. It doesn't mean that you can never say no, you certainly can if it is not a convenient time. The approach that I have taken is that I try to offer as often as my daughter asks. For me it is a relationship, one we are both invested in, and I don't want her to feel that she always has to be the one to initiate it. Also, I try to watch to see when she really needs to nurse versus maybe just doing it out of boredom. If she is really upset or sick and really needs me, then I try not to say no, but if she is just bored and I'm trying to get something done then I might tell her to wait a little bit. If you want to read another story about child-led weaning, you can read Sam's story on the babyREADY blog.

If you feel ready to stop breastfeeding and do not want to go down the path of child-led weaning, you can choose a gentle weaning technique that will respect your child's needs while at the same time slowly decreasing the frequency of breastfeeding until it stops. One method is called "don't offer, don't refuse". That means that you will nurse as often as possible when he asks, but you will not offer. That is considered a gentle weaning technique, but depending on how committed the child is to weaning it could go quite quickly or it could take a very long time.

If you want to stop more quickly than that, some things you can do include:

  • Avoid sitting in the places that he usually likes to sit to nurse.

  • If he does tend to have a specific nursing schedule, try cutting out one session at a time very slowly (e.g. one session every few weeks). Try to replace it with something else that is enticing - e.g. if you always nurse right after nap, then replace the nursing with a visit to the park, a favourite game, favourite snack or something else that he loves.

  • Create a few rules about when and where breastfeeding can happen. Start off not too restrictive, but you could become more restrictive with time. Although we generally do child-led weaning, I did have a rule with my son of no nursing between dinnertime and bedtime, because otherwise he would nurse all evening and then I couldn't entice him to go to bed. Saving nursing for bedtime was a way to get him to go to bed.

  • Try shortening nursing sessions, e.g. tell him that he can nurse, but just until you count to 10. You can then count very slowly to 10 and when you reach 10 let him know that he is done. You can count more quickly or more slowly depending on what you think his need is. This technique is used a lot by moms that are pregnant and finding nursing uncomfortable during their pregnancy. It is a good way to meet their child's need to nurse while still restricting it and keeping some control over their own body.

For more information on weaning, I would recommend this article on how weaning happens.

My final word of advice to you would be to dig deep into your own mind and decide what you want to do.  Whatever choice you make, be confident in your decision and make it clear with your body language and, if needed, your spoken words, that the opinions and advice or others are neither needed nor welcome.

What do you think? What additional advice can you offer on dealing with criticism from others or about deciding when the right time is to wean?
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Reader Comments (44)

All great advice. The only thing I could add is that really, it is no one else's business whether or not your child "still" nurses or "still" sleeps with you in your bed. Sharing it with another mother who is specifically asking you about your experiences with nursing, weaning, or co-sleeping is one thing - what a great way to share your knowledge. Discussing it with friends or family members who will only criticize you is another matter, and not something you need to engage in if you do not want to. If they don't ask, don't tell them. If they do ask, then the "pass the bean dip" suggestion is a great one - make a short comment about how things are going well, thanks for asking, then change the subject abruptly. If they don't get the hint, you can be more direct - "this is the choice I have made for my family, and if you can't respect that, then please do not bring it up again." I found that by the time my son was 2, people assumed he had already weaned, and since he no longer nursed in public (we had cut back nursing to morning, naptime, and bedtime by that age, for unrelated reasons) it really never came up and simply wasn't information that I volunteered at night. If people asked how he slept, I'd say that he slept fine and left it at that - no need to discuss our sleeping arrangements. I handled more specific questions on a case-by-case basis - if I knew the person was only asking in order to criticize, I'd "pass the bean dip". If I thought the person might actually benefit from hearing about extended breastfeeding or about co-sleeping, then I'd answer the question matter-of-factly and leave it open for more questions if they had any.

So, in short (lol!), it's no one else's business what you do at night or what you do with your breasts. Don't offer the information if it's not productive, and don't accept repeated criticisms about the subject when that information is known to others. It's nothing to be ashamed of and I'm not suggesting you hide it (if you still nurse in public, continue to do so, with confidence!), but neither do you need to face the constant criticism that you currently are.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I let all my kids nurse until they are about four ... I remember when our first got to age one and grandpa asked if I still fed him and I put this vague look on my face and said: "Yup: apple for breakfast, paw paw for lunch etc... I didn't realize I was supposed to stop feeding him at age one." - No (anti-nursing) family member ever said anything after that!!!

Usually when they get old enough to understand and communicate I start to set limits like we can only nurse resting on the bed and so on... (a mother needs all the rest she can get!). A puts a stop to the toddler ripping your shirt off in the supermarket!!!

It works for us!

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterse7en

My kids will be 2.5 soon and they still nurse. I've traveled an interesting path with nursing because so many people don't think it is possible to nurse twins, let alone nurse them beyond 2 years. I say do what ever works for you and your baby.

My FIL was over just after they turned 2 and as I was nursing my son he asked me when I'd stop nursing. I looked him square in the eye and said "well, he just started so I expect we will be finished in a few minutes." my FIL laughed and hasn't made another comment since then. I never thought that my kids would still be nursing now but while they are slowing down on frequency I don't see them willingly giving it up anytime soon.

As for co-sleeping, we just moved the kids into their own room and I'm working on nightweaning them. I need to start sleeping for more than a few hours in a row.

To wrap up this rambling comment. I follow the "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to people asking about nursing or co-sleeping if I even think that they won't be supportive. I just don't have the energy to devote to try to explain why we've made these decisions.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandi

My daughter reduced co sleeping mainly herself by starting to sleep through at 17 months and now only occasionally joins us (she's almost 2 1/2). We always put her to bed in her own cot, and would take her through when she woke. When it started to bother us (because she moved a lot more and disturbed our sleep, which was at about 2 years), we encouraged her gently to sleep in her own bed. It worked very well and now we have a balance that suits us all.

As to nursing - I can't tell how often I got the question of are you still nursing her, when will you wean her. I got really angry in my response because it was so constant. It was mainly my dad (who himself was nursed until he was well over 2, so he should know better). I gently encouraged weaning at 21 months to prepare for a trip away without her, and first weaned the bedtime feed by introducing books. There were no tears and after a week she loved the books as much as the feed. The last feed (early morning, 5am) was harder and it took well over a month. I would only refuse if it didn't upset her. If she insisted, I would feed. week by week we went from nursing 5 out of 7 days to 1 out of 7, when my milk stopped. She still occasionally asks for a short feed about once a month, and I still don't say no if she insists. It was slow, but uncomplicated and the myth that late weaning will be difficult weaning is just that. A myth.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercartside

My daughter was always a highly distractible child, so she generally didn't nurse outside of our house. And by the time she was 2 if she DID ask I could usually put her off pretty easily. This meant that as she got older if I didn't tell people that she was nursing they didn't always know. So I often just didn't tell people if I didn't really want to engage them on this issue.

I have also found that appearing confident and comfortable with my choices reduces the questioning. A lot of times people really are trying to 'help' with their advice, so if you don't appear to need help they are less likely to offer. As you said, it's once you express discontent or uncertainty that everyone wants to weigh in, so I try to avoid doing that as much as I can.

Now that I'm on my 2nd child this is all much easier. Having that older kid that you can point to who is happy, healthy, and undamaged lends your parenting a certain credibility. I am also better able to keep in mind that this is a very short time period with my 2nd. And really, it is, it's amazing how quickly it passes.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Excellent post :) I really enjoy your blog!

I think it's really no one's business what you do w/ your children, love the "bean dip" advice!

I'd also encourage anyone who is not finding a lot of support to attend an LLL meeting. Even if you don't have questions or need help, it's a great place to go for support and to meet like-minded mothers. You won't be the only one nursing your 2 or 3 or 4 year old there! ;)

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I, too, love your blog! Just found it a few weeks ago. I am the mother of a 22 month old girl who still loves to breastfeed Frankly, I love breastfeeding her too! I have received lots of questions. "When are you going to wean her?" "You must wean her already." Excuse me? When to wean her is my family's business: my husband, my daughter, and myself. Arianna loves to nurse. It makes a world of difference when she is sick. I love doing this for her. So, moral of my story: it's my business. What you say won't change anything. If you don't like it, look the other way! I am typically very easy-going and nonconfrontational, but people picking on us for breastfeeding brings out a side of me that is not exposed too often! How could they dare? God gave me breasts and if I use them for what they are for, what's the issue?! I hope the mother you posted about sees all of these comments. Dear breastfeeding mommy, if you do, know and remind yourself that you are doing something wonderful for your child and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that you are part of a minority does not mean that you are wrong.

July 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohanna Silva

While I agree with the post, and many of the commenters, that this mama shouldn't have to defend herself, I don't necessarily agree with keeping these, sometimes controversial, things to ourselves.

While many of us are making non-mainstream parenting choices, I think it is important and valuable to be honest and open about these choices. After all, many of the choices that we are making are non-mainstream in the U.S. and other western industrialized nations, but still quite mainstream in other parts of the world. ( recently I blogged about the differences in sleeping arrangements for children between the U.S. and Japan - http://borninjapan.net/?p=331 ) If nothing else, I think it is important to help others understand that there are a multitude of ways to raise a child and it is important for each parent and family to make choices that suit them.

While I agree completely that it doesn't make sense to set ourselves up for criticism about our parenting choices, I also don't think that we should all retreat and avoid the discussions either. We shouldn't force others to agree with our ways or opinions, but we should be open to the conversation. If we are confident, our children are happy, and we can clearly communicate our reasons for making the choices that we have, we could perhaps build more understanding. Raising children cannot happen in isolation. It takes a village . . .

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

There is such a lot of wisdom and experience in these comments. I find it difficult to discuss my choices with my family too. They don't understand that co-sleeping could ever be something you choose - they think we have just failed to be strong enough to put our little one in bed. My daughter is still under 1, so there are no questions about breastfeeding yet, but I know that is going to be next. Like the other commenters, I find the best thing by far is to be clear and direct when people ask about sleeping arrangements. There is such a big difference between saying "she is still in our bed", which sounds apologetic, and "we are co-sleeping", which is a positive decision (actually I just posted about this - http://cavemother.blogspot.com/2009/07/language-of-co-sleeping.html). I have never been challenged about breastfeeding in public and again, I think that is because I do it overtly and confidently. But I know that if you feel awkward and embarrassed then it is very hard to appear confident.

The reader that emailed is definitely not alone. We are social animals and we are sensitive to what others think about us. It is hard not to conform, even if you know you are doing what is best for your children. Maybe she will feel better just knowing that she has spoken for lots of us :-)

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCave Mother

@Cave Mother: Love this:
"here is such a big difference between saying “she is still in our bed”, which sounds apologetic, and “we are co-sleeping”, which is a positive decision"
Thank you for your comment and sharing the link to your post.

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

We have freaked out both our families with our parenting choices (co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding). I was convinced our choices worked well for us, and I couldn't give a (insert expletive phrase of choice here) what anyone else thought.

We gave an interview at the last Breastfeeding Challenge - so basically I announced to the whole of the National Capital Region that my daughter was still nursing at age 3 LOL! Most of our family stayed conspicuously quiet about it, even though I know many of them saw the interview. Thanksgiving was the next day and there was a big party - some relatives said "We saw you on TV!" and I said "oh great! Yeah, it was a really fun time!" I suppose they could have said something to that, but... I think I made it pretty clear I was happy with the way things were going. DD weaned at 3.5.

In terms of co-sleeping, again I just made it very clear I was happy with the way things were going. My daughter has been in her own room since 18 months, but until about age 2.5, I slept there with her - and then slowly started spending the first part of the night with my husband, and then going in when she called. Once we night-weaned her at 2.5 (she was ready - no tears), she started sleeping along most nights. My mother is still aghast that she sleeps on a futon on the floor rather than in a bed but... it works for us.

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

I think previous commenters have covered most of what I would have said. I don't really find it difficult to defend extended breastfeeding, meaning I don't really try... our choice. I like to say "I'm doing the best that I can" when faced with unwarranted advice. It's usually met by a "well of COURSE you are! I didn't mean to suggest you were doing anything wrong!" and we move on. We coslept until 18 months (we moved into a new house, and he was thrilled to sleep in his own new room - who would have thought?!). I would love any advice on how to wean the night nursings though. I'm going into his room 3, 4, 5, 10... times a night and am totally exhausted. I'm not willing to let him cry it out. I need to give Pantley's book for toddlers another read I guess. I'm subscribing to comments for any tidbits that might work for us. Thanks for the interesting article topic.

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

@Lynn: I don't know that weaning from night nursing guarantees sleeping through the night. We have found that our kids have a need to be snuggled up with someone at night. At least in order to sleep well. Our son is 4 years old and no longer nurses, but most nights he does wake up around midnight and my husband will go and sleep with him (if he isn't in there already - sometimes he just goes straight there). My husband could just go over, settle him back to sleep, and then come back to our bed, but then he could be up and down all night. We are a family that likes to snuggle and we don't expect anyone to sleep alone. Starting from that assumption makes it much easier to figure out how to respond to night wakings. This is also one of the reasons that we never have and never will buy toddler beds or twin beds - there just isn't enough room in them!

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I love how I come upon great posts by accident. I have 2 boys, 7 and 4. I nursed both of them until they were 3. I really like the post that says have discussions, don't retreat. Let me just say to you all who are in the midst of it, these days will be gone soon enough. I am sad writing that. I love the new stages too but breastfeeding is a thing of the past for me now. It was as wonderful for me as it was for them. Do not let anyone take that away from you or make excuses as to why this is your choice. I remember with my first thinking this time will never pass, especially when the bed got rather crowded with a 3 1/2 year old and a newborn:) They both got where they needed to be pretty much in their own time. I encouraged stopping nursing at 3 and slowly decreased the times they would nurse prior to 3. I, personally, found that to be my threshold. I was so afraid this wasn't going to go over well. We made the 3 year old b-days a celebration of year three and a done drinking milk party. On the morning of my first's 3 rd birthday, he asked to nurse and I gently reminded him of our agreement and he said, "OK, can I have a peanut butter sandwich then." I tried not to look completely startled and very matter of factly said, "Of course." We never looked back. And they do eventually sleep in their own beds. It was 6 before my first was ready to be in his own room all night. We too had a mattress on the floor for him. My littlest still visits every night at 3 am like clock work and he snuggles and twists my hair for comfort. I am all too aware that this too will be gone soon. My advice, enjoy every minute and don't waste time fretting over others opinions. Do your own thing. You won't regret it, I don't!

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

I remember when our youngest was born. She's 2 now. My dad asked me back then how long I would breastfeed her. I said until 2 and his mouth fell open. I discussed it with him because he was interested. He lives with us now and I nurse in front of him! He has learnedd alot about breastfeeding.

Like others have said, I love talking about it with people who get it. It's your family and this is how you do things in your family. Period.
What anyone else thinks doesn't really matter.

There are great support groups out there too. Meetup.com and Yahoo Groups are ways that I've connected with other's who share parenting philosophies.

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDarcel

Great post, I'm sorry to your reader who is feeling so much stress about it all.

I discovered, as Amber said, that the more confident I am when talking about our parenting choices (and at times unapologetic) I get few questions or comments (because they knew I'd argue!).

I also found that if I sited research/doctor recommendations, it was accepted immediately. How could it be argued with if it's making the kids healthier right?

Good luck to your reader. But don't feel bullied into changing something you really want to do.

July 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I, personally, would not recommend replying to this sort of nosiness by coming out with the reasons why you do things your way. (If you think the person actually is interested in why you're doing something a particular way, then that's different – I'm talking about the situation where what they really want is to tell you how *they* think you should do things.) The problem with justifying your parenting to other people is that it gives them the message that your parenting needs justifying. Which may be a short-term answer to whatever particular question they raised, but, in the long term, only intensifies the real problem – their belief that you *should* be answering to them about parenting questions which are, in actual fact, none of their business.

So, what I always recommend doing about that sort of criticism is turning around the whole idea of who has to be justifying themselves here. And you do that by asking the person “Why do you think that?” They're the ones butting into someone else's parenting – the onus should be on them, not you, to come up with the arguments. If they give you a reason (“Nursing that long makes children too dependent”) then you simply repeat the question - “Really? What makes you think that?” Rather than doing this in an antagonistic or unpleasant way, I would recommend doing it in a way that suggests that you're genuinely rather puzzled about why they're coming up with such a strange idea, but not upset by it. (Getting upset makes you look on the defensive.) If the conversation seems to have reached a point where it's about to start going back and forth on a “Yes, it does!” “No, it doesn't!”, *then* you can chime in with your evidence (“Yes, I know people used to believe that – but, in fact, studies show that it isn't true.”) Or simply ask for a bit more detail (“Well, you keep repeating that, and I know you believe it. But you haven't explained to me why you think *I* should believe it.”) But the point is, the onus is not on you to explain why you're doing things the way you're doing them. It is on the person criticising you to explain why they think you should be doing them differently, and to back this up with something a bit more solid than just opinion.

Or, if you don't want to get into a long discussion even on those terms, just smile broadly at them and say in a gently teasing tone “When you have your next child, I promise I'll leave it entirely up to you what decisions you make about .” That's the line I use with my mother. ;-)

With regard to my own personal weaning decision, I've written about that at http://goodenoughmummy.typepad.com/good_enough_mum/2009/04/weaned.html. What stands out strongly to me, when I reread that, is the way that I weighed up all the pros and cons of the decision logically... but, ultimately, went with the deep-down knowledge that my daughter was ready to stop breastfeeding and that stopping then was the right decision for both of us.

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah V.

Hmmm, juicy one.

First, I would ask the young mom if she is feeling certain of her choices. With your advice and resource pointers, maybe she will, but maybe there are some hidden beliefs that make her feel uncertain, which shows in her body language and quietly invite others to intervene.

Second, I noticed there was an "us" in bed, which means a partner. Is the partner OK with all those fine choices? If so, how about some support? If not, well, maybe we've just stumbled on the real problem...

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFamily Matters

I am the reader that sent in the question. Thank you PHDinParenting for taking the time to write this for me. Thank you everyone as well for your positive comments. This has given me an enormous amount of courage to continue to do what I feel is right, and to do it with confidence. I would like to add to the last commenter, yes my hubby is very supportive in all of my decisions. He's never had a problem with me breast feeding, he's encouraged me to do what I felt comfortable with. As far as the Co-sleeping goes, he loves it. He enjoys playing and cuddling with our son before we fall asleep. The problem isn't getting support from my hubby, it's been the fact that I don't feel the support from my family. Although its hard to feel like my family doesn't agree with my decisions, I should have realized long ago I don't need their support, its comforting, but not necessary. I need to do whats best for my son, and push away any negativity that may come our way. I need to make positive choices for myself and my little "new" family, and do what I feel is right in my heart. Thanks again everyone for your help! I feel overjoyed with the support I have received from other moms here! Take Care. :D

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe BreastFeeding Mama

TheBreastFeedingMama -

I had only one daughter I was able to nurse past 7 months, and that was my last (and final) one...my last chance to try and make it to a year. I had so many issues (including low supply) with #1 and#2 and I WOHM with them, so there was a lot stacked against me. With #3, I stayed at home, and gave breastfeeding everything I had. I just wanted to make it to a year and I was ready to let go. Turns out my milk didn't dry up when I stopped pumping (I pumped to help keep up supply) like I thought it would, and instead, she nursed even more efficiently. She was very, very attached to nursing and she nursed until 3 years and 1 month.

My biggest critic was my own sister. She thought it was disgusting and often tried to shame me for doing it and literally would demand that I stop bf anywhere near her presence when my daughter wanted to (which was always discreetly away from others). I wasn't a young mother either, I was 37, and she was 40, but simply bent on getting me to stop.

Weaning for us wasn't a simple matter. My daughter would crumple into a pile of tears when I tried to delay her too many times, which I tried to do when she was about 2 years old. I could see after a while, she was feeling deep rejection. It's not only about the milk at that point, but about feeling secure. Depriving my child of nursing was leading to insecurity. It was more damaging for her than it was worth it for me.

So, I delayed the decision to wean until she was older and when I could substitute other means of connecting with her and helping her through her feelings. It still wasn't a simple matter at 3 years, but it was a lot better than it would have been a year earlier.

Yes, you need to do what is right in your heart for your new family, because no one else matters. If your husband is supportive, that's all that you really need.

By the way...on the co-sleeping, what ended up working for us was going straight to twin beds with bedrails by about 3 years, so that I could co-sleep with my daughter until she was asleep, then went back to my bed. If she woke in the middle of the night, I went to her bed until she went back to sleep. Eventually, she was able to sleep on her own all night.

My middle 5.5 year old daughter will still wake up in the early hours of the morning to climb into bed with me. It's a rare night indeed when she sleeps all the way through without night waking. But it's all good. She literally snuggles down next to me and falls instantly back asleep. But I know she has nightmares, so I'm pretty sure that's why she has trouble staying asleep if she's woken up by them.

You are doing a fine job mama. Keep up the good work! It'll get easier with subsequent children as your confidence will grow when you see the positive benefits to keeping your child connected to you as they grow.

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKC

Love the section on dealing with criticism.

July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Nemeth

This is a very helpful post. I definitely began to feel societal "pressure" to wean my older daughter right around her 1st birthday. In the end, I nursed her until she was almost 2 and I'm so glad that I did. It was a beautiful experience - and she weaned very gently.

I hope to do the same thing with my younger daughter (now 4 months).

July 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Another suggestion for the bullet point list of "If you want to stop more quickly than that, some things you can do include:" is to include the non-breastfeeding parent in the weaning process and have the non-bf'ing parent do a similar routine that the bf'ing parent was doing. I don't see that mentioned here. When my wife weaned our daughter it was pretty easy and quick -- instead of momma (the breastfeeding parent) and bf'ing, our daughter got mommy (the non-breastfeeding parent) for comfort and books and songs and cuddling.

July 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeanne

I really liked reading this post. I'm hoping if you ever write about this again that you will expand on the following thought "I don’t want her to feel that she always has to be the one to initiate it."

I would understand that reasoning if this were a relationship with another adult or a much older child but I'm wondering why it's important with a child who is, say, 16 months or so? In my experience that's an age when a child generally demonstrates a demand for whatever she wants when she wants it. Why is it important to offer an older baby more opportunities to nurse if she seems capable of getting what she needs when she wants it (i.e. she is able to sign or ask for the breast?).

Is it simply important to model what a healthy relationship is like in terms of give and take or is there something else that I'm missing? I'd love to know more. Thanks!

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie


Yes, it is about modeling a healthy relationship in terms of give and take. For example, imagine you and I are friends who often go out for coffee. Now let's say I sometimes call you and you sometimes call me and we always get together and have a great time. Now you keep calling and I always say yes when you do, but I never initiate anymore. I am never the one to ask you whether you want to go for coffee. You might start to wonder if I really want to go with you or not or if I'm just going along with it so that I don't upset you.

It is about not making her feel like I resent nursing or am trying to get her behaviour to change. I think in the toddler years our children do start to pick up some social skills and while some may continue to demand whatever they want whenever they want it, other more sensitive kids may be more influenced by social cues.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It's a great point and one I haven't really thought of before.

I'm conscious of lots of ways I'm modeling behavior for my daughter but I never thought about this one. I think I am still with the mindset that babies act selfishly and have no problem asking for what they want. I'm having a hard time in lots of areas making the transition from relating to a baby to having an actual relationship with a toddler. In some ways it's like we're starting all over again.

I've read a lot of your old posts tonight. It's really great stuff. Thanks for putting it all out there for review and discussion.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I love reading this blog. I don't have children, but I want to have them. I feel like this blog is a great tool for preparing to be a mother. It also helps me learn more about techniques or practices that I thought I knew about. Thanks for this post. It was, as usual, very helpful.

November 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNina

Excellent post! Just like the mon you were referring too, I had to deal with a lot of pressure to wean our son, as early as 5 months. Apparently extensive breastfeeding is not something that had been done before in our families! One thing that worked is my husband being very supportive and actually replying to people that the WHO recommends to breastfeed at least til two. And I just chose to continue feeding the baby with confidence and a big smile (a confidence that was gained along the way!). My grandma still nags me about the breastfeeding and now I just answer "no need to ask every time you phone, baby is still breastfed and very happy about it!" I stopped trying to convince her that it was best for him...

We co-sleep as well, and while a recent trip to both of ther families, everyone was going over their heads to provide playpens for baby to sleep in, even after we declined. We gave up, let them set up the playpens and just did not use them! Guess they got the message after that... I'm just not discussing night arrangements anymore, not after hearing the dreaded "but look at his cousin, he takes a big bottle every night and sleeps through the night...". Well good for him, but my son prefers the boob and sleeping with us, and if he has to wake up for night-feed I'm ok with that. He is a happy kid and developping fine: what's a better statement that these arrangements work for him? Bean dip anyone?

March 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElo

I had almost the same responses mentioned in my article about how I deal with criticism about breastfeeding:) http://dagmarbleasdale.com/2009/08/how-to-deal-with-criticism-about-breastfeeding/

I think a lot of the reactions you are going to get have to do with what we both mentioned: your own attitude. If you look confident and meet people's looks with confidence, you most likely won't even have anyone say anything. That has been my experience. I have always been very confident to nurse my son anywhere and anytime, and really haven't had to deal with criticism.

Another great article from you, Annie! Thanks.
Dagmar's momsense

March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDagmar Bleasdale

[...] A time to wean? Your opinion, others opinions and how to deal: Whether the issue is breastfeeding, co-sleeping, discipline or something else altogether, when families come together on holidays, they often have opinions about how we should be raising our kids. Here are some tips on surviving the onslaught of unwanted advice. [...]

[...] different comments and commendations. And it makes me turn into medusa, a silent medusa, because I diffuse it as many other women do, through humour, acting as if I don’t care, ‘pass the be.... Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent tactics which have served me well.  But it avoids [...]

Great advice, so I don't have a lot to add... But did want to add my vote of confidence, and let you know that you are not alone.

My oldest nursed until he weaned himself at about age 3 1/2, and slept with me for quite a while. He's a teen now, so my memory of it all is fuzzy.

My middle child weaned herself around 3 3/4. She just turned 6, and still sleeps with us most nights. We're working on getting her in her own bed, but she is the clingiest child of the three, so...

My youngest is still nursing happily, and sleeping with us, at 3 1/4.

The way I know when "it's time to wean" is when my child walks up to me and says, "I'm a big girl/boy, I'm weaned, I don't nurse anymore." And means it. No mystery. ;)

I have a question about weaning. My son is tapering off and he is down to only nursing at his nap time and bed time - it's basically how he falls asleep - he's almost 2 - we also co-sleep. I am supposed to go on a retreat coming up for 3 nights. I honestly don't know what I was thinking when I signed up - I think I just did because a lot of friends were. Now I'm just thinking I need to cancel. My husband really wants me to go - he says he'll be fine (he will have all 4 boys by himself ages ((almost)2, 4, 6, 8). He's really encouraging me to just go. I'm just kind of freaking out about it - I've never left the youngest and he's still my baby, you know? I think he's not going to understand and it will be really hard for him. It will also be an abrupt end to nursing, not to mention probably painful for me (?) Anyways, I would appreciate any advice. Is this a really bad idea?

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Thanks for this post - I'm still nursing my 2 and 8 month old. I always knew I'd nurse her until she was two and then let her decide. But, I have worried about being judged, especially in public, and since she's tall, she's unweildy if we're not in a comfortable spot. I have said to her when she's asked to nurse in public, "let's do that when we get home," and she usually forgets about it.

My take on the whole dilemma is whether I am meeting her real need for connection, comfort and nutrition, versus what you mentioned about boredom or another "non-need" reason for her asking to nurse (i.e. I'm having a conversation with another person and she doesn't want to entertain herself for two minutes). Right now she's asking for my attention, so my thoughts are not complete - I want to read all the comments and be a part of the discussion. Thanks so much for starting it!

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter54 Hour Mama

Another way to change the subject, just as an aside to the weaning. There is alot of great advice here & I cannot add to it as I didn't nurse for as long as anyone on here.

But the change in subject tactic, my sister in law always does this. She just drops the line "I think I'm going to buy a power boat." Simple as can be, doesn't work with us anymore, but most people just stop and look at her. You could use just about anything in there.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa B

That's similar to the "pass the bean dip" strategy.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Could you go on the retreat, see how the first night goes, and come back if need be?

When my son was 22 months and still night nursing, I had to go away for work for 2 nights. I thought it was going to be horrible. I had bottles ready for my partner to give to my son when he woke up at night (he hadn't had a bottle in ages). When he did wake up the first night, he offered him a bottle and he said no. He offered him some water and he turned that down too. He then just calmly explained that Mommy wasn't there, that she would be back in 2 days, and then cuddled him and he went right back to sleep. The second night he didn't even wake up at all (which NEVER happened when I was there!).

I also took my pump with me and pumped while I was there. If you are going away for 3 days, you would need to take a pump with you to avoid getting engorged. Or at least ensure that you are able to hand express well enough if you don't have a pump.

My son kept nursing after I came back home and continued for another 6 months.

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

The poor girl! I think its truly amazing she is breastfeeding at this point! My milk dried up after 3 months due to illness & may baby never attached so I was expressing milk for her 5 - 6 times a day. This mum is a super hero! She should be told how awesome she is not chastised by intrusive, opinionated parentals who've probably taken the easy way out.

I read a story about weaning an autistic child; Doctors kept telling the Mum to wean her severely autistic baby because it was supposed to help him develop more. (WTF?) She refused & didn't tell them - he weaned himself at 4 years of age by patting her boob after a feed & saying "all done now". That was it - he was done, he called the shots & he thrived.

Despite being diagnosed as severely autistic, his breast feeding meant he became a well adjusted child despite his developmental delays.

Last night I went to dinner with my DH family; his sister in particular. The family is all very outspoken, to the point of down right rude, opinionated despite not reading up on anything much, think they're exceptionally clever despite most of them having an average intelligence. So you get pummelled everytime you see them.

I am not vaccinating. I am planning to homeschool. I believe in the use of herbs & home remedies for all illness until I feel I can't do anymore & even then I call my Naturopath instead of a doctor. I co sleep with my child. She cries for no more than 30 seconds before I pick her up. All of this to my DH's family means I am a dumb hippie & am "abusing" my child (can you believe that?!)

I politely change the subject whenever its discussed or raised. I use my daughter on my lap as a way to steer the conversation away from my parenting.

This amazing Mum that wrote in could try a little "fake it till you make it" attitude. Arm herself with some reasources & knowledge like what's in this article, fix a steely "don't even go there!" look on her face & say "I am doing what I feel is best for my child - thank you! I have researched this more than any other parent I know & this is the best way forward..." They'll back off when they've been told in no uncertain terms that they're opinions aren't welcome.

I had to do so with my MIL so I understand how this woman feels! She's awesome, she should be getting Mother of the Year Awards! I applaud her & think she rocks! :-)

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Eco Mum

Leslie, Can your son go to sleep without nursing? If you really want to go you might want to try a few trial nights first where you are out of the house and hubby puts the kids to bed before you get back. Being away for three nights may not be the end of nursing. I left my almost four year old son for a week and came back to nurse for another year!! (and yes, there was still milk) If you do become engorged you can hand express for comfort. That said, how would you feel if he did wean? Don't be afraid to cancel if you want to though. Nursing is such a short time in your child's life. There will probably another retreat next year or the year after that. good luck!

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

That's really helpful, thank you - I will only be 2 hours away, so I can definitely come home if I need to. Thank you!

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Thanks, Lisa, I really appreciate the advice - that's really helpful!

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

[...] A time to wean? Your opinion, others opinions and how to deal (PhD in Parenting Blog): How to deal with criticism, how to decide when to wean, and how to gently wean your toddler (if you choose to do so). [...]

What a good visual to help me understand the concept of having nursing modeling a healthy relationship - I read about the coffee shop and totally got it! Thanks!

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSahara

But surely that analogy only holds up for women who aren't initiating any non-nursing activities with their toddlers either? I mean, if your friend never invited you to that particular coffee bar but went on frequently calling you with suggestions of other fun things to try together, not to mention just dropping round and hanging out in a 'just because' kind of way, you might conclude that she preferred other places to that coffee bar, but you wouldn't conclude that she wasn't interested in spending time together full stop.

September 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDr Sarah

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