When you were pregnant, you might have had a breastfeeding plan in mind. You were going to breastfeed for 1 month or 3, 1 year or 2, until you went back to work or when you had another child. These plans were written down when there wasn’t a baby being held, cared for and loved. The joy you feel when you’ve been able to satisfy your baby with your breastmilk supersedes anything you may have on paper. When I meet with an expectant mother prenatally and she says states a predetermined time for “ giving up breastfeeding ”, I ask that she remain open to all possibilities, be positive, get the support she needs and perhaps she’ll change her mind.
Many mother’s breastfeeding plans change as the challenges associated with early lactation become the pleasures of breastfeeding. The first week is a blur, lots of new routines to incorporate on very little sleep but you made it through, hopefully with the support of loved ones. In the first month, you got smarter about how your body and your baby were working together and you started being able to go out and about, resuming the errands and activities you enjoyed before your baby came along.
“I was unable to breastfeed my first daughter and fed her formula by bottles. The money for the formula, the washing, the preparing, the refrigeration and then the recycling... Madonna!” says Gabriella, mother of 3. “My life changed with Baby Number Two. She was breastfed! I just lifted up my shirt and we were ready to roll. My milk was all ready to go, the right temperature, the natural mixture of nutrients for my baby and there was nothing to throw away. We were able to go everywhere. I am now breastfeeding that toddler and my newest baby, everybody’s happy.”
A word on weaning: The average of weaning worldwide is... Undetermined
“Mothers who allow their child to wean naturally are being responsive to the child’s need. At one-time, children all over the world were breastfed until they weaned naturally.” Says Elizabeth Baldwin of LaLeche League’s Professional Advisory Board. We all know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “… exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months or age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
I have heard 4.2 years spoken by my colleagues, as the average age of weaning worldwide but this is yet another breastfeeding myth. Research by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, argues that the natural weaning age for human beings falls between 2.5 and 6 years of age.
Regardless of the written number, this is a personal decision to be made by you and your baby. Take it day-by-day and do what feels right to you.