Excerpts from A Loving Weaning: How To Move Forward Together

Mother and toddler daughter reading togetherWinema Wilson Lanoue, Blacksburg, Virginia

Editor’s note: Following are excerpts from A Loving Weaning: How To Move Forward Together by Winema Wilson Lanoue, a La Leche League Leader with the Blacksburg, Virginia, Group. A Loving Weaning is published by Praeclarus Press.

The Spectrum of Weaning Methods

There are many ways to wean, some of which are based on good breastfeeding information and gentle parenting practices, and some of which are not. What all acknowledged experts agree on is that abrupt weaning is never ideal for mother or child, and that it is rarely necessary. There can be physical and emotional concerns associated with abrupt weaning, and an ideal weaning pace would allow time for both mother and child’s bodies and emotions to adjust to what may be a huge change for everyone.

Other than recommendations to avoid abrupt weaning, experts usually leave the exact methods up to parents. There are some great books and websites that give tips and techniques for encouraging the process, but most breastfeeding experts do not offer a lot of detailed step-by-step directions. In my opinion, this is good practice because prescriptive weaning directions do not fit all children, and they don’t take into account your unique child and relationship. Mothers who try them often feel like they are failing at what looked like a straightforward process.

Communication About Weaning

Working in partnership with our children means that we are striving to be as open as possible about what is being planned, and what is changing in their lives, especially when their bodies and relationships are directly involved. Sometimes parents worry about this kind of communication, wondering if discussion or preparation will build fear in their child. They wonder if it is better to just “rip off the bandage” with no warning.

As our children grow into adults, we want them to have sovereignty over their bodies, and their hearts and lives. Believing in the sovereignty of their young lives, now, with our job being to lovingly guide them, while respecting their bodies and hearts, is the best way for us to help ensure that this happens. “Ripping off the bandage” may teach them that they must always be on guard against someone doing something to them without their permission.

Obviously, how engaged our children can be in any weaning discussions depends on their age and development. We may not be able to do more than actively observe a six-to-12-month-old baby, considering their personality and needs, to “include” them in the dialogue. Older children may or may not be able to take an active part, but they certainly understand quite a bit, and can benefit from the topic being gradually and calmly introduced.

Successful communication about anything that could cause emotional reactions requires that we speak and listen with respect and love. This practice of mindful, kind interaction is equally as applicable with children as with adults, and has been written about and taught by many different people. If you’d like more in-depth understanding of how to do this than I could ever give you, I recommend checking out the books, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (an “oldie but goodie”), and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

Mother, father, son and daughter outdoorsPersonalities and Readiness

Is your child eager to try new things? Is he easily distracted, getting over hurt or frustration easily, allowing others besides you to help him? Does he need some control over situations, or is he happy to follow? Does he often choose play over nursing?

There never has and there never will be a human being exactly like your little one. No one knows your child like you do, and no one else can give his personality (which I like to think of as simply the particular way a person inherently feels and expresses their emotions and needs) the respect it deserves. Parents who accept, and even celebrate their children’s personalities, find it much easier to create a unique weaning plan that really works.

Much of our ability to accept personality comes from our perspectives, and depends on whether we characterize personality and needs in a positive or negative light. A child who “wants attention all the time” might also be characterized as a loving and closely attached child who isn’t yet ready to face the world without the safety of loving arms. That child is naturally very different from the child who runs off easily to try new things, and the only thing that will help her feel comfortable with more separation is if she feels safe and accepted until she is ready for it. This child may need the comfort of nursing, not just the food, in a more intense way than another child, and may need extra time, reassurance, and patience throughout the process.

In addition to your child’s personality, his level of development and readiness for weaning must be considered because it may differ quite a bit from what is expected for his age, either by experts or by you. One child’s emotional maturity at age 1 will look very different from another’s. There are children who seem to understand quite a bit of what is going on around them at a relatively early age, and may feel lots of confidence and excitement about trying new things that are meant for toddlers rather than babies. There are lots of kids who just aren’t there yet. Developmental stages just can’t be rushed. Keeping your specific child’s readiness in mind, rather than just his age, will help you maintain realistic and kind expectations for him.

Cover image of the book 'A Loving Weaning' featuring a mother holding her toddler sonMy child does not seem interested in solid foods. Would weaning help?

Much of how babies interact with solid food just depends on who they are. Some children love solids from the get-go, and some wait a long time before they do much more than taste them. We don’t always know why this is, but we do know that tension around solid foods tends to cause trouble, and a relaxed manner towards them doesn’t.

Unfortunately, this is an area where others may pressure you, wanting your child eating three square meals a day plus snacks as soon as possible. But nursing moms know that their children get great nutrition from breast milk, even as they move into toddlerhood, though they may need to make sure vitamin D and iron levels are good. Most of these moms don’t worry too much about the exact amount of solid food that their babies are eating; they just offer nutritious foods regularly and calmly.

How your child would eat if you were to wean for this purpose is unknown. What is known is that there are no solid foods as nutrient-dense as your milk, and that none of them do the myriad of things your milk can. Furthermore, if your child is under a year of age, she will still need a breast milk substitute, not just solids. Many moms find it easier to keep nursing while negotiating solids, rather than switch to formula.

Experts believe that we can trust our children to know what foods, and how much of them they need, if they are offered healthy, age-appropriate choices, including breast milk. The book, My Child Won’t Eat! How to Enjoy Mealtimes Without Worry by Carlos Gonzalez, is helpful to many parents in your situation, and while you may not change your kid’s eating habits much, you’ll feel a lot better about them, and feel more confident in talking to others about this issue.