The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding babies for the first six months of life. UNICEF encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding until the child is at least two years old. However, in the United States, most women stop nursing when the baby hits the six months milestone. When exactly is the right time to stop breastfeeding? Is there a natural weaning process and when does it happen?
Natural weaning versus mother initiated
Children can nurse well into their fourth year with natural weaning taking place between the ages of 2 and 4. Natural weaning occurs when the child initiates it. With the introduction of different food into their diet, the child’s need to nurse grows less and less, and eventually, self-weaning takes place.
Now, weaning can also be mother-led. A mother can choose to start the weaning process prematurely for a variety of reasons which include having to go back to work, painful feedings, the impending birth of a new child, or needing someone else to feed the child. In the majority of cases planned weaning takes place when the infant is 6 months old, however, it is recommended to wait until the child is at least 18 months.
When do children naturally wean
Given their own way, children will naturally wean between their second and fourth years. Obviously there are some children who may wean themselves earlier or later than this. What is the main cause of natural weaning? The child may have outgrown their emotional attachment to breastfeeding and additionally as they are getting their nutritional needs from other foods, the desire for nursing diminishes.
Studies carried out by Dr. Kathy Dettwyler give insight on natural weaning. According to her research, a mother’s body weight can affect the age at which weaning occurs. The higher the mother’s body weight the longer the child is going to take to self-wean, with weaning occurring between 2.8 and 3.7 years. Other insightful stats showed that male children were more likely to wean later because they tend to weigh more. Babies in developed countries who face little to no disease and shortage of food challenges stood a better chance of natural weaning between ages 3 and 4.
Signs of natural weaning
How do you know for a fact that your child is natural weaning? There are a few tell-tale signs that may guide you, but the most prominent sign will be the reduced frequency and demand to nurse. If they are still nursing, you may notice that their nursing times are getting shorter and shorter. Alternatively, they may also be showing more interest in eating other solid foods.
Benefits of natural weaning
Perhaps you’ve given it some thought and would like your child to self-wean and are now wondering if there are any perceived benefits. Yes, there are in fact, the biggest benefit is that your child continues to receive a balanced diet in breast milk. Secondly, their immune system will be fortified as they grow. Lastly, the mother-bonding time is prolonged for a few more months. In addition, the longer you allow the child to nurse until they are ready to naturally wean, the lower your risk of developing breast and or ovarian cancer.
When all is said, allow yourself to enjoy the nursing period. Remember, the decision is ultimately yours whether you’d like your child to naturally wean or you initiate mother-led weaning. There is no gold standard when it comes to weaning.