A Case for Naturally Weaning Off Breastfeeding

03.19.2021 Home & Motherhood
Nikki Bostwick
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After the arrival of my first son, there were many things about motherhood that I anticipated as being potentially difficult, but ended up actually not really bothering me too much. As a person that can function on little sleep, more restless nights weren’t an issue. To me, changing diapers, nap times, nursing around the clock, and basically taking care of my child’s every need was simply part of the job I signed up for.

Nursing was one of the more demanding roles of motherhood but it was something that I loved doing with my child and  simply incorporated  into my life. I nursed anywhere and everywhere, even on the go while holding my son on a walk or in a carrier when running errands.

We also chose to co-sleep with our son, meaning he was in our bed until he was two-years-old. It was the best feeling to have him with us — it felt so primal, and it allowed me to continue nursing around the clock because he had immediate access to my breast milk.

However, I did have concerns about transitions for children and parents. I’d heard a lot about kids struggling with changes from moving out of their parents’ bed, as well as potty training and sending them off to preschool. For me, the most difficult to imagine was weaning. Mainly because I enjoyed our bonding time together, and truth be told, it was the best soothing tool for anything that came up for him. If you are able to breastfeed, I highly recommend it for that reason, it literally feels like it can cure anything. Personally, there was an extra bonus to breastfeeding as my son has a rare genetic condition. It’s important for him to make sure he keeps his blood sugar stable and refrains from ever going into ketosis, which is easy for a child.

As the months went on, I kept thinking to myself — what will it be like when I stop nursing? Do I even want to stop nursing?

Another troubling tale I’d heard was of some moms who stopped feeding causing their hormones to become wacky and depression to kick in. I’d also heard stories of kids kicking and screaming as they transitioned to food only.

All of my concerns came to naught and my experience ended up being free of challenges. Just recently, I officially weaned my son off breastfeeding. This wasn’t by choice but by necessity — I’m pregnant and my body simply refused to both create a baby and nourish a toddler.

One day, we had a simple conversation where my son said, “Mom, milk is hard.” He went on to say that multiple times that week, until one day he simply said, “There’s no milk.” It was then that I realized what had happened was the density of my milk had changed. It was more difficult for him to nurse and to get the same volume of milk. So, I said to him “Okay, then I guess we are done nursing!”. It literally was as simple as that. Similar conversations were had a couple of times after that day and then they stopped coming up altogether.

The reason I’m sharing my personal experience is not to gloat — but because I think sharing a positive weaning story can be empowering. It was shockingly easy and inspired me to share this experience because I don’t think transitions always need to be something we need to fear as moms.

My read on our situation was that part of the ease in the transition came from me waiting until he could understand why we were stopping. By my son experiencing the difficulty of getting the breast milk firsthand, he was able to comprehend the reality. From there, we could have a simple but tangible conversation. I understand this experience is not the norm, and may trigger other people’s experiences but I do believe it’s important to share that everything doesn’t need to be difficult.

My story also has a lot to do with the benefits of long term breastfeeding. I didn’t necessarily want to stop nursing, especially with my son’s condition, but it was what was meant for our family at this time.

Breastfeeding contributes to your child’s nutrition, health, intellectual development, and social and mental development. Breastfeeding your child past infancy is normal, and mothers have a lot to gain as well from long term breastfeeding.

In the spirit of this, I’ve provided some resources that have helped me make my own decisions on this beautiful chapter of life between mother and baby.

Breastfeeding Topics and Resources to Consider:

Social Conditioning

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains the benefits of breastfeeding continuing past the first year of life for both mother and baby — but that this goes against our social conditioning. They state, “As recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization), breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment, and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2008)

Breast Milk as an Immunity Builder

Apart from the emotional connection, you can also strengthen your child’s natural defenses. In the paper Nutrition During Lactation, they state that “antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation.” In fact, some of the immune factors in breast milk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Lawrence & Lawrence 2011, Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991)

Psychological Harm is Not Proven

Some people argue that longer breastfeeding periods can stunt a child’s mental and social development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child…Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother…There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” (AAP 2012, AAP 2005)

Health Benefits for Moms

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer (as evidenced here). In fact, studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk. Equally, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and endometrial cancer.

If you have the opportunity to nurse your child for a long period of time, I hope you will consider it. It goes by fast but creates a bond that will last a lifetime.

Nikki Bostwick is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of THE FULLEST and host of THE FULLEST Podcast. She has always been passionate about providing wellness content that offers a perspective outside the mainstream narrative — one that is holistic, diverse and inclusive. Since launching, Nikki has grown THE FULLEST to include a daily digital platform, a weekly podcast, a botanical product line, and a wholesale business alongside her amazing team. She is also a mom of two, nestled in Newport Beach with her high school sweetheart and their Siberian Husky.

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