Breastfeeding and Beyond: Why Baby Led Weaning Worked Best for Me

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Baby breastfeedingMost pediatricians will recommend you feed your baby only breast milk for the first six months (if you are breastfeeding. For Formula feeders, it is four months) and then start the weaning process with a slow introduction of solids for practice. By one year, solid intake should be enough to sustain baby and most will give you the go ahead to introduce cow’s milk instead of breast milk, if you wish.

I understand this concept. I followed this suggestion with my formula fed baby, Jonathan, and started trying hard to switch from formula ($13 a can that lasted about 5 days) to whole milk ($3 a gallon at the time and also lasted about 5 days). It wasn’t easy. He fought me pretty hard. I guess it must taste much different from the stinky formula he had been drinking 4 times a day. But, eventually, I won the battle and he was fully off of formula by about 14 months. I always questioned why I was willing to fight that battle with a 13 month old baby? Was it worth it to save a few dollars? Now I have some new opinions that focus on baby led weaning, based on my experience with my four babies.

My Epiphany

I have a friend who has a little girl about a month or so younger than Jonathan who was breastfeeding her daughter at the time. She told a story of nursing her baby in a pharmacy and a man asked her how old her daughter was (I may be getting the details wrong – it was a long time ago! But, the point will be there!). When she replied that she was 13 months, he told her that babies over a year should be drinking milk from a cup. Her response was what makes her baby any less a baby just because she turned 13 months. It struck me then how right she was!

I can tell you that Isaac has changed a lot from the baby he was as a newborn. He can babble, walk (some. He’s still not an expert walker.), play with toys and his brothers, etc. However, he is still VERY much a baby. He cries when he needs something, he still wants to nurse several times a day, he rides backwards in his car seat, and so on. He is just as much a “baby” as he was 5 weeks ago before he turned 1. He will turn a corner from baby to toddler, but I can tell you that he hasn’t reached that corner yet – and really isn’t close. He’s my baby and I think he will be for a while.

WHO Weaning Recommendations

African woman breastfeeding babySo, my realization came too late for Jonathan (first child). However, with Micah (second child), I did a lot of research and decided I would let him wean himself. It was a great relief when I discovered that the World Health Organization (also known as WHO) recommended breastfeeding until age 2 (and beyond). The worldwide average age of weaning is around 4 years according to WHO. This is however somewhat skewed by the fact that many third world countries NEED to breastfeed babies this long due to widespread malnutrition from food shortages, but it still gives you an idea that a one year old is probably not ready to self wean.

I am firm in my beliefs, however it is MUCH easier to counter the negative reactions when you have a world-renowned and respected organization behind your decision. The World Health Organization – Infant and young child Global Strategy on infant and young child feeding written on April 16, 2002 states:

PROMOTING APPROPRIATE FEEDING FOR INFANTS AND YOUNG CHILDREN

10. Breastfeeding is an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.

So, when someone looks at me and asks why I still breastfeed my almost 14 month old, the answer is simplified for me now. I simply have to reply that I do it because the World Health Organization says I should.

Why I Breastfeed

I don’t simply do something because an organization (no matter how world-renowned) says I should, however.

I do it because:

  • It is the healthiest milk for my baby.
  • He gets ear infections and colds often and I want to build his immune system as much as I can.
  • It comforts him and makes him happy and secure.

I know he won’t breastfeed forever. A time will come when I will be trying to distract him (there are days now) to encourage him to seek other forms of comfort (a hug and a kiss are just as sweet to me!) because I don’t foresee myself nursing an 8-year-old. I don’t begrudge anyone who makes this choice, but it’s not for me. However, I certainly don’t want to push my BABY to make that transition before he’s emotionally ready.

He’s a smart little guy. He has about fifteen words he uses regularly, he signs for “food” and “milk” (and “bye bye”, but that’s kind of universal!). Emotionally, he’s still a baby. Even if I was ready to push him toward a cup instead of me, I need to respect that he’s not ready. And, no amount of judgment from anyone will change my perspective on that aspect of weaning.

Bottom Line on Baby-Led Weaning

Basically, it’s no one’s business but my immediate family’s business when my baby weans. Thankfully, I have their support. My husband is the oldest of 7 (6 living – I think I’ve mentioned this before) and his mom breastfed every one of them and is very passionate about breastfeeding as long as needed for that family and that baby. My boys find breastfeeding to be the norm. I am proud to say that they think that’s what breasts are for. They aren’t grossed out or embarrassed if I feed their baby brother in front of them. Recently, Elijah comments on seeing someone else’s “milk balls”! (HA!) That’s what they’re there for! To feed babies! And, I’ll be darned if anyone, ANYONE, is going to tell me my 14 month old who only walks about 50% of the time and cries when he needs something is anything other than a baby. My baby. My love. My world. My life.

Mother of four boys and the wife of a minister in Georgia. The world is full of medical “miracles” but over time and lots of experience, this mom has discovered that raising a natural baby creates the most wonderful bonds and lessons for her children.

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