Child-Led Weaning: Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival Post

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about child-led weaning. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

I’m stepping away from my Happiness Project posts for a moment to participate in the SLC Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival by posting about Child-Led Weaning. Don’t worry, though…I’ll be posting about happiness and personal commandments again this evening!

After a rocky start nursing my first child, I grew to love nursing. As time went on, our nursing patterns changed, we dealt with food sensitivities, and got the chance to practice limit-setting around biting and twiddling and other fun nursing behaviors, but I continued to revel in our nursing relationship and the closeness it brought us. I learned more and more about the normal course of breastfeeding, and I decided that I wanted to keep nursing until my daughter was done.

When I first learned about child-led weaning, I pictured a situation in which mom continues nursing her child with no pressure one way or another until her child says, “OK, I’m done nursing,” and doesn’t nurse again. What I didn’t take into account were all the subtle ways in which a mother influences her child’s choice to nurse or to stop nursing. After my own experiences and speaking with dozens of moms, I’m fairly convinced that there’s no form of weaning that’s purely child-led.

From the moment we introduce solids to our children, we are initiating the process of weaning. Ideally, this process is gradual and is completed only when mother and child are both ready to meet their physical and emotional needs in ways other than nursing. Along the way, a mom does a variety of things that move her and her nursling along the path to complete weaning. Mom might delay nursing when her child asks, or she might stop nursing her child at night. She might leave her child with another caregiver for a longer period of time than she had before without expressing milk. She might decrease the duration of each nursing session, or stop nursing her child to sleep. She might introduce a comfort object to help her child emotionally in mother’s absence. All of these are things that mothers do to move the weaning process along, whether they intend to or not.

My daughter was about 2.5 years old when I decided to start making some dietary changes to deal with some digestive issues I was having. I lost 15 pounds within about two months. During this period of time, nursing began to feel very uncomfortable. I was convinced of the value of child-led weaning as I had imagined it, so I soldiered on, intent upon trying not to influence my daughter’s choice to nurse or not. But every time she latched on, I tensed my jaw and gritted my teeth. I started feeling angry and dreaded when she would ask to nurse. I wanted to keep nursing her, but I didn’t think that all of the negative feelings around nursing were helpful to our relationship. I sought help from La Leche League, and received some wonderful support and suggestions. I helped my daughter work on her latch. I tried adding more carbohydrates back into my diet when I learned that a low-carb diet can decrease milk supply and a decreased milk supply can lead to nursing discomfort. But nothing brought back that blissful nursing experience we had both enjoyed for so long. I began limiting the duration of our nursing sessions by singing the ABC song, slower when I was feeling OK, faster when I just needed to get through it, in order to distract myself, to let my daughter anticipate when we would stop, and to help me see there was an end to this nursing session. After a year of gently moving my daughter towards ending our nursing relationship, she was done.

I felt a lot of mixed feelings about the end of our nursing relationship. I once again received comfort from La Leche League and learning from other moms that ambivalence about weaning, and even about nursing a child past whatever age is deemed appropriate by one’s culture, is normal and common. Ambivalence seemed, actually, to be more the rule than the exception.  My daughter’s weaning was gradual enough that I experienced no engorgement or physical discomfort when she stopped nursing, and my breasts did not change size, which can often happen in situations of abrupt cessation of nursing. Even though weaning didn’t follow the course I’d expected, I was confident that we had gone about it in a way that respected both my needs and my daughter’s needs.

As my son approaches his first birthday, I wonder what path our nursing relationship will follow. I have some apprehension that I will, once again, be done before he is and guide the weaning process more than I would ideally like to. But I’ve learned a lot about weaning and about nursing, not just as a means of feeding my child, but as a relationship in and of itself. Nursing is a dance, a partnership; it must work for both parties in order to work at all. I think I’m ready for more possible paths this nursing relationship might take. I’m in it for the duration, however long that might be.

Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


  1. Tamara · August 3, 2010

    I felt frustrated at times with my first child. And even now when I am trying to work but all DD2 wants to do is sit on my lap, taking over my computer space…And then I realize…ok, I am a mommy first, then I can find time for my work…Breastfeeding is difficult sometimes, thanks for your story 🙂


  2. Amy · July 31, 2010

    I’m glad you found such good support to help you with this process. It’s so great to be able to read all of these different perspectives on weaning!


  3. Renee · July 30, 2010

    very well said! thanks for joining the circus…. I mean carnival 😉


  4. timbra · July 30, 2010

    A lot of truths in this post. I wonder also if 2(ish) is the age when a lot of moms feel this, I was pregnant again when Alani was 2.5, but had similar feelings as a pregnant woman to what you describe just as the mother of a 2.5 year old. . . . so it’s nice to hear that neither of us was alone in those feelings 🙂


  5. Pingback: The Normal Course of Breastfeeding « the BREASTFEEDING CAFE
  6. Pingback: Facing It As It Comes « The Adventures of Lactating Girl

Your turn! What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s