When should you stop breast-feeding?
There’s no keener fan of breast-feeding than me. I always advocate breast milk as the perfect food for babies from birth to weaning.
For years, we’ve followed the World Health Organization guideline that where possible babies should be breast-fed for six months.
Recently, the Institute of Child Health put forward the case for mixed feeding from four months.
I’m with them. Many mothers wean their babies around four months anyway and in the Third World it’s often an economic necessity.
Plus breast milk often doesn’t deliver the iron needed for a six-month baby.
But if you’re a mum dedicated to breast-feeding, when should you stop?
I’ve spoken to breast-feeding consultants who say breast-feed for as long as possible, quoting the nourishment and protection of breast milk throughout toddlerhood.
For me, the line was crossed when I saw a cover of Time magazine showing a mother standing breast-feeding her four-year-old child who was standing on a chair to reach his mother’s nipple.
This mother belongs to the school of extreme parenting where mums breast-feed into late childhood, let their child sleep with them and, as babies, carry them everywhere in a sling.
The mother on the Time cover believes in letting her child decide when breast-feeding should stop.
I’ve never heard anything so irresponsible.
No young child should be asked to shoulder the burden of such a decision.
If you subscribe to that, which other decisions would you let your child make? To go to nursery or not? To get up in the morning or stay in bed? It’s clearly wrong.
This doesn’t bother advocates of extreme parenting.
They know that it would be an unusual child who would reject the breast their mother is offering them.
No. This is about mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.
A parent should be encouraging a child to be independent.
Extreme parents say it protects their child from “the pain of weaning”.
Far from it being upsetting, most babies offered a mixed diet are happy about it.
My guide is the appearance of teeth.
Nature arranges for them to erupt when a baby needs food that has to be chewed.
That should be when breast-feeding is gently suspended.
5 Signs It’s Time to Stop Breastfeeding
1. Your child is at least a year old. “Keep in mind that most babies won’t self-wean until they are older than 12 months,” says Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an OB/GYN and lactation consultant at at Bundoo.com, which connects parents with doctors and other childcare professionals online. “So any signs of weaning before that may be related to a nursing strike, which is usually temporary and can be related to stress, teething, an illness, or a changed routine like a big move or the holidays.” But if your child is older than a year, he could be ready to wean.
2. Your child has slowly cut back on the number of nursing sessions. “A gradual decrease in the length and frequency of nursing sessions is also a sign that your baby is ready to wean,” says Lincoln. Other factors that a baby is ready include he drinks from a cup and gets most of his nutrition from solid foods, says Zliza Bancoff, founder of MainLineDoulas.com. Another clear sign a child is ready to wean is he consistently refuses the breast for two weeks.
3. You just aren’t into it anymore. “This might sound pretty basic, but it is time to stop breastfeeding if a mom decides she doesn’t want to continue anymore,” says Lincoln. “This could be after a few weeks up to a few years — anytime that she feels like she is done.” Since kids are often happy to nurse for years, “often moms are the ones ready to wean before their children are ready, and that is okay,” says Leigh Anne O’Connor, lactation consultant at LeighAnneOConnor.com.
4. You feel resentful. “One clear sign a mom is ready is if she feels resentful about nursing,” says O’Connor. Many moms continue breastfeeding because they feel they should, but if you’re not enjoying your time breastfeeding, it will do little good for you and your child.
5. You need medical treatment that is incompatible with breastfeeding. “While many doctors may suggest weaning in lots of situations, only a handful of medications and surgeries are truly incompatible with breastfeeding,” says Lincoln. “This might include certain types of chemotherapy or a mastectomy for breast cancer, for example. If a mom needs to wean to prioritize her health, then she should make sure a lactation consultant is involved to make sure she really does need to stop nursing, give her techniques on weaning, and be there for emotional support, as this can be quite stressful for a family.”