Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baby Led Weaning

With my son now 14 months old I am still surprised how often I am asked - how much longer are you going to breastfeed him?  I guess longer than most people are used to these days....

I never thought it was a choice that I had a say in. It was simply for me - until he didn't want to breastfeed anymore. He is still very much looking to me as his major source of nutrition but also as his comforter when he is sad or hurt and because its such a safe place to be - wrapped in his mothers arms.

Today - for the first time, I started doing some reading on weaning baby and not because baby is ready but just for my own knowledge. Lo and behold I found this amazing article! I will put a link below to the full article, but am highlighting some paragraphs that made this so worthy of blogging about. It makes sense and it makes me feel stronger about letting my son choose when he is ready to stop breastfeeding.

Baby Led Weaning

There are many, many benefits to extended breastfeeding, and very few benefits to weaning early. That is not to say that even one feeding at the breast doesn’t have value, because it does. Whether you nurse for days, weeks, or years, breastfeeding provides both you and your baby with many important benefits – but breastfeeding for a year or longer offers the most advantages. Extended breastfeeding is definitely not the norm in this country – worldwide, most babies are weaned between two and four years – but in the US, fewer than 20% of babies are still nursing when they are six months old. While you may find it hard to imagine a mother in India nursing a three year old, that same mother would probably be baffled at the idea of taking a baby off the breast when he was just a few weeks old.

Through millions of years of human history, extended breastfeeding has been the norm. It’s only been in the past century that we’ve seen a shift toward earlier and earlier weaning, and the reasons are not based on scientific fact, but rather on a number of cultural influences. One problem is that in our society, breasts have been turned into sexual objects rather than feeding devices for infants, which was, after all, their original function.

Barbara Hey (the mother of a nursing toddler) wrote: “Breasts will never be considered run-of-the-mill” body parts. Pull out a bottle and a crowd gathers; lift up your shirt and the room clears”. Many people associate breasts with sexuality, and breastfeeding with something dirty, especially if your baby is a boy. The same people who totally freak out at the idea of a toddler nursing don’t think twice about an older baby who sucks his thumb, or hauls around a security blanket.

If you decide to go with natural, or baby-led, weaning, be prepared for lots and lots of unsolicited advice. You will be told that you’re doing it for you, not the baby (this is ridiculous, because it is a proven fact that you absolutely cannot make a baby nurse if he doesn’t want to – try it sometime if you don’t believe me). You will be told that your child will become a sexual deviant (yep, I bet if you took a survey you’d find that prisons are just chock full of men who were breastfed till they were ready to wean..touch of sarcasm here.).

You will be told that your child will become hopelessly dependent on you, and you’ll be following him to Kindergarten to nurse at rest time. Interestingly enough, experience and research have shown that babies who are nursed until they are ready to wean are actually less dependent because their security needs have been met as infants – they tend to separate more easily from their mothers and move into new relationships with more stability. It really boils down to following your instincts as a mother – nobody knows this little individual better than you, and you will know when he is ready to wean and move on to a new stage in your relationship.

There are many benefits of extended breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least the first year of your baby’s life, and WHO (World Health Organization) recomends breastfeeding for at least two years.

-For as long as you breastfeed, your baby continues to get the immunological advantages of human milk, during a time when he is increasingly exposed to infection. Breastfed toddlers are healthier overall.

- When your toddler is upset, hurt, frightened, or sick, you have a built in way to comfort him. Often a sick child will accept breastmilk when he refuses other foods.

-Many of the medical benefits of breastfeeding (lower cancer risk in mother and baby, for example) are dose related – in other words, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the protective effects.

-Human milk offers protection for the child who is allergic.

-Mothering a toddler is challenging enough – nursing makes the job of caring for and comforting him easier. There is no better way to ease a temper tantrum, or put a cranky child to sleep than by nursing.

- Nursing provides closeness, security, and stability during a period of rapid growth and development.

- Letting your baby set the pace for weaning spares you the unpleasant task of weaning him before he is ready. It is important to remember that all children wean eventually. If you are sitting at the computer with a two- week old infant in your arms, who is having marathon nursing sessions around the clock, it is probably hard to imagine nursing a toddler. Nursing an older baby is totally different from nursing a newborn. Forget those forty-five minute nursing sessions. Toddlers climb in your lap when they fall and bump their knee, nurse for a couple of minutes, and they’re done. They will have longer sessions (usually bedtime or nap-time), but they’re way too busy exploring their world to spend too much time nursing. They also don’t nurse as often – maybe every four to five hours, rather than every two to three. Because of this difference in nursing patterns, you are not nearly as tied down with an older nursing baby as you are with a newborn.

There’s another phenomenon that comes into play here. When you look at your one or two or three year old, he will still be your baby. It doesn’t matter if he has skinned knees and peanut butter smeared on his mouth, he is still a tiny little person with lots of growing up to do. It’s a tough world out there, and before you know it he’ll be too big to hold your hand, much less nurse. Why rush him? Ask any mother with older children and she’ll tell you the same thing – babies grow up way too fast, and when you look back on it, the time he spent nursing (even if it was several years) is a very small piece of the pie. He’ll live at home for 18 years, and even if he nurses for 3 of those years… – well, you do the math. I like this quote, but don’t know how said it. “We have 18 years to teach our children independence. Why try to do it all in the first years?”

It should be obvious that I have a bias toward baby-led weaning. It just makes sense to me on so many levels. If someone tells you that babies shouldn’t be nursed past six months, or one year, try asking them “Why”? They will be hard put to come up with a reason that makes sense, much less one that they can back up with any empirical evidence.

This is not to say that I think long- term nursing is right for everyone. When to wean is a very individual decision, and sometimes early weaning is the right thing for you and your baby. If a baby is not happy and thriving, and you’re so stressed that you can’t enjoy the time you spend with him, then it may be time to wean. Most babies do just finr on formula, and breastfeeding at all costs is not the most important consideration.

Full Article Here

No comments: