I’m embarrassed to say that I used to be one of those people who genuinely thought women who breastfed past a certain age were doing it for their own, selfish reasons, and not for the benefit of their children. I was raised in a family where breastfeeding to natural term was normal, but I went through that no-experience-yet-knows-it-all phase before I had kids. I was confident that when I had kids I would breastfeed them, but that they would stop breastfeeding at around 12 months of age.
Fast forward around 6 months after my first son was born, and I had a more extreme idea – my son would self wean. But “properly”. I learned that the natural weaning age of children who are ecologically breastfed can be anywhere between 2 and 7 years of age. Many children wean before 2 years of age due to our cultural practices of pushing children away from the breast by encouraging solids, independent sleep and separation from mum in an effort to promote independence. My kids wouldn’t be like that. I planned to let them breastfed whenever and wherever they wanted, for as long as they wanted.
I’m ashamed of the fact that I briefly started holding other women to this holy-grail standard as well. I thought women who weaned their child without taking their child’s wants and needs into account were selfish – completely at odds with my pre-pregnancy ideas. I believe I held these thoughts secretly, however if I ever personally made you feel inadequate because of these intolerant, naive views, I apologise. You can mail me a hat and I will eat it, because I was wrong. I have learned from my mistakes.
Until you have breastfed, let alone breastfed a 1yo, 2yo, 3yo or beyond then I say this with the utmost respect – you aren’t informed enough to be making decisions about when you will wean. I sure as hell never planned to breastfeed anyone who was walking, talking or fighting with me about who is allowed to use the toilet first in the morning (true story).
It’s great to have an idea of what you want to achieve, and what your goals are. It feels good to have something to aim for, and it feels really good when we succeed. But what is perhaps even better, is keeping enough of an open mind to allow yourself to change your position. You may learn something new – something that makes you question your original opinion. Your circumstances may change and your goals may turn out to be inappropriate for you.
Everyone’s story is different and you can only be the author of your own. As it turned out, I didn’t have the self-sacrifice to allow self weaning, nor do I have the heart to take something away from my kids that that still means so much to them. Miss 18mo breastfeeds mostly on demand. Mr 4yo is night weaned with just a bedtime feed and a quick suckle when he wakes in the morning.
If you get involved in a discussion about when weaning should occur, then perhaps the best answer is that it should be whenever is right for that family. I’m grateful that the embarrassment I feel for my previous naivety is overshadowed by the confidence that I have done what’s right for my family, and for that, I’m happy to eat as much humble pie as you can serve me.