Weaning a baby can be your choice, or it can be baby's. It should not be your mother-in-law's, or even your husband's choice. I weaned my boy at eight months because he was growing so fast and nursed so much that I just got tired. Some more diligent advocates of nursing might have thought that a lame reason to wean, but it was good enough for me. He had taken an interest in solid food and we were both happy.
Of course, after I weaned him I started menstruating and ovulating again and instantly became pregnant with my youngest. (If you are not planning to have children so close together, keep in mind that even though nursing suppresses menstruation, you can begin to ovulate again. Take appropriate precautions.) I was happy about the new pregnancy, being the baby lover that I am, but it was a bit of a shock, and I'm still dealing with the challenges of having two children so close in age.
Weaning is the gradual reduction of feedings, and ultimately leads to the baby's independence from the breast or the bottle as a source of nourishment.
I knew my youngest child would likely be my last, so I held onto nursing as long as I could. I nursed her for 16 months, until she could walk over to me, lift up my shirt, and latch on. Sometimes when she wanted to nurse she would gently tap me on the chest, just under my neck. Some people raised eyebrows that I had this little appendage but we were both very happy and will always have a special bond. I would have continued to nurse her for a while longer if I had not become ill, but I had to wean quickly because the medication I had to take would have been bad for her.
How Do I Wean My Baby?
Sometimes a baby seems to lose interest in nursing, and you can use this opportunity to begin to feed him with a cup. In most situations you need to wean gradually by stopping certain feeding times. This gives your body time to adjust the milk flow so that the milk can eventually dry up.
When you're weaning your child, avoid letting her go to sleep with a bottle or she'll have dental problems later. Also, avoid giving too many sticky snack foods, like raisins, unless you're careful to wipe or brush the baby's teeth afterward.
It's always easiest to wean a baby directly from breast or bottle to a cup—weaning from breast to bottle can be problematic because it makes the second weaning (from the bottle) extremely difficult. You don't want to be responsible for what I call the “bottle-addict syndrome.” You have to be very careful with bottle addicts. They constantly walk around with a bottle of water or juice hanging from their lips.
I will forever feel guilty about sometimes letting my very own bottle addict fall asleep with his bottle. Even though we would remove it as quickly as we could, the liquid would pool on his teeth, making them discolored and weak. This is all too common. We had to have some repair work done on his teeth when he was two so he wouldn't be self-conscious about them until his adult teeth could grow in. Try not to allow your baby to fall asleep with a bottle, and you'll avoid this whole problem.
Have Courage—Weaning Is Survivable
To wean your baby you need to be brave and strong. Be consistent. Offer distractions, not food or candy, and be ready to withstand tears, tantrums, and other natural forms of manipulation. Some babies need to become attached to some kind of transitional object to get over their need to suck or to help them to take the first steps toward independence. A stuffed toy, a blanket, or a pacifier can work.
Just be aware that once you substitute something for the breast or bottle you had better be good at keeping track of whatever has become the new center of your child's universe. I can remember several nights when I had to search frantically, retracing my baby's steps to find her one-and-only special teddy bear.
Practicing for the Bigger Challenges That Lie Ahead
Weaning a baby is only one of the first things that will test your mettle as a mother. There will be many more. For now, though, you will feel terrible when you hear your baby cry for his bottle or (especially) for your breast. You will want to cry, too.
Just remember—there is an external world that your baby must eventually learn to live in. Although you want nature to give you the lead on most things, sometimes you have to be the one who is in control, guiding your child to learn new things and enjoy new experiences. It would be nice if you could nurse your child to the point at which he tells you, “Okay, Mother, I am ready to be weaned now so that I can move on to a new developmental stage,” but that's not going to happen. You will always need to look for signs of when to make certain changes, but mostly you need to trust how you feel. Your instincts are the best indicator of decisions that should be made.
Most mothers have all the answers we need to handle the difficult choices of child-rearing, if we can just learn to trust ourselves. If we are able to tap into the love we have for our babies without all the fear that goes along with it, we will be clearheaded enough to make the right decisions. So if you feel it is best to wean your baby at a certain point in your life, make the decision, stick by it, allow the baby to fuss, and move on.