Nearly half of Vermont babies are still nursing at one year. Does that surprise you? We actually have the best one-year breastfeeding rate in the United States.  Several years ago we did a feeding survey at The Birthing Center, and nearly one quarter of the moms in the survey said they wanted to feed “at least until age two or whenever the baby decides to stop.”

There are plenty of good reasons to continue breastfeeding.

  • Immunities continue to help toddlers stay healthy
  • Immunizations “take” really well
  • Can help to strengthen relationship at a time when the push/pull of the mom/child relationship is a challenge
  • De-stressor for both mother and baby
  • Nutritional insurance: In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
    • 29% of energy requirements
    • 43% of protein requirements
    • 36% of calcium requirements
    • 75% of vitamin A requirements
    • 76% of folate requirements
    • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
    • 60% of vitamin C requirements
  • Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.– Dewey 2001 (Like many other breastfeeding secrets, this one is “dose dependent” – more is better.)
  • According to Sally Kneidel in “Nursing Beyond One Year” (New Beginnings, Vol. 6 No. 4, July-August 1990, pp. 99-103.)
    “Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers’ and teachers’ ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children (Ferguson et al, 1987). In the words of the researchers, ‘there are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.'”
  • According to Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq. in “Extended Breastfeeding and the Law”:
    “Breastfeeding is a warm and loving way to meet the needs of toddlers and young children. It not only perks them up and energizes them; it also soothes the frustrations, bumps and bruises, and daily stresses of early childhood. In addition, nursing past infancy helps little ones make a gradual transition to childhood.”  Baldwin continues: “Meeting a child’s dependency needs is the key to helping that child achieve independence. And children outgrow these needs according to their own unique timetable.” Children who achieve independence at their own pace are more secure in that independence then children forced into independence prematurely.
  • Extended nursing delays the return of fertility in some women (by suppressing ovulation).
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. Studies have found a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian, uterine and endometrial cancers for moms who nurse.
  • Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis (for both mom and baby!). During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom’s bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother’s diet.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women and to stave off the development of metabolic syndrome.

You can see a great graphic of all these facts and many more at Breastfeeding Basics.

On the flip side though, there are a variety of reasons why moms may choose mother-led rather than child-led weaning. It’s not like we all get two years of maternity leave (the U.S. after all continues to have the worst paid family leave policies in the developing world), and babies come to us at all kinds of “inconvenient” times in our lives. Whether you need to return to school, are going back to work in a difficult-to-combine-with-pumping environment, or just plain are done with breastfeeding, here are some tips on weaning your older nursling.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Think about behaviors you do and don’t want – are some of these the reason you’re thinking about weaning?
  • Twiddling, hair pulling
  • What do you call nursing? (Yelling “Titty Titty Mama!” in the middle of Ninety Nine might not be your idea of class….A toddler needs a code word!)
  • Where is it NOT okay to nurse? This will actually cut down on nursing as time goes on. A toddler can understand that we’re not nursing in the sanctuary at church any more. Or at the hairdresser’s. Maybe not at grandma’s house!

Baby With Sippy BottleWEANING

When it comes to weaning, there are definitely times of ebb and flow – if you want to wean, do it when the child is LESS interested in nursing! (Makes sense, but sometimes we are just crazy when they want to nurse all the time and WE are ready to wean!)
Don’t offer, don’t refuse – this can be harder than you think, since nursing works for everything from hunger to booboos to boredom. But in general, as you walk toward complete weaning,

  • Stay away from favorite nursing sites
  • Postpone when you can
  • Be alert – know when you’re in for a meltdown (and don’t feel like you’ve failed if you use a tried-and-true destressor in this way)
  • Think through your own reasons for weaning – and remember it’s a PROCESS not a moment in time
  • Discussions and negotiation – “We can nurse after supper. We can nurse when we get home.”

Is your little one regularly using a bottle at child care? How do you feel about getting rid of the nursing but keeping the bottle? (The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests cutting out the night bottle last – but remember that bottle is more likely to lead to tooth decay.)

Many moms find sippy cups are very useful as they transition away from breastfeeding. And it’s something to offer when your little one is sad that s/he can’t nurse right now.

Again, weaning is a process. You and your child started that process the first time she or he got a taste of ice cream, or a cheerio, or a bottle. It’s lovely to be able to wean with the same loving relationship intact when you say goodbye to nursing.

I’d love to hear your suggestions and comments!

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