Weaning your baby from the breast is a big transition for both of you. The Bible underscores the significance of this rite of passage:
"The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast" (Gen. 21:8). Isaac was probably 4 to 6 years old.
Recent research suggests that long-term breastfeeding provides numerous advantages over early weaning, including lower incidences of food allergies and childhood cancers among babies who are exclusively breastfed for at least the first 6 months of life. Prolonged breastfeeding also tends to delay the return of ovulation and menstruation?a benefit to moms with anemia, fibroid growths or endometriosis.
In our culture, however, the decision to wean a baby is made primarily as a means to accommodate demanding work schedules or in response to a lack of adequate breastfeeding support. Weaning can be an attractive alternative to nighttime nursing, breast pumps and bra pads. But don't make the change until you first answer these questions.
Will weaning meet both my baby's needs and my own? What will this change mean for your baby, whose needs are normally more immediate and intense than your own? Are there good reasons why it can't be delayed a month or two? Are there stressors?illness or family tensions?that might make weaning more traumatic now?
Where is the pressure coming from? Family and friends all add their three cents' worth, but do what feels right to you, considering your needs and your baby's. Find a breast-feeding supporter who can serve as a sounding board for your concerns.
Would "minimal breastfeeding" work as an alternative? Consider weaning your baby over a number of weeks or months. Minimal breastfeeding, supplemented by a bottle once or twice a day, allows moms to continue nursing before and after work, at bedtime and whenever else it works out well. However, if you initiate minimal breastfeeding before fully establishing breastfeeding, your milk supply might be adversely affected and your baby may reject the breast in favor of the bottle. Contact a lactation consultant for more information.
Weaning as gradually as possible is recommended for two reasons: it's less traumatic for your baby and it's less traumatic for you. Your breasts will become inflamed and engorged if you stop nursing too quickly. Your baby may not react well to the sudden withdrawal of the breast?one of his greatest pleasures. An abrupt change also would have a greater impact on his digestive and immune systems.
During and after weaning, remember to maintain close physical contact. Naptime cuddling, singing lullabies and other snuggling will continue to give your child what he'll never stop needing: your touch.
Mother, childbirth educator and author
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