This article is from the Breastfeeding
Past the First Year FAQ, by Kim Smith
This is a file in response to a question I asked when Emily was 20-21
mo. old. My pediatrician had told me that moms who nurse after 2 yrs
have a "separation problem". I wanted support for continuing, basically,
but also wanted advice on weaning a toddler.
>My daughteris soon to be 22 mo old, and I am still nursing her twice/day.
Good for you.
>I, too, ran into social pressure to wean Emily. I will discuss the reasons
>I didn't in a minute, but the way I coped with social pressure at that time
>was to relate what our pediatrician had said. (First of all, he's very
>pro-choice about nursing that is working for both baby and mother, up to
>the age of 2, at which time he feels that if a baby is still nursing, than
>the mother has a problem with separation.)
Sounds like the doctor is bending to social pressure here.
>BUT, now I REALLY feel the pressure to wean soon, as Emily is approaching
>2. And, as you have gathered, we are still fine with it. The time she
>really seems to want to nurse the most is when she first wakes up. She
>really doesn't seem to think her day can begin until she's nursed.
Like some adults and their cup of coffee??
>She also nurses before she goes to bed, which is nice because it gets her
>all sleepy and she goes down really easily after that, although she goes
>down pretty well when I'm not there, too (no bottle). I must admit that
>part of the reason I keep nursing is pure laziness.
Okay by me!
>It's nice to get to relax a few minutes before rushing into the day, and at
>night I usually sing to her and read net news when nursing (I have perfected
>this art). Also, when Emily is sick (thankfully not often, but we just had a
>bout last weekend), she will ask to nurse during the day, and is so
>comforted by it. In fact, when she couldn't keep anything else down, she
>did OK with breast milk.
You are still producing antibodies, so you're probably helping her get
well faster, too.
>Also, she still isn't a big (cow's) milk drinker, although she doesn't throw
>it to the floor in disgust as she used to.
>So, I have 2 dilemmas: when to wean, and how to wean a toddler. I can't
>gather all my breasts up and throw them away, as people have been saying
>they do with bottles and pacifiers! Any suggestions? And any thoughts
>on how I can tell if I have a "separation problem"?
I don't think you have a "separation problem". The world breastfeeding
average is 4.2 years. Get the book _Mothering Your Nursing Toddler_. It
discusses ways to "gently wean", and how to deal with people who disagree
with you about nursing a toddler.
Well, I'm still nursing my daughter at 2 1/2 and expect we'll do so for a
couple more months yet. Her older sister was an avid long-term nurser also.
I find it amazing that people still believe that nursing can be good for a
child one day and bad the next! There is simply no evidence for your
pediatrician's opinion. I've known children that have never nursed and
children who nursed until they were 4 or 5 and I can tell no difference in
their relationships with their mothers or their mother's mental health (if
anything the long term moms are more self-assured and worry LESS about their
kids!) I firmly believe that the time to wean is when one of you, baby or mom
is ready. I don't believe that a child can be forced to nurse against her
will and and I also don't think there's any benefit to a child in being
nursed by a reluctant mom (which is where we are at right now;-) ) Trust
yourself--you'll know when it's time to quit.
Basically--my vision of nursing sounds a lot like yours and I would encourage
you to trust your intuition rather than your doctor's. I'm not sure why
doctors worry about excessive mother/baby closeness, but unless this seems to
resonate for you, I would simply stop talking about nursing with the doctor
if it bothers her or him)). I've always thought the research suggesting that
the firmer the attachment and the more the child receives what she (or he)
needs in terms of nurturance, the more independent she'll eventually be and
the less she needs to waste her resources in protecting herself and seeking
My 2nd who nursed until 2 1/2 was in full time daycare from 10 months on and
in parttime earlier and was always--as she still is--very obviously well
developed. I did, after about 1 1/2 years, by which time she was only nursing
twice a day, stop nursing her in public or discussing nursing with most
people, since many people prefer that toddlers not be nursed.
It's basically a private matter between the two of you. In my opinion you
should definitely go on nursing as long as both you and your child like it.
I think you will probably hear from a number of people on this--but if you
don't and want more info. you should definitely contact La Leche in your
I weaned my 1st child at about 13/14 months and my 2d at around 2 1/2 years.
I weaned my second later because she liked sucking more. In general nursing
during the day is inconvenient, especially if one works but nursing evening
and especially morning is not. I went down to twice a day even with the 2d ca
10 months or a year and went down to once a day--am only ca 1 1/2 or 2 years.
Once I was down to once or twice a day I found I could be away ovenight or
even for a couple days without much problem--pumping once a day is no big
deal in most situations and we simply resumed nursing when I returned.
My experience suggests that it may be preferable to cut the evening feeding
before the morning--which is the opposite of what I did with my 1st, because
this insures that your child can develop a non milk based bedtime routine a
while before you go cold turkey.
Good luck doing what works for you--a fellow mother.
I don't know about a pediatrician who makes blanket statements of the kind
that yours did. Simply put, I don't believe that there is necessarily a
problem with a toddler still nursing. And, I certainly can't believe that
any mother who continues to nurse her toddler past 24 months has a problem
with separation! Why is 2 years so magical for giving up a host of things?
I see this as a problem with our society, of rushing kids to grow up and in
turn, rushing the parents of those kids to give up their child's childhood.
Perhaps you could ask your pediatrician what motivates him to make such a
blanket statement about nursing past 24 months. Citations would seem to be in
order at the very least. Otherwise, it seems to be purely speculative
opinion on his part.
Finally (as if you couldn't tell), I am in favor of child-led weaning so long
as both mother and child are in sync with nursing. If *you* no longer find it
satisfying, then I would think it's time to wean gradually. Clearly, since
Emily loves her morning nursing session, that would be the last one to be
dropped. Anyway, I'm sure La Leche League would have some helpful hints on
My mother nursed me till I was 3! I don't think my mother (or I) have any
separation anxiety or is any worse for wear. On what basis does your doctor
sets the limit at 2yo anyway? Doctors don't always know best. You know best
what your relationship is with your daughter. In *my opinion, you have a
problem IF nursing is the ONLY way you can comfort her. Twice a day means
she's not really dependent on you for the milk, or the comfort. She may
continue out of habit, although some children need more comforting than
others. does your daughter have any loveys? I think 2yr is a tough age still.
3 is much better for weaning.
When to wean: it is your choice. When you want your breasts back :). I think
its ok to nurse a 4yo if you and the 4yo want to. I don't think the 4yo will
want to, however :). The two feeding sessions you mentioned are the hardest
to wean 'cos there's really no substitute activities...
How to wean: well, several ways. Use delaying technique; when she asks to
nurse, say in 5 minutes (use timer?); but in the meantime, how about a
snuggle and a book. At night, change her bedtime routine. Maybe start her
with reading, then some water, and say she's a "big girl now", etc. Prepare
her beforehand, choose a deadline. Maybe after her second birthday party;
keep a calendar, and mark X's till the "growing ceremony", and keep telling
her that each time you mark the X and/or nurse. After that wear a regular bra
that is not convenient for her to nurse. Give her a substitute. Instead of
nursing, you'll do X with her; X is whatever you think will calm her down at
night or make her day in the morning.
Regarding social pressures to wean, besides your husband, you don't have to
tell others you're still nursing, do you?
My older son nursed until he turned 4. I had cut him back to once a day at
about age 3, but it was still so important to him that I didn't have the
heart to stop him completely. I finally started dropping hints about 'big
boys dont nurse", and told him when he was 4 he wouldn't either. We went on
vacation the week of his birthday and he didn't ask the whole time, but as
soon as he got home he wanted to again. And I said no, you are a big 4 year
old now. I felt kind of bad cutting him off like that, even though he took
it fairly well, so a few weeks later when he asked to nurse I agreed to a
ceremonial last nrsing. which was very nice for all of us. And now he
mentions occasionally that he is a weaned boy, and doesn't nurse like his
baby does. The reason he went on so long was that he has a younger brother,
2years4mo younger. He was almost weaned around the time he turned 2, by
himself, but when the baby came he started up again The baby is just turned 2
and still nursing morning, bedtime and after school. He shows no signs of
wanting to wean.
I guess the point of this is, people do nurse thier babies past age 2. Some
babies seem to need it. An excellent discussion of the topic is "mothering
your nursing toddler" by norma jean bumgardner, available from most La Leche
League groups. It discusses nursing and weaning the older child. If you
want support for continued nursing, I suggest you get in touch with La Leche
League. They have chapters all over the country, and are devoted exclusively
to this purpose.
This may not be what you want to hear either, but my son is still nursing at
age 3! He sounds like his habits are similar to your daughter's - mostly he
nurses in the morning and at night. I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to
wean him, too! (Incidentally, I've been working full time since he was 7
weeks old; I started traveling without him when he was 18 months. I've been
gone for as long as 11 days, when he was 2.5, and he started nursing again
when I got home! I'm leaving on Sunday for 3 weeks - we'll see what happens
then!) Anyway, your's doctor's statement sounds a bit strange to me - what is
it that suddenly happens when the child turns 2 that makes continued nursing
all your "fault"? I've also read that, worldwide, the average age of weaning
is 4.2 years :-( so if your doctor is right there are a lot of mothers out
there with separation problems!
A friend of mine successfully weaned her 18-month old by telling him "All
gone!" when he asked to nurse. As for when to wean, every book I've ever
read suggests that as long as both mom and baby are happy breastfeeding, you
should continue. I suppose you want to wean before your child goes to
I actually ended up weaning my daughter (partly in response to pressure from
others and partially because she was wanting to nurse 3-4 times during the
night) at about 19 months, so I haven't actually had your exact experience,
but in hindsight I would say that nursing a 2 year old who gets as many
benefits as your daughter seems to is a great idea. I intend to let my next
baby nurse as long as she/he wants to. Your doctor's comments about mothers
having a separation problem are a new twist to me. But it seems like it
would be easy to find out if you have such a problem or not. Are there other
adults that are special to her and that she enjoys spending time with? Do
you work or have other activities for yourself outside the home and apart
from her? It sounds like you do, since you mentioned her going to sleep
when you're gone. In my opinion, you both seem to be benefitting from
nursing, and there are no apparent negative factors at this point. I'd say
go for it!
I never intended to nurse my son past one year, but we both enjoyed it. We
nursed until after he turned 2. Then we stopped because I am pregnant again
and sore. He still misses nursing and so do I. I don't think your doctor is
very well-informed when he says that nursing past 2 indicates that you have a
separation problem. In many cultures it is common to nurse to age 4.
Comfort nursing provides such a special bond. I'd say don't give it up just
to avoid some label from some heavy-handed doctor. The decision on when to
stop really should be up to you and your daughter. It is nobody else's
What I did to wean my son (at age 2 years, 3 months) was to tell him that
Mommies made milk for babies, and at some point mommies finished making all
the milk they would make for a baby. After that, mommies weren't available
for nursing. Soon thereafter, my milk "went away", and he didn't nurse any
more. We replaced nursing time with special cuddle time (I don't like to get
up quickly either) and everything went fine.
Now I get to do the same thing with my daughter soon (2 years, 1 month). I
think she is just drifting away from nursing though -- she nurses at most
once a day, and only for a minute or two. So she may be easier.