Weaning in the Context of AP

My son Cavanaugh is a little over two now and we recently embarked on night weaning. Night weaning then researching weaning for our API meeting last month got me thinking about breastfeeding in the Attachment Parenting  community. So many of the AP mamas I know were planning on child-led weaning and many of them are changing their minds as their kids move further into toddlerhood. But a lot of us have mixed feelings about weaning, whether we decide to partially, gradually, or abruptly wean or to nurse as long as our kids feel like they need it.

So here’s how I’ve been thinking about weaning in relation to the Eight Principles of API

  1. Prepare for Parenting: Preparing for weaning includes considering goals for nursing plus different types of and strategies for weaning.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect: If mama is feeling exhausted, angry, or impatient while nursing, even if she doesn’t voice those feelings to her child, she is not respecting her own needs, nor is the child getting a clear loving message during feeding.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity: Being able to meet child’s needs and respond to child’s feelings with sensitivity doesn’t require breastfeeding.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch: Many of the mamas I know who have weaned are experiencing even more cuddles with their kids. Moms are being able to relax because they’re not anticipating being asked for milk or having their shirt pulled up at any moment. The children receive other forms of touch like hugging, massage, holding hands, having their backs drawn on, sitting on parents’ laps, and fun play like airplane, tickling, and gentle wrestling.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: At some point, children benefit physically from sleeping through the night (and mamas really appreciate it). Emotionally, sleep is safer if moms don’t go to bed dreading the next time they’re going to be woken up, which results in children getting to experience more emotional safety too.
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care: If one’s feelings about nursing range from loving it and wishing it would end, the message to the child may not be consistent. “Particularly if nursing is for comfort, the emotional quality of the exchange is of great importance. …you are protecting your child from the mixed messages and resentment that can build up when you say yes, but really mean no.” Adventures in Tandem Nursing, p. 175.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline: Setting loving limits for nursing can help keep the relationship rewarding. Toddler nursing doesn’t need to be on-demand all the time. Teaching children nursing manners and limiting nursing can make breastfeeding a time that is calm, sweet, and nurturing for both mother and child.
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life: Balance between meeting children’s and parents needs can be one of the greatest challenges of AP. Whether weaning is partial or complete, the process of being able to exercise control over the breastfeeding relationship, rather than feeling at the mercy of one’s child, goes a long way towards helping familes achieve balance.

Weaning can feel like a loss or wonderful milestone depending upon how it’s approached. As Dr. Sears says, “If you resent it, change it.” Changing it doesn’t necessarily have to mean ending it. Setting some limits may allow a breastfeeding relationship to continue for months or even years longer.

Sonya Feher is a writer and mama living in Austin, TX. She blogs at mamaTRUE and is co-leader of the S. Austin Chapter of API.

Author: Sonya Feher

Sonya Fehér is mama to Cavanaugh True. She is the leader of the S. Austin chapter of API and is a professional organizer with spaceWise Organizing where she helps individuals and families create space for how they want to live.

12 thoughts on “Weaning in the Context of AP”

  1. We’ve recently begun the nightweaning process ourselves, so this is a subject that I’ve been devoting much thought to. I really appreciated your perspective on nightweaning in the context of the eight principles. I agree that ultimately, setting some limits can be the best way to preserve what is most important/beneficial about our nursing relationship.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am still nursing my one year old, but we are thinking about weaning within the year. I had mixed feeling about it, because so many of the AP style parents I know do child led weaning, but I am just not comfortable with the idea of nursing a child over 2. This information will help me to make the weaning process a positive one, while staying true to our parenting values.

  3. If you are thinking about weaning because things need a change, then try reading the book Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarten (it is available through the La Leche League amongst other places). This book really helped me with the transition between infant nursing and toddler nursing. They really are two different types of relationships. Once your child becomes a toddler, the nursing relationship becomes more of a two-way street. There is room for some gentle negotiation, and your child can start to articulate what is important to him or her about nursing.

    I night-weaned my oldest when she was nearly 2 1/2 because I was pregnant and it was just not comfortable anymore. That went fairly smoothly — but not always. Anyway, Norma Jane’s book was for me, a big help in many ways, but mostly in reassuring me that I was able to do the right thing for both me and my child in a gentle and loving way. I think the reason I feel comfortable with her still nursing (at 3 1/2 and with a 7 month old brother) is because I was able to redefine our nursing relationship in a way that works for us both.

    That said, if she had it her way, she would still nurse day and night!

  4. there will be tears no matter when you do it. listen to your mama voice, respond with love and compassion, and before you know it you will move on to the next challenge of motherhood.

    thanks sonya for your thoughtful words and insight!

  5. Thank you for this insightful post. I had a lot of mixed feelings about partially weaning my daughter. We nightweaned around 18 months and cut way back on day time nursing around 2 years.

    With the nightweaning, I had guilt. Was it too early? Did I really need to do it? What would my other AP friends think? But I did need to do it for my family. We needed our nights back to regain balance. Now that she’s totally nightweaned, she sleeps through the night many nights and has started to eat more solid foods. Once we took the plunge, I found out that many of my AP friends were having similar thoughts. We were able to discuss our progress and feelings, lending support to each other.

    Around her second birthday, I realized I needed to make another change. I was losing weight and getting sick too frequently. My body was having trouble keeping up with my nursing toddler. I was also feeling resentment toward our frequent nursing sessions and I knew that I was sending her mixed message. So we cut down to just naptime and bedtime sessions. What a difference this made! Now she comes to me for hugs and cuddles instead of whining about more nursing. She takes longer naps, eats more food, and just seems happier.

    It’s hard to find that balance, but I am happy to report that there truly are many ways to nurse your child and they don’t all involve the breast.

  6. wow…. aaahahhhhh.. has been great to hear the thoughts… though i would love to read more… i am have been rearing my child in a what seems like very isolating place in south america and i ned more information and support!!.. my daughter just turned one and i started night weaning her as i was feeling resentful and my relationship was falling aprt with my partner.. i needed some time to myself though it has been hard to find information on good techniques… can anyone help??

  7. I have started the weaning process when my son was 1 year old. We cut a few feeding throughout the day. He then turned two and I made strides to cut it to just mornings and nights.
    Now he will be three and I’m working on those two.
    But all of sudden I’m getting all these opinions from my family and really harsh criticism about he breastfeeding and being almost three.
    I resent it and feel attacked.

  8. This was a relief to read. My 10 month old nurses around the clock and several times during the night. AND we are trying to fix a bad latch habit. All of that and lack of sleep has had me feeling resentful and at the end of my rope, even though I do not want to wean before 2. Although he is technically still an infant, he’s not a tiny little baby anymore and is becoming more toddler-ish every day. He still needs the bulk of his nutrition from nursing but he doesn’t take in much milk at all sessions and I feel it would make a huge difference to cut back to 7-8 sessions a day instead of the 9-11 we are at, and especially get down to 1-2 at night instead of 3-5…

  9. I appreciate all of your gentle comments and insight into such a delicate matter. My daughter is nearly two and still nursing alot. We co-sleep and so she will routinly roll over and either latch on or wake up for milk. What is more exhausting is that she has never slept through a nap and is very difficult to go to sleep at night and must always be nursed to sleep, I have become a pacifer to her and I don’t know how to wean her from this. I appreciate your advice very much.

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