We asked Holly Erwin, a virtual lactation specialist with Cook Children’s to weigh in on this burning parenting question: how do you know when the time is right to wean my child from breastfeeding?
DFWChild: My child and I both enjoy breastfeeding. I’ve heard you can continue as long as you both want to, but it obviously can’t last forever. When do I need to stop breastfeeding her?
Erwin: Breastfeeding is considered healthy when it’s beneficial to both parties. Exclusive breast milk is preferred for the first six months, and benefits don’t disappear at any certain age and are around for the life of the milk supply.
Why stop? Extended breastfeeding can become overwhelming, one-sided and draining, and it is often judged as weird and abnormal. As a child inches into toddlerhood, the antibacterial, antiviral, immune-boosting agents are still in the milk and passed into the child. Similarly, the longer the mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk of Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. For that, the decision comes down to cost versus reward.
A Better Question
The worldwide average for ending breastfeeding is around 4 years, mainly because there are areas where clean water is scarce. In America, that’s rarely a concern. So when do you stop? Ultimately, my answer would likely be another question: ‘Why are you asking?’
If you and your child are thriving in the feeding relationship, but you are feeling pressure from outside sources or norms, then I am going to help you lay it all out and isolate your wants from your pressures. If you are mentally, physically, emotionally done but have guilt, then we will develop a plan to wean. There is no longer shared benefit.
I stand by this: If your baby is growing, you are happy, and your baby is happy, then we have done our job. This can include breastfeeding, formula, pumping, or in this case, extended nursing.
Illustration by iStock/Igor Levin