If you are or have been a breastfeeding mother, you have probably been asked “How long are you going to keep that up?” or some question to that effect. And it has probably occurred to you to wonder why that question is so important to some people. They seem to be looking for some reassurance that you won’t go beyond some arbitrary length of time they have in their minds that feels to them like “too long.” Or does it seem that they are really not asking a question at all? Perhaps they are just letting you know that there is a certain length of time that is okay, and beyond that…well.
I remember over a quarter of a century ago (how fun it is to write that phrase!) when I was nursing one of my own babies, and reading the old La Leche League News. I was actually weeping as I read an account there from a mother who had been pressured by everyone around her—her husband, her parents, her in-laws, her neighbors, her friends—to wean that toddler because he was two years old.
She had not felt any need to wean on her own part. Her toddler had not shown any readiness to wean. But it seemed the chorus of voices around her was urgent, insistent and relentless. She tried ignoring them, but as she had no one to support her against the multitude (she lived in a remote area, far from any LLL group), she began to wonder if it would be best to please them all and calm everyone’s anxiety and irritation. She weaned her son. He cried, she cried, but in a couple of weeks, it was done.
And that is when she began to grieve in earnest for giving in to the demands of people who had no need to be interfering in the first place. They didn’t hold a parade for her or give her a gold medal for caving in to their pressure; they went on with their lives as before. But she was left with a deep sense of sorrow—and resentment–that she had sacrificed something precious which would never come back. Those who had demanded that she wean her toddler didn’t even know what that breastfeeding relationship was; they didn’t know what they were asking; they were ignorant, and didn’t even know what they didn’t know.
Dear young mother, when you experience pressure from others to wean your baby before you and baby are ready, those critics are handing you an opportunity to grow. You could comply in hopes that they won’t think critically of you anymore. (It won’t work, by the way; critical people always find something else to criticize: it’s what they do.) Another option is to listen to your own heart and let the critics be frustrated. (Their frustration is not your problem.)
It’s yet another life lesson. If you give in to the pressure, you are sure to feel a sense of self-betrayal: “Once again, just to keep peace, I didn’t stand up for what I knew was right for me.” If you persist on your own heart-path, you learn that you can, and you build on that for future times in your life when you will have to take a stand or give in. One way leads to shrinking back into yourself. The other leads to self-confidence and maturity.
In La Leche League, all those many years ago, I learned about “baby-led weaning.” I had my doubts and questions about it; it was so counter-cultural. At the same time, I had my supports in my LLL group, and the example of moms and babies who were ahead of me on the mothering path. That’s the kind of support that can help mothers to make a choice that seems revolutionary.
When you are struggling with a decision that makes you feel out of step with those around you, try changing up your company. Spend a little more time with those who share your point of view on mothering; it will fortify you to do what’s best for you.
So, when should your baby wean? Simple: When you and your baby are ready to wean. For whom do you make the decision to wean? For yourself and your baby.
Joy Davy is a therapist in Hinsdale, Illinois, focusing on parenting challenges, postpartum depression, and Mentoring the Motherless Mother. For 12 years she was a La Leche League Leader, and breastfed all of her 5 children. Joy can be reached at 630-935-7915. Check out her website at http://www.joydavy.com.