Mothering and Life in General
General Weaning Terminology
I feel breastfeeding terminology is very important to learn, because that helps with providing factual information too those who need it.
I am going to share something with you that had been really bothering me for some time. That is the loose terms of weaning. Now I am in no way saying that since I breastfeed as long as I am, that I am better than you. Nor am I trying to suggest that a mother didn’t breastfeed long enough or saying that one form of weaning is less than the other.
I will explain some terms, then after, I will express why I feel these terms needs to be used correctly to help support other mothers.
Self Weaning or Child Weaning: When the child is given the opportunity to nurse for as long as needed, whether it be for nutrition, for comfort or both. The Mother will remind the child about nursing and allow for the child to decide to breastfeed or not. In Self Weaning or Child Weaning, the world average is 4.2 years old, but is normal to see a child to breastfeed to 5 or more years in age. It is more common to see a child Self Wean after the age of two, but is rare in children under the age of 18 months. During Self Weaning or Child Weaning, a child will not suddenly stop breastfeeding (please refer to Nursing Strikes below) and will be well established in solid foods and cups. This type of weaning has nursing sessions that gradually decrease in length or amounts throughout the day.
Mother Lead Weaning: Breastfeeding is a mutual relationship, and a mother will have legitimate reasons for wanting to wean her child. There are generally two ways to Mother Lead Wean, one is Forced Weaning, where breastfeeding is stopped suddenly by the mother. The other is Gentle Weaning, where the mother will use techniques to slowly decrease the amount or duration of breastfeeding sessions. Gentle Weaning is recommended because this process decreases the discomfort of engorgement, mastitis, and clogged ducts. It also prevents the child from protesting a sudden stop and it works like how breastfeeding is supposed to work – a partnership. Gentle Weaning does not happen over night and most women, who have done Gentle Weaning and told their stories, suggests they would do this method again for their future children. Either way you choose, any involvement from the mother to wean is called Mother Lead Weaning.
Pregnancy Weaning: Some mothers experience their child(ren) weaning from the breast during a pregnancy. Reasons being your milk will turn to colostrum, the child does not like the changes to the milk, or that your supply decreases. Some would argue that this is Self Weaning because the milk changes in the same way as Self Weaning or that it’s the child’s discussion to stop breastfeeding. Again, a child who Self Weans do not show signs of any need for the breast and weans because they are emotional ready to do so. During any other form of weaning there is something that ‘interferes’ with breastfeeding. Often times, when the new baby is born and breastfeeding, the older child will be interested in breastfeeding again, also known as Unweaning.
Unweaning: When a previously weaned child is breastfed again. There are many reasons for unweaning, after a pregnancy, an illness or a medical procedure, like cancer treatments. Some women have successfully re-latated to breastfeed their infants after some troubled beginnings of non-support.
Nursing Strikes: Not weaning, but Nursing Strikes are often mistaken with weaning. A nursing strike will be a sudden stop in nursing. The mother and child will be in discomfort. Reasons can include teething, mothers reaction to a bite, illness, or something different in the child’s environment.
None of these Weaning situations are wrong, they are just different reasons for weaning. The reasons for weaning are what I feel needs to be addressed for breastfeeding awareness and a future dyad’s breastfeeding relationship.
Time and time again, I will read a group status or forum entry asking what ages did other children wean at. Which is fine, it’s the comments that really bother me. One Mom will say her child Self-Weaned at 6 months, another will state her child Self-Weaned during her pregnancy. What they add in their comment is that they were not ready for the weaning and they really wished to have continued. They also state that the child had increased aggression and temper tantrums and they doubt that child was ready either.
What is really happening here, is misunderstanding of the terms, and that they did not know they could have received help. They don’t even know there was support available to them. I also think about a mother who is new to breastfeeding and reads these comments. They will assume that when her baby stops breastfeeding at any time, that it’s Self-Weaning. This new mother will not know that it was really a Nursing Strike and that there are things she could do to get the baby to nursing again.
I will admit that I do have a strong urge to correct the terms during these discussions, however I have seen some really bad turn out. So I will state again, that weaning happens, it’s a part of life. We wean from the womb to the world, from the breast to cup or bottle. We wean from diapers to underwear, we even wean from our parents home. Weaning is apart of life, but mothers should be given the correct information. So when the child does wean from the breast, it’s not looked back on as something they wished they knew more about.