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Child Led Weaning

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

What do you do when your child says that they will "never" wean?

When they say "I think people should drink breast milk forever, it's the most marvelous thing."

It's adorable coming from a toddler. It's cute coming from a pre-schooler...but what about when it comes from an eight year old?

Someone has finally uploaded a clip from the British documentary titled "extraordinary breastfeeding."

My honest reaction? Umm...okay then.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that I thought this was strange...very, very strange. At the same time, I firmly follow the "whatever works for you" style of parenting. The mother and children seem perfectly normal, the dad is ok with it and the family dynamic seems to work. It icks me out, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be doing it.

Though I do have to say that I laughed out loud when the older daughter said that breast milk is "better than mangoes even..."


  1. Blogger Misty | 10:10 AM |  

    You know, I thought I'd be grossed out by seeing an 8 year old nurse, but I wasn't. It seemed perfectly natural for them. Better than mangoes...

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:37 AM |  

    I tend to agree with you, Jennifer. It's not my cup of tea, but it seems to work for them. I read through the comments over on YouTube and was somewhat surprised. There were certainly a lot of negative comments, but there were also a lot of positive ones. I was pleased to see so many people who seemed to say "to each his own" as well as several who said how natural it is. Thanks for posting about it!

  3. Blogger Dr. Laura Marie Grimes | 10:46 AM |  

    Well, this does freak me out a bit, though as you say to each her own.

    Some women are happy with child led weaning and that's fine, but I object to the accompanying implication that this the only humane, nurturing way to do it. I think this can lead others through guilt to end up nursing longer than they prefer and/or eventually turning to sudden weaning in despair, as in the SuperNanny episode. How much better to make clear that it can be loving to both mom and child to do a gradual, careful combination and that if you don't want to be nursing a five year old or more you might start doing this at some point in the second year. Because if a child does something all the time for years and loves it and can't remember living without it why would they want to stop, like the child in the video? Some do but not all.

    I have nursed to fifteen months (weaned by car accident, don't recommend it), eighteen months, and 3 yrs and a month or two so far. Will see what happens if I can slip one more in under the wire next year. We did a delicate dance and combination of mother and child led weaning both, much more gradual and later obviously with my youngest. She was still nursing bunches at two, more like the others at one, since I was WAHMing and I just started extremely gradually cooling it off, offering less, etc, and detaching it from sleep or other required rituals, and the best part--getting so I could go away overnight in comfort and come back and nurse at will. It went down gradually over the course of the next year till eventually had gotten it to no more than once a day and not at bedtime, and then she went to a few times a week, once a week, a couple weeks between and stopped. She asked once a month after the last time and then once a couple months after that, and I explained that my breasts had probably run out of milk since she was a big girl and had chosen to stop nursing. Once she was distracted by wearing my ring instead, once she cried for 5 seconds and I comforted her, and she was fine. She has very happy memories of nursing and we talk about it sometime, or just gaze at each other with a knowing happy smile when I cradle her in that position, and the whole thing was just perfect.

    Honoring our own feelings of discomfort and readiness to have more of your body and freedom back is so important--our culture and churches often tell women that our bodies and lives are only for the service of husbands and children, and that we should sacrifice ourselves to the max. This is my frustration also with heavy guilt tripping from super natural moms about those of us who use medication for childbirth, share care of the child with its father or other loving caregivers, etc....and those who formula feed, s you have pointed out, though that's something I have not chosen and am sad is so often not a free choice in a hostile culture. We deserve better and our daughters deserve better modeling of self care and balanced love for others as self/self as others.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:47 AM |  

    I also thought I would be grossed out. I wasn't at all.

    Maybe before I had my own bf-fed baby. My "ick" factor was definately higher.

    My little boy is almost six months, and he recently had a nasty viral infection (mouth-sores) which made him refuse to nurse for 20 hours. While I realize that's really not that long of a strike, I was in tears until our routine was reestablished--even though I knew it was because his mouth was hurting him!

    I can see how it would happen. I'm not looking forward to weaning DS. I'll miss the sense of closeness more than anything. I could easily see us going to three years or so.

  5. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:58 AM |  

    Wow. I guess if it works for them....Funny though, does anyone remember the seven year old boy that was almost taken away from his mother because she still breastfed him? I believe that was in America somewhere and this seems to be in England. Interesting how cultures differ. Or would it be different if they were boys?

  6. Blogger lulubelle | 11:17 AM |  

    I had very mixed feelings about this...on the one hand if it works for them, then go for it. But on the other...I'm just not sure this is a whole child healthy practice. On demand nursing at 8? I just have no idea how I feel about it.
    I do know that it's not a choice I would make, and I do applaud this family for telling their story.

  7. Blogger evil cake lady | 11:26 AM |  

    i'd be interested in hearing about how these girls view breasts and breastfeeding once they hit puberty and grow their own breasts...maybe they'll see things differently or maybe not.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:43 PM |  

    Made me smile. :)

  9. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:06 PM |  

    i found more information about this story here:


  10. Blogger Heather Dudley | 7:37 PM |  

    My first impulse was "OMG that's disgusting!"

    Then I saw the child nursing.

    It seems the most natural thing in the world for her, not creepy at all.

    The problem I have with it is the way she literally seemed to turn into an infant while nursing. The body language, the position, it just seemed like she became a very small baby in a very big body. That disturbs me more than the actual breastfeeding itself.

    With all of that said... GREAT latch. :)

  11. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 8:31 PM |  

    Can anyone substantiate this claim?

    "The worldwide average for weaning is 4 years and 2 months of age."

    Because I don't buy that for a minute.

    Now if she means the worldwide average for CHILD-LED weaning, I'd give her a bit more creedence, but I still don't buy it.

    To have the average be that high, there would have to be LOTS of people nursing until 6, 7 or 8 years to make up for the LEGIONS of children that wean (on their own) around the age of 2.

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:39 PM |  

    I can certainly understand where the girls are coming from. Today my 2 1/2 year old said to me: "Nursing on the couch is my favorite thing in the whole wide world".

    I thought I was going to let him self-wean, and then started to realize that if I don't wean him, he'll be one of those 8 year olds still nursing. So I started the weaning process. It's been about two months already, and we're still at about 2 nursings a day. Slowly but surely it's coming to an end. I even set up a prize (drum set) that I constantly remind him of when he asks to nurse. "Big boys drink milk from a cup and get drum sets!" It's sad, but I feel like I have to do it.

    While I love our breastfeeding relationship, I don't want him to carry those memories into adulthood. When he's a grown man, I don't want him looking at a woman's breasts and think of mine. I just don't think it's good for a kid's mental health to be nursing that long. It also becomes sort of an addiction. I want him to be able to cope with life without relying on my breasts.

  13. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:46 AM |  

    I can't believe I am saying this, but that really bothers me. I am nursing my 31 month old child (who is self weaning during my pregnancy) and I never thought I would see a nursing relationship that bothered me. But this does.

    I think what's uncomfortable for me is what Heather said - the child appears to revert to an infant stage. I'm sure this is my American upbringing - but if my eight year old would not self-wean, I believe I would be looking into therapy for her! :-)

    (I am also the mother of older children who were all breastfed and completely self weaned by 3-4 years of age.)

  14. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 8:19 AM |  

    Alena, I think you make an interesting point...but at the same time, wouldn't many children that weaned at 2, 3 and 4 have long-term memories of nursing?

    I think the primary thing that concerned me was when the mom said that the girls get upset when she puts a bra on (because she's trapping the breasts) and that they want to play with her breasts while she's getting dressed in the morning.

    Maybe it's just me, but I think if Emmitt started playing with my breasts, it would start to weird me out a bit. I can separate the nursing side and the "fun" side of breasts, but that's because the two don't cross. If one started to resemble the other in any way, I think I'd have some issues.

    And I'll tell ya...the phrase "It's even better than Mango!" has been running through my mind non-stop ever since I saw it...

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:52 AM |  

    Jennifer, I think there's a big difference between weaning at 3 and weaning at 8. Most 3 year olds don't have vivid memories of events, while 8 year olds do. The memories I hope my son will have from extended nursing are general feelings of closeness and comfort with me. I don't want him to distinctly remembering sucking on my boobies.

    As far as the "better than mangoes" phrase, that was really cute, and not the least bit surprising. My son has been very verbal about his love of nursing for quite some time now, coming up with several gems of his own. I've been offering him chocolate milk (milk with a few drops of chocolate syrup) in place of nursing to make it more appealing. The other day he took a few sips and said: "Mmmm... yummy. But NOT as yummy as nursing!"

  16. Blogger Strikethru | 1:17 PM |  

    It seems to me that this woman just simply has no hangups about her breasts. I thought the video was sweet. Probably her daughters will grow up with much healthier attitudes about breasts than most girls do. I think discomfort around older children nursing has a lot to do with the notion that breasts are still primarily sexual and need to get back to the job of being sexual asap after nursing, when the truth is that nursing is what they are for. I would rather my older children think of breasts for nursing than start to absorb society's demented ideas about breasts and sexuality. All that said, I don't think I could nurse that long, just because I would be too tired!

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:00 PM |  

    i had to share that the other night we were getting the kids ready for bed and i was nursing julian (4 months). ava (2 3/4 years old) asked for some "na-na" too. (she nurses 1x/day at bedtime.) i told her she'd have to wait a minute and she exclaimed, "But I LOVE it!" :)

    not sure if this is what you are looking for or not, but here's some info on the "natural age of weaning":

  18. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 2:59 PM |  

    Alena, I guess it depends on the kid. I have very vivid memories of life a a 3 and 4 year old and a few distinct memories from when I waas 2.

    But I do agree that a three year old and an 8 year old will remember things very differently.

    I guess it really goes back to that question of "where do you draw the line?"

    At what point does it become strange, or odd.

    Would the people who FIRMLY believe in child-led weaning be willing to nurse their child until the age of 11, 12, or even 15 if that's what the child wanted?

    I'm not saying it will happen, I just wonder how far it goes.

    I have zero issues with 2 year olds nursing. I'm not bothered by three year olds nursing. I find it unusual for four year olds to nurse. Once you get past four years, my personal "ick-o-meter" really starts to buzz, but that doesn't mean I don't support a mom and child's right to do it.

    I just find this whole situation to be fascinating.

    Oh, and I totally get the "how yummy it is" thing. As you guys know, Elnora doesn't talk...but that girls LOVES her some breast milk. In fact, on the days that I pump, she follows me to the kitchen pointing at the bottles of milk and yelling MANA! MANA! which is her word for milk.

    She's VERY dissapointed if it goes in the containers for the milk bank instead of in her sippy. LOL

  19. Blogger JudyBright | 9:44 PM |  

    Maybe there's a difference between child led and child controlled?

    I'm all prejudiced and such, but it's midnight and I do not need to see an 8 year old nurse before I go to bed. I guess you can tell I am not a lactivist but a friend of a lactivist. I'll watch the video tomorrow (maybe).

    Parents have to notice their kids' tendencies and work with them in a variety of areas, but not let the kid be in total control. Parents have to be the parents after all. I'm thinking kids should be done nursing by the time they hit puberty. Call me crazy.

    And you can't just ignore the sexual nature of breasts. Being a woman I don't totally get it, but it's there. You have to deal with it. And boys see breasts as sexual long before women like to admit, especially when it's their little boy. That includes mom's boobies.

    It's usually a good idea to avoid extremes with most issues.

    Sorry, baby's crying. Maybe I should just let her CIO ;P Just kidding. I'm feeling a little ornery after a long day.

  20. Blogger Eilat | 6:17 AM |  

    I heard about this film a while ago but never saw it. I found it interesting and not disturbing at all. I do think, though, that the fraction of 5+ year old (and certanily 8 year olds) that are breastfeeding is so small that the whole discussions seems misplaced. My fear is that such videos will be used to villify extended nursing and used as an example of them "never stopping". Ive heard that statement so many times and my son is only 19 months.

    One thing I do wonder about is how much socializing these girls do outside the home with other kids. It seemed like these girls only played with each other and maybe if they had other friends their age that didn't nurse they would want to be more like their peers. That was just the impression I got from the video.

    I agree with mother laura about weaning and guilt. I like to think of the AAP & LLLI recommendation: After a year, continue to nurse as long as it is MUTUALLY desired.
    That seems perfectly logical to me.

  21. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:01 PM |  

    well I definitely thought this was very strange- I was surprised I wasn't as grossed out as I thought I'd be- but my only question about letting a child completely decide when to wean- Do you use the same logic with other milestones in life? I'm all for child-led weaning- but as with other decisions we make as parents- sometimes we know better than they do. I think that if my 6, 7, or 8 year old wanted to continue breastfeeding, I would know that it is emotionally and socially better for them not too. Just as I would not let my child wear diapers into older childhood- even if it wasn't technically doing them any physical harm to not be potty trained- It would be socially and emotionally harmful to them to continue to wear diapers into older childhood. - I just know that my husband was horribly embarrassed when he was in 1st or 2nd grade and was chewing with his mouth open and talking with food in his mouth becasue he mother never told him not too- and then he was harassed and made fun of by his peers and he'd wished someone woulda told him "hey, that's not the social norm". I can't imagine my son talking to his friends at recess about how he breastfeeds and them making horrible fun of him and how that's supposed to be "better" for him that letting him know that there is an appropriate time to stop certain things. Now figuring out that appropriate time for each mother and child definitely is a delicate decision- but I'm pretty darn sure it should come before age 8:-)

  22. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:12 PM |  

    hmmm... this is really interesting it brings up a great discussion about culture and biology. All the reasons that people here give for saying that BF at age 8 is weird, wrong, etc are cultural. There is not one that says it is biologically wrong. Just like the article in that mother mag link said that not a doctor would come out and say that extended BF is bad for kids.

    We know that as mammals human babies expect to nurse until about 2.5-7 years. As always there are some that fall on either side of these numbers. So biologically speaking what this little girl nursing at age 8 is 'normal'

    But we are social beings, and we live in communities and these communities have culture, and to some degree we are expected to live inside these cultures.

    So what to do when the culture has apsects to it that are bad? or downright dangerous to people in that culture? and why do people get so defensive of the culture when some choose to live outside it?

    How do we raise kids according to cultural norms, but also do what is best for them from a biological standpoint?

    I'm kind of waffleing here, but i always find intersting how strong a role culture and social norms play in our lives, even when they go against our own biology.

  23. Blogger Heidi | 5:28 PM |  

    Thanks for posting this. It's extremely interesting. (And I'm sorry I'm so late to chime in...have had issues with streaming video on my temperamental computer.)

    I expected to be icked, but was curious to see. I plan on child-led weaning but don't have any friends who have done this beyond those who swear it was the baby's idea to wean at 9 months.

    I don't know if it's my oen prejudice, but it seems like that eight year old was using it *just a little* to control her mama. Like the pouting when she wore a bra. I don't know, it might just be me.

    I don't think I'm comfy with nursing, for myself, beyong what I think of as still a "baby"- like 3 or 4 I guess.

    I don't get that people don't want their kids to have sweet nursy memories. I'd love it if Molly remembers her nummins- it would encourage her to nurse her babies if she chooses to be a mom. Very cool discussion:)

  24. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:54 PM |  

    I thought it was beautiful, the kids were lyrical in their descriptions, and the mom was exceptionally cool. Watching this video made me sad I encouraged my boys to wean at 4, 3, and 3 respectively. They would have continued - who knows how long - and I regret not letting them.

  25. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:27 PM |  

    It kinda weirds me out, and I'm not sure why. I guess maybe it's because I associate breastfeeding with something an infant or toddler does, not a young girl on the cusp of puberty. I would probably feel equally weirded out if I saw an 8-year-old wearing a diaper or sucking on a pacifier.

    It seems to work for them, so more power to 'em. But I know I personally couldn't do it. I will never deny breastmilk's special powers regardless of the age of the consumer, but enough is enough.


    P.S. Heidi, I agree, the girl DID seem to be manipulating her mom a wee bit with not wanting her to wear a bra, so she could "play" with them. That weirded me out worse than anything. Even if one of mom's body parts is being used to benefit her, it's still part of her mom's body and is her property, not her daughter's.

  26. Blogger Ahmie | 9:22 AM |  

    I had fully intended to let my son do "child-led" weaning but wound up encouraging it when he was 31mo (he'll be 3 at the end of May and I'm pregnant with baby #2, due in early July... around Christmas I was jumping out of my skin every time he latched on... the deal was sealed when I tried to express some milk and couldn't get anything out anyway). He's a very cuddly kid (laying against my chest snoozing as I type this) and has always accepted other forms of comforting, communicating clearly when it was definately the breast he needed even as a newborn (making little special grunting noises with a specific look on his face).

    People used to ask me how old was too old, when I'd mama-led wean him. I said that if he started getting facial hair, we'd have "the talk" - only partially joking. I really feel that if the kid is old enough to have a discussion with you about it, they're old enough to come to an agreement with you about boundaries of when and where it's allowable and how to determine if it's needed or not. Unfortunately in our case, I wasn't biologically able to allow him to do that (but I'm actually hoping that he'll remember how to latch properly and that I'll be able to tandem with him and his younger sibling - seriously, it's the only time the kid consistantly sits still for more than a minute of quiet time and I REALLY MISS THAT! LOL... plus the sibling bonding and all that). If he doesn't remember how to latch, I'll be offering him my milk in a cup because I do believe he will still benefit from it nutritionally and immunologically (I have a weak immune system myself that breastfeeding my child has actually seemed to improve for me, and my son was only really sick for ONE DAY before he weaned, now both of us have a nasty cold that's been lingering for almost a week). I wish I'd been pumping before I got pregnant (I'd stopped pumping before he turned a year as it was just too much of a hassle and the stock building up in the freezer was taking up too much space, never used, and I'm too severely needle-phobic to get the test for milk bank donation, tried repeatedly... there's still milk in the deep freezer from when he was 3mo!). I'd be giving it to him from a cup at least now while he's sick if I'd had the forethought to stock up in case I dried up in pregnancy but oh well, at least I saved the water I'd've used washing the darn pump all the time.

  27. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:29 AM |  

    Having thought about it some more...I am more bothered that an eight year old is permitted to breastfeed on demand. I'm not sure that a child of that age should be permitted to do anything on demand...you know, stay up late, eat candy, etc.

    The other thought I had was it's less that it is icky, and more that a child of that age should be having more age-appropriate interactions. Would a child of 8 still shower with her parents? Go to the restroom with them? Use a bottle or sippy? Wear diapers?

    Just more food for thought. :)

  28. Blogger Unknown | 2:31 PM |  

    Everyone has mentioned the ick factor (which was there for me a little bit), but no one has mentioned that the father is so supportive. My DH understood my desire to breastfeed, and was very supportive. He was jealous of not feeding the babies on his own for such a long time, but he got over that. The father in this video seems rather pleased that his wife has been doing this for so long. That seemed odd to me, because I would think that most fathers don't mind sharing for a few years, but 8??? And they have only been married for 9 years.
    Also the mother commented that they would not do this forever. That they would not be doing it when they go to college and get married. Hello? Does this mean they can stop by for a quick snack on the way to prom or before picking up their diploma at high school graduation?
    I totally support breastfeeding our children. I can even handle seeing older children (3-4 yrs) breastfeeding without feeling icked out. I just wonder if when your child starts school and still wants the nummins if maybe that becomes the time to pump for them. Sit close on the couch and snuggle, read a book, let your child drink from a cup. But give them the sweet boobie juice if that is what they want. Just don't give it to them straight from the "spout".
    Isn't 8 about the time that most doctors will tell you that girls begin to develop breast tissue and get their own? I think it would be really weird to breastfeed a person who has their own breasts. And I have seen toddler/preschool boys with major breast obsessions. This is just unsettling for me I guess. Of course my children are on the sippy cup now, and I am pleased with that transition, I guess if the boobie juice was still what my babies wanted, we would still be nursing on a regular basis. Who am I to tell other women how to raise their children?

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