When To Stop Breastfeeding
is not only up to a mother

- When to stop breastfeeding?

- The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the baby's first 6 months of life, and continued breastfeeding complemented with appropriate foods up to two years old and beyond.

when to stop breastfeeding

In this article:

What is natural weaning time?

For good or for bad reasons people always tend to set standards based on what other people do and say. Especially if it’s parenting. The conversation at the playground among mothers usually goes like this:

Following the rules and standards doesn’t go with instincts, which Attachment Parenting is all about.

“How long does he sleep at night?” - My son sleeps through the night

“How long does he nurse? - I nurse him every 3 hours, just like our pediatrician told me to do.

"How long did you nurse him?” - My cousin nursed her daughter 2.5 years.

Add few forum posts and you have one freaked out mother, who thinks her child is not normal because he doesn’t sleep all nite, he eats every hour and his older sister who is 2.5 years old still wants to nurse.

However, if you must have a number here it is:

The minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years.

When it comes to duration of breastfeeding there is a research done by Katherine A. Dettwyler, (you can find her excellent book here), who looked at animals (their length of gestation, birth weight, growth rate, age at sexual maturity, age at eruption of teeth, lifespan, etc) to determine what the natural age at weaning would be in humans if it was not set by cultural standards?

She picked those non-human primates because they are the closest relatives in the animal kingdom, especially gorillas and chimpanzees, who share more than 98% of their genes with humans.

Weaning according to...Suggestion for human weaning
...tripling or quadrupling of birth weightFor boys, the average age is around 27 months, and for girls, around 30 months.
...attainment of one-third adult weight4 to 7 years of nursing would be the weaning age for humans using this method of comparison, with boys generally being nursed longer than girls, and large-bodied population nursing longer than small-bodied groups.
...adult body size The equation predicts an age at weaning for humans at between 2.8 and 3.7 years, depending on average adult female body weight, with larger-bodied populations nursing the longest.
... gestation lengthAn estimated natural age at weaning for humans would be a minimum of six times gestational length, or 4.5 years.
... dental eruptionFirst permanent molar eruption occurs around 5.5 to 6.0 years in modern humans.

I think this guideline for a natural weaning age between 2.5 and 7 years allows parents to know generally what to expect if they leave weaning up to their child. It is useful. It allows for a wider range of “normal”, and it encourages parents to follow their children's’ cues.

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It should be child-led
or gentle mother-led

There are many reasons why a mother decides to wean her child. Most common reasons are:

when to wean

  • Mother is going back to work
  • Pregnancy
  • Mother is exhausted, in pain and just irritated from breastfeeding
  • Mother has medical issues
  • Pediatrician suggested that breastfeeding past 1 year is no more beneficial to your child
  • Mother can't handle the pressure of friends and family
  • Mother thinks a child is too old for nursing
  • Mother wants to spend time away from the child to re-connect with a partner. 

When to stop breastfeeding is up to you and your child. Include him, his feelings into all your decisions.

Child-led weaning happens when a child doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore. He's got all the nutrition and the comfort he needs. Most toddlers wean somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age.

Usually a child will wean himself gradually:

  • There will be less daytime nursing due to him being very busy and active.
  • He shows more interest in solid foods and can drink from the cup.

But if you (for some reason) have to wean, do it gently and gradually.

Gentle mother-led weaning:

  • follow the rule - “don’t offer, don’t refuse”
  • offer other forms of comfort. A lot of hugs, kisses, full attention when playing together
  • gradually cut down on nursing during the day
  • gradually cut down on nursing duration
  • offer some healthy snacks and drinks before nursing
  • avoid sitting in a nursing spot
  • avoid holding your child in a nursing position
  • unless medical emergency, never wean a child suddenly. The emotional and physical consequences for a mother and a child will be not worth it.

"Attachment Parenting parents follow feeding cues for young babies and follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full."

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Should I stop breastfeeding
when I return to work?

You certainly don’t have to stop breastfeeding when you return to work. At this modern age there is a lot of “help” for mothers who decide to continue to breastfeed after they go back to work.

  1. Realizing the importance of breastfeeding more and more big companies offer a daycare center in the same building, making it very easy for mother to nurse her child almost on demand.
  2. According to US laws every nursing mother is allowed to have pumping or nursing breaks. Special room must be provided (not bathroom).
  3. Pumping breast milk and bottle feeding is the most common thing among working and breastfeeding mothers. Read this article to learn more about pumping breast milk.

Some might think that breastfeeding and returning back to work is just too hard. This case consider the facts of breastfeeding benefits:

  • Your child will be healthier overall and there will be less sick days, which will cause better work results, not mentioning happier boss.
  • You will be more productive knowing your are providing best for your child even though you had to go back to work.
  • You will still be able to bond through breastfeeding your child at nights and in the mornings.

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Should I stop breastfeeding
when I become pregnant?

  • It is safe to breastfeed while you are expecting if your pregnancy is healthy.
  • Your nursing child will continue getting all the good stuff from the breast milk plus comforting moments while nursing, which is especially useful when baby comes. Tandem nursing helps older sibling through all this new baby transition.
  • Some toddlers wean during this time (around the middle of pregnancy) because the taste, supply and the consistency of breast milk changes.
  • Unborn child is also receiving everything he needs from a mother.
  • Pregnant mother who is also nursing should be eating healthy nutritious diet to be able to provide for 3.
  • To read the good and the bad things about breastfeeding while pregnant read this article.

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You don’t have to stop breastfeeding
because it’s above average

Extended breastfeeding is normal and it should not have the name "extended". Surprisingly, if you breastfeed above 1 year, it is considered "extended".

Click on the links below to find out more about extended breastfeeding.

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When to Stop breastfeeding?
To wean or not to wean?

So you’ve got all the facts and if you still don’t have any idea on When to stop breastfeeding your child .... here is my personal opinion/advice (this is for those mothers who can take another opinion about extended breastfeeding, since there is so many of them out there).

- When to stop breastfeeding?


Patiently wait until your child weans himself. (Trust me, he will).

However, there is nothing wrong with helping him to make a decision (to wean) if you think he just needs a little direction.

  • Attachment Parenting is about listening to child's cues, following his needs and respecting his wishes.
  • Attached parents follow positive discipline techniques which teach and lead children to the right direction.

Just think about it. You potty train your child or you start elimination communication from the very beginning, you teach him empathy,  you teach him to eat healthy foods and how to brush his teeth. Why? Obviously because he doesn’t know when and how to do those things.

He simply doesn’t know that he is not supposed to eat fast food or he is supposed to pee in the toilet. Usually parents lead him to the right direction.

Breastfeeding is no different. They need some guidance there too.

Yes. The suggested natural weaning time (2-7) is a big gap. But that’s because every child is different.

Follow your child’s cues and adjust to them by gently and gradually directing to the direction you think it’s best for your child, keeping in mind that first 6 months baby should only get breast milk (exclusive breastfeeding), and he should be breastfed (and eating healthy solid meals) for at least 24 months.

If both of you are enjoying breastfeeding - keep doing it, don't encourage weaning.

Somewhere between 2 and 7 child will wean himself.

When to stop breastfeeding is up to you AND your child.

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