I may get a little judgmental in this post. But wait, I already am in most.
Many American mothers have problems breastfeeding and quit as a result of the problems or the stress related to those problems. I am not talking about those mothers in this post. Some American mothers who breastfeed wean on an arbitrary date – some 3 months, some 6 months, some at one year. But, good heavens, why? Breastfeeding provides so much more than calories and nutrients. It provides quiet, calm moments of bonding, sometimes extended skin-to-skin contact, and the opportunity for soothing cranky moods or tired babies.
Some mothers are of the assumption that once a baby starts to eat solid food (the earliest recommended age is 6 months), that it is time to wean the baby from the breast. A baby really does not eat solid foods for the sake of calorie consumption until, usually, one year old. During the first year of life, introducing solids is for introductory, exploratory, and learning processes or purposes only. Solid food really does not, and should not, constitute a major source of caloric intake until one year, and for some, even later. And yet, some mothers arbitrarily decide that once a baby starts solid food, there is no more need for breastfeeding.
Some mothers choose to wean their babies at one year old. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, and to some mothers that means “until one year”. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with outward perceptions of breastfeeding, or their own, or even their pediatricians recommendations. Some wean at one year because “they want their body back”, or because “no one else can take care of him/her, and I want a break!” But some mothers wean at one year “just because”. Just because they frivolously decided the length of time to breastfeed their baby. This makes me angry. Is it willful ignorance? Likely, though I hope not. Why do so many American mothers choose ignorance over the emotional and physical health of their children? It is wrong, disturbing, and, dare I say, stupid.
And what’s more, the way in which many mothers wean can be difficult for the child to cope with, and even traumatic. Some mothers choose to wean “cold turkey”, and think that the sooner it is finished, the sooner their lives can go back to normal. Wrong! When a baby is weaned suddenly, it often causes much distress. In the beginning, the baby may feel distraught about the decrease in physical contact, the increase in awful rubber nipples or sippy cups, and they just do not understand why this comforting, nourishing, and special ritual is missing. The resulting increase in cortisol from this possibly traumatizing event may shape their brain structure such that they are less capable of coping with stress in the future. But, the outcome is very much dependent on the individual child. Some may be distressed for a long time, and true, some may never look back. However, for the children who are emotionally sensitive, it may be damaging to them to make any changes abruptly, especially ones so ritualized and comforting as breastfeeding.
I wish more mothers would save their children the relative heart break of losing their “booby-time” (as we call it in our house), their moments of quiet and calm, their regular intervals of bonding, soothing, etc. We could, instead, continue providing children with comfort, love, and bonding associated with extended breastfeeding as a result of the relatively mundane and unceremonious sacrifice of our breasts and body. Weaning is still a practice that irks me, unless it is medically necessary or desired by both parties involved. But hey, if there did not exist things that bothered me, I would not be writing about them.