As your little one begins to explore the world around him, his needs begin to change. Commonly beyond one year of age, when your little explorer can drink from a cup and eat solid foods, he will gradually decrease his interest in settling down to nurse with Mommy, in a process known as self-weaning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least your baby's first year. "The basic principle is that infants need human milk, or an equivalent, while milk is the major component of their diet. By one year of age, most babies have transitioned to a diet that is mostly [solid] food, and milk becomes just a beverage," says Dr Charles Shubin, director of pediatrics, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
But when your sweet pea has other plans, not all mom-and-baby teams ride the nursing train until the one-year mark. "If a baby self-weans just before a year of age, and is eating mostly food, then it doesn't matter what they drink. Before 10 or 11 months, though, most babies are still getting a substantial amount of their nutrition from milk, so a self-weaning baby in that age range should get formula," advises Dr Shubin.
Does it seem like Junior is less interested in taking a break from his active lifestyle to breastfeed these days? Would he rather roam around than pause for a fill-up? Don't toss the baby out with the bathwater just yet.
Between 6 and 12 months of age, he may become more distracted by the world around him. Less time at the breast and more interest in playtime don't necessarily mean he's ready to give up breastfeeding altogether, though. If your little guy appears to be self-weaning before he hits the 12-month mark, you may want to stick with it; his disinterest in nursing today could be totally different tomorrow.
However, ready or not, the day will come when your sweetie pie will begin to self-wean from breastfeeding. Focusing on the positive growth your baby has made may help you cope with your darling's decision. "My third child … very quickly self-weaned at 14 months," shares Kelly LaChance Guertin of bellanimaternity.com. "When [she] decided nursing was complete for her, for me it was a moment where I felt even more connected with her. I realized she was done, and that she was ready. I was thankful that I could see that."
In some cases, nature has a way of letting your little one know that it's time to wean, as with Jennifer Marshall, mother of two. "I am a mom whose baby self-weaned at 19 months. She weaned right at the start of my second trimester with my son; I have read this is due to the change in taste."
If you recognize signs of self-weaning and are having trouble letting go of this bonding time, seek emotional support from your MOMS group or join an online forum for moms going through the same phase of the breastfeeding journey. Then give yourself a pat on the back; be it months or years, you nurtured your child in a way that will give them benefits for a lifetime!