GENTLE weaning: What is it?

GENTLE weaning: What is it?

If you're thinking about weaning or just curious about gentle weaning, this blog post is for you.

I have been breastfeeding continuously for 15 years across five babies and have kept breastfeeding through pregnancy, tandem feeding, and with each of my children I chose the natural-term weaning approach with minimal intervention from my end. I call this ‘Intuitive Weaning’ This meant that my four older children naturally stopped breastfeeding between the ages of 3-5 years, the weaning process was lead by my instincts and my children’s readiness.This approach worked incredibly well for my family, and like all good things, their breastfeeding journeys came to a gentle close.

There are two mainstream approaches to weaning: natural-term or mother-led, and a third, which I like to call intuitive weaning, that combines them. All three styles benefit from the G.E.N.T.L.E approach.

So what is natural- term weaning? 

In natural-term weaning, the weaning journey unfolds on your child's timeline. Anthropological studies suggest that children naturally stop breastfeeding between two to seven years of age, with the average being around four to six years. Often these sessions might happen out of sight, during quiet moments at home, early in the morning or late at night especially if you co-sleep. This super gentle approach lets your child lead the way, often resulting in a gentle transition from breastfeeding when they're truly ready. Even if it dwindles down to one feed a day, it’s still a significant part of their routine and comfort, possibly extending the breastfeeding relationship for years. 

What is Mother-led weaning? 

Mother-led weaning is way more common in Western culture, and happens when you decide it’s time to start the process for various reasons. This includes any deliberate effort to stop breastfeeding, such as weaning during pregnancy. 

What about weaning before two years ? 

Well it’s worth saying that while some children may wean naturally before reaching two years old, it often involves some form of guidance from mum. The WHO recommendation is to wait until at least two years and based on several factors, including optimal nutritional benefits, cognitive readiness for such a transition, and the continued health advantages it provides both the mum and her child.

When the time comes to wean, doing it slowly is so super important! 

Crash weaning can cause problems such as increasing the risk of mastitis for you and causing emotional distress for your little one. 

If you're wanting to stop breastfeeding, here's my favorite way of applying the popular G.E.N.T.L.E weaning approach

G: Gradually - Remember, slow and steady wins the race. If you're considering weaning, think of yourselves as turtles rather than hares. It's not a sprint; it's more of a marathon, sometimes with pauses along the way. Dropping one feed every two weeks or so gives both your body and your child's the time to adjust. Our children's bodies need to adapt to the change just as much as ours, considering the nutritional and emotional benefits they're getting from breastfeeding. Sometimes, you might even need to reintroduce breastfeeding, especially during illness or significant changes.

E: Empathetic - Never forget the emotional bond that breastfeeding creates. It's more than just nutrition; it's comfort, security, and love. When weaning, finding alternative ways to provide that comfort and closeness is essential. Ignoring the emotional aspect overlooks a huge fundamental part of breastfeeding.

N: Nurturing - Just as breastfeeding offers comfort, care, and protection, your approach to weaning should too. Explaining to your child that there are other ways to feel comforted and secure is key, emphasizing that weaning doesn't mean an end to nurturing.

T: Thoughtful - Understanding the impact of weaning on your child and considering their needs and feelings throughout the process is essential. Breastfeeding starts and should end with your child's well-being in mind.

L: Language - Communicating with your child about weaning is vital, especially by age two when they can understand more about what's happening. Using simple, clear language to explain the process helps them adjust and feel involved, reducing resistance.

E: Encouraging - Offering your child support, confidence, and hope during this transition reassures them that while the nature of your relationship is changing, the bond you share is not. Remember, this unique connection doesn’t end with weaning.

Whether it's natural-term weaning or mother-led, remember, you, too, need to wean gently, taking care of your own emotional and physical well-being in the process. Remember, being GENTLE applies to yourself as much as to your child.

Let me know if you would like more GENTLE weaning support. 

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