This is another hard post to write as people feel so vehemently one way or the other about this subject. However, I am writing it because there is so little information available about this that applies to breastfeeding mothers nursing an “older child” in an industrial society in our time, even though we know the “biological” age of weaning is two and a half to seven years of age. Much of the work regarding nursing a child over the age of four looks at either non-Westernized societies (like I found a study on four-year-olds in Bangladesh who were nursing 8 to 9 times a day, many of whom were assumed to be nursing due to being nutritionally stressed) or the work is more from an anthropological perspective, such as boys in royalty were nursed longer.
I am nursing my youngest, a four and a half year old one to three or four times a day right now. My oldest child nursed until she was a little over three years of age, weaned when I was on bed rest with my second pregnancy, came back to the breast eight months later (and tried to remember how to nurse, LOL) and attempted to nurse on and off until she was about four and three quarters. Contrary to many people feeling uncomfortable about nursing a child over the age of 4, I don’t feel uncomfortable or badly about it.
I have many friends who have weaned children somewhere between the ages of 4 and 7. People ask about child-led weaning; I have seen some children “wean themselves” but the relationship there seemed to me to always be a dance between mother and child with limits typically being set by the mother from an earlier age onward. Many of the children who nurse frequently at the age of three or three and a half seem to go on to nurse longer than those who are not nursing frequently at three and a half.
I have one friend who wryly observes that her middle child, “was just sort of my experiment. I set no limits on nursing at all, and he nursed until he was 7.” (And this is a very structured, organized, limit-setting kind of woman!) I have another friend who says that she feels most children after the age of 4 need some gentle assistance in weaning, and she feels there is no true “child-led” weaning unless you really do want to take that avid three and a half year old nursling and nurse them until they are 7 – and not everyone is comfortable with that. There are older children over the age of three who do abruptly wean due to pregnancy or birth of a new sibling, but I have heard of these cases much less often than one would imagine. However, these are not observations from a medical, scientific study – just what I have observed in my over ten years of working with breastfeeding mothers in lay groups and lactation settings.
Breastfeeding is a relationship between two people, and as such both parties deserve to have dignity and respect, especially the child. The child may have high needs to be met, and some children have intense physiological sucking needs into the fourth year. I am sure we can all remember children who sucked their thumbs until they were much older than four or five! Some children have physiologic disease processes and truly need the antibodies that human milk provides. The need for mother’s physical presence, for connection and the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance that comes from being at the breast is always there, always remains, in these early years before adolescence. The question becomes how comfortable one is using the breast to provide sucking, connection or closeness, or even antibodies, as the child grows and matures.
The question becomes how you feel in your heart. Some mothers give a lot of “talk” to their child regarding weaning, “becoming a big boy or girl”, but truly feel conflicted in their heart. They feel weaning is hard for the child, and they are not sure how to proceed without hurting the child or the child’s feelings, and they wonder how the relationship between themselves and the child will look once weaning is completed. The mother and child have to find their relationship without that component of close connection, and this can feel challenging to both the mother and the child.
Instead of making this a time of conflict and ambivalence, I suggest several things:
1. Search your heart and see if you can see weaning as a process of opening the world to your child, of not “taking away” this precious relationship, but part of growing up, of expanding horizons.
2. Do you love your child unconditionally at times other than when they are at the breast? Does your love and warmth and respect for this child come forth? If not, nursing may be how they are searching to fill this – that close and loving connection that occurs at the breast. If you do want to wean, concentrate on your own positive thoughts toward your child and your relationship with that child first.
3. Search your heart and KNOW that your child (and you!) are going to be okay! Find the positive ways your child can relax, go to sleep, handle the normal tensional outlets of each developmental stage and capitalize on that.
4. Work on discovering your child’s “love languages”. If your child’s love language is “physical touch”, make sure you are filling their love tank with lots of physical touch at times other than nursing times. If your child’s love tank is filled with “quality time”, do make sure you are providing lots of quality time to your child when you are not nursing.
5. Have distractions ready for when the phone rings and that sort of thing.. ..I know many four-year-olds who still would like to nurse when mother is on the phone!
6. Look at your daily schedule and see how your child does with nursing when you are busy (some nurse less naturally then, but some nurse more because then they feel over-stimulated) versus when you are at home all the time (again, some children nurse less and some nurse more).
7. If you are not comfortable nursing your child much past the age of 4 or 5, and your child is an avid nurser…. ….then it probably will be up to you to help your child cut down the number of nursings a day. You have to be comfortable with this idea, and if you are not and want a truly child-led weaning, you may have to nurse until 5 or 6. With some children the more you talk about weaning and cutting down number of nursings a day, the more anxious they become. Many of the mothers I know had better success in just structuring their day so they were busy, daddy took over bedtimes in some cases, and other things that gradually and naturally cut nursing down without a lot of explanation other than peacefully saying, “We can nurse at “X” time. I am happy to (hold you now, get you a drink, get you something to eat, to play a game with you, to go to the pool, etc.) right now.”
8. Again, if you are ready to have the nursing relationship come down in intensity and you are helping your child grow, there may be some tears if the child is four and five and used to a certain rhythmical pattern of nursing to sleep or whathave you. Again, this is where you must search your heart, see what you are comfortable with, feel okay that you truly are uplifting your child to the next level, that your child is growing up and it is going to be okay. If you cannot believe this in your heart, then neither you nor your child is ready to wean.
9. Some families do have a weaning party or provide a special weaning necklace or out to lunch to celebrate weaning. Again, some children need help with moving on and need you to either decide it is okay to nurse until age 7 or they need you to be kind but not crumple. They may need you to say after a weaning party or weaning lunch something to the effect of, “Nursing you was so special to me as well. Today Daddy is going to take your little sister so you and I can do “X” together.”
10. Work hard to examine how you feel about the joy of mothering. If in your heart you feel enraptured with being home, with mothering, if you delight in your children, they are going to also feel joyful, happy, peaceful even without nursing and as nursing transitions and fades away.
If you continue to nurse your older child, be happy about it, be proud about it and know that when they are developmentally ready they will be done. Whether or not “true” child-led weaning works for your family or not, whether you decide your child may need your help , cannot be decided by anyone but you and in your own observations of your child. You can still respect your child and your child’s dignity whatever path you choose. The path for the older child is not as clear as the path when nursing a small two or three year old, and that is okay, that is part of parenting.
Be comfortable with yourself and what your family needs from you, from the times when you do need to take the lead and the times when you need to surrender yourself. That is the walk we walk in parenting a child that is a bit older. But most of all, get clear in your own heart and decide. That is what makes for a joyful family!
Your site has been a breath of fresh air to our family! My partner and I find your style easy to read and understand compared to other waldorf teachings where at times our heads spin. So THANK YOU.
We have 3 girls the eldest breast fed till 4, the middle till 2.5 and the youngest at 2.75 is still going. For a six month period I was feeding 3 children, then the two older girls sucking changed and it became uncomfortable (not hurtful). Slowly they ceased feeding on their own (though I suspect me being uncomfortable had something to do with it) however if hurt or really upset I would offer them a breast (and still do, the eldest now 6) though my eldest is upset she has forgotten how to suck but the middle still can.
Once again thank you for such an enjoyable and informative site
Thank you! how perfectly honest and natural your post is. i have 6 children and all but the youngest 2 weaned themselves between the age of 18 months and 3. there are circles in anthropoly that discourage co sleeping and ‘prolonged’ breastfeeding stating that it hinders the development of the I. It is further stated that baby carrying and breastfeeding past age 1 encourages a tribal consciousness. well…….I personally believe that in the time steiner was lecturing children (and adults) needed to become more individual. in those times obedience and subservience were rife. these days, in western society we tend to have young ones that are too much in ‘I and me and more’ and i believe many mothers have naturally returned to carrying, feeding and co-sleeping to remedy the state of a very selfish modern world.
good on you. i feel confident to let mothers in my playgroup do what they feel is right.
It is funny how dogmatic these things can be; Steiner himself was nursed until he was age 4 or so…:) didn’t see to hinder him!
As far as nighttime potty training, most of the parents I know seem to just walk their children to the potty or carry them there when they (the parents) go to bed and then usually the child can make it until the AM….How many times a night are your children waking up to go to the bathroom?
I would also check askdrsears.com because I believe there was something on there regarding nighttime potty training from awhile back….:)
I weaned my daughter at 10 months because I had Thrush so terribly (and so did she) that I couldn’t nurse without biting my fist in absolute horrible pain. I was bleeding, it was so, so painful and I was not ready to wean. My daughter did fine, though. However, at about age 2 1/2 she started becoming very interested in my breasts, the fact that she used to nurse and would sometimes cry and tell me that she missed nursing. I indulged her once and let her suck on my empty boob and felt very weird about it. Now she’s 4 and we’re expecting another baby. She’s a very smart girl and has told me in tears that she’s going to be jealous when the baby gets to nurse and she won’t be able to. She used a Nuk (pacifier) until she was nearly 3. We weaned her. If she had a choice I believe she’d still be using her Nuk and still nursing! I’m honestly very happy to read that other women can nurse for so long but I’m not comfortable with it. What would you suggest for the upcoming transition in our family? Thanks for this post. I just found your blog and I spend each night reading as much as I possibly can!
I think siblings are the greatest gift you could possibly ever give to your little girl! Your oldest, like many little girls, sounds very verbal and able to talk about feelings and such. U know people will disagree, but I feel sometimes, in these cases, it is best not to give or add to much fuel to the fire. If she says something about nursing, then you can smartly add, “Yes, but you can eat ice cream and the baby can’t!” or “I can read you a book and hold you in my arms!” and LET IT GO.
Be peaceful and confident in your parenting and your ability to handle two children and your oldest will be as well. That is important.
I have many, many posts on here regarding these oldest verbal little girls and they may assist you. It is very important I think to not discount their feelings, but to also realize they are very, very small. From a Waldorf perspective, we would not even really consider them separate from you or the world. There are also many posts on here regarding the four year old, how to stop talking so much to our children and work with them where they are – which should be in their bodies at age four.
Have a look around, so glad you are here, and I hope that gave you some food for thought. Take what resonates with you for you and your family.
I have read this post several times because I find it very supportive about something which has very little support in our society. I tandem nurse my 3.5 and 11 month old, and I am reading this post once again because I felt a little down after reading what Dancy wrote about breastfeeding in “You are your Child’s First Teacher”. It’s hard to put my finger on it, and maybe I am too sensitive, but I felt she didn’t put much value in extended nursing and even implied that breastfeeding is non-nutritive past the age of 9 months. So far I have otherwise loved the book, but was a little sad after reading that passage which seemed subtly negative of nursing past a year. As usual, I feel better after reading your words. Thank you for for your wonderful blog!
I am glad this is affirming to you! Please do not let the dogmatic approach of some anthroposophists regarding nursing, etc, get you down. Donna Simmons has a great approach to this topic on the “Waldorf Baby” section of her Christopherus website – check it out as I think this will be encouraging to you as well!
Tandem nursing can be such hard work, pat yourself on the back!!
Found it Carrie. Brilliant article. I have so much pressure on me via my family and friends to wean my 3.5 yr old and I admit I get frustrated tandem feeding at times, but it still didn’t seem quite right to force my little one off the boob when it means so much to her.
It seems that every single one of your posts makes total sense to me. I am so happy that I have discovered your blog and will continue to read daily! I have just enrolled my daughter into our local steiner school and have found that since researching about waldorf, it has completely changed my life and how I see it and most importantly – how I parent.
Warm regards, Vicki
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Thank you so much for this article. I found it searching how to gently wean my 3.5 year old. He still loves to nurse, and almost always nurses to sleep, but tandem nursing him and his 9 month old brother is getting a bit hard for me (and harder for my husband when he needs to put the boys to bed).
I’m trying to change up our nighttime routine so he doesn’t nurse in bed, but on the couch before we go up. We’ve had 2 days of tears, and I’m not sure I can continue. I’ll read this again (and again) and use it to help me decide if I’m doing the right thing for him at this time
I couldn’t have found this article at a better time. I am tandem nursing my 13 month old and my 3.5 year old. Sometimes, typically during bedtime when they both need me at once, I get very frustrated and just want to throw in the towel. I’m often conflicted though, because I *know* my daughter is not ready and I know it would break her heart if I tried to wean her.
I’m not sure I will be able to let her self wean, as I’m not sure I’d be comfortable nursing much after the age of 4, but we’ll see how things progress. Afterall, my original goal (before I really began educating myself) was to only nurse until 18 months. My how things change!
Thank you for writing such a warm, heart felt post on such a sensitive subject!
Check out the back posts on weaning, there is one on weaning with love and one on weaning a child over the age of 4. I am proud of you for tandem nursing, this definitely has its own challenges but lots of rewards!
Just reading this post again for some solace, after reading that our local Waldorf school requires that children be weaned and reading on a blog that a Waldorf school in BC “encourages” weaning. What is the deal, Carrie? Why are there not more people like you?
Hi Jane! Missed hearing your voice here…I am so sorry you are facing challenges with the school situation… I do think this can be rather individual to the school, families have told me what you are finding but other families have told me that at their school most of the children nursed until age 5 or so…
I hope you find a satisfactory answer to all this, how challenging indeed.
Email me privately if you need to,
I couldn’t resist leaving a few reflections upon this in relation to how those you would most expect to be on your side when it comes to breastfeeding older kids, are often not.
I am a breastfeeding counselor, waldorfing mum (who sometimes uses kindergartens as support – also single mum so outside support I find essential!) and also all for AP (co-sleeping etc).
My daughter is now 4 years and 11 months and for the last couple of months she only nurses in the mornings. Before that it was morning and night, before that it was the odd time during the day and during the night too. I began partial weaning for my own emotional well-being and fortunately my daughter has gone along with it. Our relationship is intense and I needed to bring some balance back for my own sake.
So far those I would have expected to be OK with my breastfeeding a 3 year old plus and HAVEN´T been OK with it include:
Homeopaths, Waldorf teachers, psychics, and fellow nursing mothers who weaned kids by age 2. I had figured that all of those people would simply “know” “get” “understand” the beauty and benefit of breastfeeding an older kid. They didn’t.
Why do I think Waldorf teachers/schools often have an issue with it? I think firstly they simply lack the knowledge. Breastfeeding is not a topic that they will encounter too much and I find few ever knew that Steiner was breastfed 4 years plus! They will all come to Waldorf with their own beliefs and opinions from life to date and society on the whole – and we all know what that can imply! Also I believe many Waldorf teachers choose Waldorf for their own healing path and motherly issues can very much be a part of that. I know Waldorf teachers who dedicate more time to their school than their own kids, but that is as close as they can get, that is their path for healing, and that is perfectly ok.
I think removing expectations is the best place to start. If you are looking for support do so among breastfeeding communities, not outside of them. Know when it’s best to keep quiet. It doesn’t mean that there is anything bad about what you are doing – it means you are not taking on the role of having to change other people’s belief systems or having to defend your own when met with opposition. On the questionnaire for the Waldorf kindergarten where my daughter is currently going I responded to the breastfeeding question of how long she was nursed as : 4 years. Do they really need to know we are still at? No. And my daughter is old enough to be an accomplice. She knows it’s a secret between mum and her. Something special and private.
Like the other mother’s I too have found this blog in the nick of time. Today is my daughter’s 4th birthday, which we have been talking about as the time which she will no longer nurse. I have been nursing two for the last 13 months and it is wearing on me. I am ready to be done. She sucks so hard and it bothers me. Tonight after tears of her telling me I was ruining her birthday I caved and nursed her, I knew I would cave, but I hate the drama that she throws in for extra measure just to be sure I will in fact nurse her. She told me when done nursing that she just really loves the taste of my milk and just really loves to nurse. I don’t know how to cut it.
In the mornings if I have an activity planned for when she first wakes up and if she wakes up in a good mood I can skip out on that one, but it is a night it is harder, if she misses the morning she remembers in the day and wants to nurse then. When I sit on the couch with her she starts to pet my boob which drives me crazy and I don’t want to nurse her but then when she cries my boob responds and I have to nurse her or it is painful cause my boob will be full and I can’t nurse the baby in front of her without nursing her. My husband hates me nursing her still I am on the smaller side, I eat very well! but still my 13 month old needs my milk more. I don’t have any friends who have nursed a child this long and really connected with your post as wow I am not alone!! Any advice for me would be so much appreciated.
We are planning a birthday party for her with all of her friends and now that is the new date for her no more nursing, but I know that means nothing truly, she sees nursing as me loving her, which it is, but she is not getting that from me otherwise? My father, when I was younger, use to say how much empathy I had for people, but I feel growing up somewhere I lost it. I feel like I don’t come across as sincere at times, I am, but how do you regain empathy? Mediate? Sorry I am typing away! I feel like I am sending a message in a bottle to a faraway friend.
Julie, You are not alone. Weaning can be hard, but we always have to think of it as opening a door and expanding the world and not taking something away. Children who wean often talk about how much they love the milk and love to nurse and will sigh, “I wish I could still nurse” especially if there is a younger sibling in the house. I had a friend who told me her 11 year old said that the other day! And of course, he didn’t mean he really wanted to literally nurse! He meant he wanted that closeness, that security. You are forging a new path, a new relationship. You wrote that her birthday party will also be her weaning party, but you were not sure that meant anything. Of course it does if you have a calm cofidence in that!You are the parent, of course that means something if you say it means something, and you can help her to the next level of growing up but you must have confidence in this! There are other ways to be close and connect to your child other than nursing. There are wonderful things about growing up and she can do so many things a 13 month old cannot, but she will need you to show her with care how much you love her and treasure her with no GUILT about weaning. If it is the right thing to do for her and for you, it is the right thing to do. She will always have treaured memories of nursing, and you must be calm whilst she is going through this transition in this new space. If it is bedtime being challenging, dad will need to step in and help forge a new routine with her as well. Weaning takes the support of the family. All this being said, if she only nurses once a day and you can help her adjust her suck by reminding her to open her mouth very wide and to be gentle and limit the time, then perhaps you continue if you decide it means that much to both of you. I find many children can be done nursing around age 5 with the extra step of a weaning necklace, or weaning out to lunch at that age. However, to be honest some tandem nursing mothers have told me they never found the suck of their older child comfortable and I do think in some ways some older nurslings almost forget how to nurse and their mouth changes and such and the mothers were glad to be done in many regards.
You are at a transition point in your parenting. Not everything in growing up is comfortable and what a child wants, but it can be our job to help uplift them to the next level with calmness and certainty and no guilt if that is the right thing for the child, for ourselves, for the family. There will be many more instances of this in the future.
Hope that helps. I suggest you call a La Leche League Leader in your area to receive in person support for weaning the older child. Many Leaders have been through this and can be helpful!
Many blessings, welcome to this space and enjoy the million posts about the four year old now that you have one of those!
Julie, your post in nearly 5 years old, but this is how I feel with my 3 1/2 year old. I want to stop nursing him terribly-I hate doing it now- but he loves nursing and asks for it what feels like non-stop. I debate just stopping cold turkey, but know that I really should just do morning and night to start. Even that seems so daunting and like a nightmare with my son’s behavior (hours of crying and tantrums will ensue). I feel like a failure that I cannot wean him, and he asks me in front of people too which is embarrassing. Please tell me how did your daughter end up stopping? I also have a nursing 10 month old boy.
Thanks so much for the encouragement. I am weaning my almost 4 yr old because the nursing has become an annoyance to me instead of a pleasant experience shared between us. He is excited about becoming a big boy, but I think we are both a little sad about ending the nursing connection. I will concentrate on finding other ways to be close as we both move ahead. Thanks again for this site.
This is the opening of a doorway, and how wonderful that you can see it as such…there is always bittersweetnes in life’s passages, but joy nonetheless.
Many blessings to you, thank you for reading,
Thanks for your caring article. I am nursing a 4 year old who has previously had to have some teeth extracted due to night nursing. Of coarse family all wanted the child weaned years ago but she is very strongly attached and cannot fall asleep without nursing. Her allergies started the problem in infancy-she now sleeps the night through w/o nursing (only to fall asleep) but I worry about her teeth anyway. She just doesn’t seem to be emotionally able to wean, and I wonder if she is more susceptible to tooth decay since I don’t often read of other extended nursers with this issue. Very conflicted and would appreciate your input. Every time I think I should cave to the pressure to wean her I find an article (like yours) that encourages what feels right to me. thanks for your help and happy new year!
Hi Confused, did you see the article on dental caries on this blog as well? Brian Palmer, if you google him, is the authority on breastfeeding and dental caries and has many wonderful things to say…
Glad you are here, and Happy New Year to you!
I am so glad that you took the time to write about this, and even though it is a few years old, I still want to say thank you. I am finally “over” the nursing around here, and our daughter will turn four soon. I find a lot of information about weaning 2-1/2 to 3 y/o but just that extra year changes their perspective greatly. I am glad you hit upon some important points and that my heart was open enough to acknowledge the truth right now. Time for more quality playtime with my girl during the day. Fortunately we are down to one, sometimes two, sessions a day, but I know she is clinging to it. I am sure if I make it a higher priority to fulfill her attachment needs at other times, then it will make this last drop easier for both of us.
I just wanted to say I found this blog and decided to use 2 of the ideas mentioned together, to wean my 4 yr old daughter, as I do love her unconditionally all the time. And you are right Carrie- life will go on. One idea I have implemented is the Nursing Chart- whenever Julia DOES NOT nurse at a time when she usually would ( as she is falling asleep and then once through the night), she gets a sticker. She only needs to earn 4 stickers to obtain a small gift, She earns 2 stickers a night thus far. I made this number small so she could see that this goal is attainable, and then she’d want to try hard. Once she fills up the whole sheet, she gets a large gift of her choice. Also, I decided to let her nurse while I read her a book or story, then count to 20 or 30, then say “BLAST- OFF!” AS SHE IS BEING GENTLY UNLATCHED, Then she goes to sleep shortly after.
It works like a charm!!!!!
Thank you for this great idea! I am gonna try it asap!
Thank you! I only know personall of one other mother who nursed their child as long as I have and I often feel judged and alone. This article is a real help to me. Thanks again.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your post. It is so needed. I think most people who nurse older children are afraid to talk about it, so they feel alone in a hostile world. I started out tandem nursing twin girls. When their little sister was born two years later, I continued to nurse all three. It was not, sadly, emotionally healthy for me. I ended up being mad at the twins whenever they wanted to nurse (which was all the time). A few times, I got so stressed in the middle of the night, with all three kids crying at me for “bubbas”, I left them at home with my husband and drove, alone, to a grocery store parking lot. I sat there for a while, just to cool down. After much drama (once I got so upset, I punched a hole in the wall) I finally weaned my twins around the age of 3 1/2. I swore I would never make the same mistake again. Fast forward a few years…Now, their little sister is almost four and I have an 18-month-old son. Of course, the four-year-old still wants to nurse. Every time she comes near me, she is tugs at my blouse or has her hands down my dress. It is driving me crazy. I want to spend time with her — I want to be close to her — I just don’t want it to be about breastfeeding all of the time. Since her brother was born, she has gotten so worked up about it. I feel as though it is all she thinks about. I just yelled at her, which made me feel terrible. She started sobbing, saying, “Mommy, you hurt my feelings!” I feel just awful, but I’m sick of breastfeeding a four-year-old and I see no end in sight. And yes, my family thinks I’m weird for breastfeeding for so long. I don’t know how other people wean their children. Ugh! It seems impossible.
Oh, Sarah. Hang in there. Could you call your local chapter of La Leche League or Attachment Parenting for support at all? And, perhaps, now is the time to get a children’s book about weaning, they do exist! Read that to your four year old, and talk together about nursing in a non heated time. Some mothers also plan a special weaning party or a date out with their child to signify the end of nursing. It can be hard, but if you can come to it with a steady and calm mindframe of opening doors with the relationship with your daughter, it can help. There are also a few books published by La Leche League that may be helpful, such as Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, When Weaning Happens, Adventures in Tandem Nursing, to name a few.
Many blessings, and hugs,
Thank you. I am having a very hard time with weaning my 4 year old while still nursing my 1 year old. There has been a lot of stress and I don’t have any one to talk to about it that understands. Thank you for your article. It helped me remember that listen to my heart is best and that even though I am scared that I am hurting him as long as I do this with love all will be ok.
Glad to be here for you in this space. You are the loving, kind mother and you are the expert on your child. Always follow your intuition and your mother’s heart. There is a lot of love for our children, even during and after weaning.
You can do this together!
Thank you for this. I am considering giving my four year old another nudge in the weaning direction and have been struggling with where to start. She only nurses 1 or 2 times a day now and her brother is 16 months old and still nurses on demand. So, it is hard to find balance. I struggle with her feeling left out, but I also struggle with her increasing demands to nurse RIGHT NOW which is making me want to move more towards weaning. Found this very helpful.
Thank you so much for this loving and balanced article! After night weaning my 3 yo when I first got pregnant, (he adjusted better than I expected – feeding every 2/3hrs down to only just before sleep and on wake up) now as the end of pregnancy draws near his attachment to breastfeeding seems to be escalating! I didn’t want it to be traumatic and hoped that setting limits earlier would help when baby arrives, but if he still wants to they can have some shared feeds helping with transition. However I didn’t expect to feel so exhausted and sensitive and have found his daytime neediness overwhelming at times! He suddenly is talking about it all the time and wanting to check in with the milk ALL DAY LONG! I have searched for advice or articles from other parents with older nurslings. Reading this has just helped me feel settled in my heart that we can do this and with some time, respect and trust from me, my son can graduate from breastfeeding and it will be a positive experience for us both! His needs may increase as he adjusts to being an older brother but if I believe in his ability to still connect and mature, then after initial months pass I know I can help him through the changes. Thanks again. Xo
Such a helpful, comforting, article, with useful strategies. Thank you.
Thanks so much for this article. My mom informed me that I was breastfed until I was 3 (the last year was mostly just to go to sleep) and it kind of freaked me out. Reading this made me feel better, reading these children that were breastfed until 4 and up. Thank you:)
Thank you for this article. I never thought I’d be nursing my little boy from birth until 4 but here I am! He loves nursing. We both love the closeness it brings but I think it’s time to stop. My husband and I are also trying to work on sleeping in his own big boy bed(which is still in our room, he currently sleeps with us). Our little boy usually nurses at nap time and at night time and any time during the night if he wants to. I’m conflicted because I love the closeness nursing brings but it’s kind of getting annoying. No one I personally know has nursed their child until 4 years old so I’m feeling on my own here. My husband and I told our little boy that once he turned 4 he would say “bye bye to nee nee”. His birthday was March 15th and needless to say he still gets “nee nee”. I’m just conflicted. I want to stop nursing but our little boy cries so much to have it.
This probably isn’t too much comfort per se, but I find weaning often easier in the summer when the little ones are out a lot, swimming and really busy. Also, it is just my observation that some boys just nurse longer….
I am glad you feel supported here. I also recommend you look up your local La Leche League group to connect with some other families who find themselves also nursing an extended period. It might help give you an understanding community.
I’m in an awful situation and would love some advice. I only have one child, almost 4 and a half. He nurses when he’s upset and at night only just before bed. I don’t mind the nursing really. But– the playing with my other boob fills me with rage! It’s awful. I hate to have these negative feelings with my most precious person but it’s beyond my control. I let him play with it for like 10 seconds but he wants more and we get into this shoving match! It’s ridiculous and antithesis to every other way I raise him. But I have such aversion to this playing with my nipple! The result is– he feels betrayed, so hurt, doesn’t’ want to get bigger, feels I don’t love him. And he acts out a lot. When it didn’t bother me, he would just be loving all day. Now– different story. I don’t know what to do. Thank you.
You may not like my answer. My answer would be to set the boundary that the other breast is not to be touched, provide something he can do with his other hand such as a toy or nursing necklace or a small squeeze kind of ball, and if he continues to treat you in a way that hurts and annoys you, the nursing session is over and done. By setting the boundary, you are not being mean. You are teaching him to have respect for other people and for when someone says “no” to being touched in a way that he or she doesn’t want to be touched. This is great groundwork for growing up.
Four is a time for acting out, for pushing boundaries, in general. I get more mail about four and six year olds than any other age groups. I highly suggest you read the four year old posts under the development tab, ones like this one: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/05/realistic-expectations-for-the-four-year-old/ and this one: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/04/fantastic-four-year-old/ . It is important to develop all of our loving guidance tools in working with and guiding our children and nursing limits with love can be a great beginning of this journey! Lots of hugs to you – you are doing a great job!
I have to agree here that it sounds like the boundary needs to include no playing with the other side. My daughter used to like playing with the other nipple when she nursed (I called it twiddling) and it drove me crazy as she got older. Ultimately the approach I took was to lay her hand gently and flat, palm down, at the top of my other breast. It took time for her to accept it, but as long as her hand lay there peacefully, that particular touch didn’t bother me, and it was skin she could reach easily with nearly anything I was nursing in. It was able to fulfill her need and still respect my desire to stay in my shirt and not have my other breast prodded at. If she couldn’t respect it then nursing was done. It can feel mean to set boundaries with anyone, especially our kids, but it’s an important part of life to be able to respect people’s bodies (and other boundaries also). He’s old enough that I would gently tell him before he nurses that you are not going to permit it anymore. That it is your body and although you enjoy cuddling and nursing him, that bothers you and it is not ok. You can tell him you’d like to help him come up with something different he can do (hold your hand, a toy, etc). Also tell him what will happen if he is not respecting your body (stop nursing). Reassure him you love him, but gently remind him what he’ll be doing with his hand instead each time for a bit and be consistent about not letting him sneak it in. It will sink in and he can learn love and respect go hand in hand.
On the other note, agree again – Four was definitely one of the toughest ages in our house. Testing limits is par for the course 🙂
I need some help PLEASE. I am still nursing my son who just turned 4. I have started nursing school which is a full time job. I am not home as much, but when he still hunts me down early in the morning and when I get home to nurse. My problem now is that I’m getting breast infections due to the lack of feedings, which used to be on demand during the day. I think it is time I wean him completely. We cuddle, I fill his love tank and give him my undivided attention, I just feel like he is nursing out of “habit” instead of wanting to bond with me. It is also really affecting my schooling. I just think it’s finally reached that time to let it go and move on. The problem is… I don’t know how! I keep giving in. I try to distract and suggest doing other things or offering him something different, but he literally tries to rip my shirt off! I am stuck and I do not know what else to do. Any helpful advice? Thank you so much.
You can probably go through these comments and see what others have shared, which could be helpful to you. This sounds challenging in this season of starting new endeavors. It sounds to me like with the start of nursing school, he is trying to connect with you, even though you are giving him cuddles and undivided attention. If he is trying to rip your shirt off to nurse, he really may not be ready developmentally to wean, or he may need a very graduated kind of weaning where you take it very slowly. Four year olds can certainly be avid nursers, especially if he is used to nursing on demand during the day and now things have changed.
So, I guess one thing I could think of would be to work out a very specific schedule and routine for when you are home so he knows when he can nurse and when he can’t. I am not sure how long ago nursing school started, but it could be it takes some time to get used to everything and not being able to nurse on demand as much. So a small rhythm might help: time being outside, time in free play with you pulling out things to do, sensory kinds of play, preparing meals together and cleaning up; some little things to keep him on a steady rhythm of doing along with when you would feel comfortable with him nursing. Many mothers have mentioned they were not really able to sit down well when weaning was going on, and I know you need to be able to sit down and study! I wonder if a mother’s helper to play with him and distract him so you can get some work done might also be helpful, both for weaning and for studying. Weaning often takes a lot of time and energy in terms of distraction, as you mentioned, and with things shifting around only you can decide if this is the right time to wean or not because of the extra energy (and usually being outside or out of the home or doing work together) it usually takes. As far as not nursing and getting mastitis, weaning is often a prime time to get mastitis. Hand expressing or pumping to comfort may be needed during the day in order to avoid mastitis whilst your body also gets used to not having on-demand nursing during the day. Your local La Leche League Leader and group will have more ideas for you regarding weaning whilst avoiding mastitis!
Best of luck with your nursing career, and with your little guy. You are doing an amazing job balancing being a connected mother and a student! It is not easy to be in something as intensive as a medical program and parent a little one, so be easy with yourself as you work toward your goals. You and your son will get through this time.
Thank you for your kindness
I really needed this post. I am tandem nursing a 3.5 year old and a 14 month old. I am currently sick with a virus and touched out, but my big girl is no way ready to wean. Thanks for the kind words.
Thank you, Jennifer, for reading and being here. Hope you feel better soon!
Thank you so much for this lovely article.
With my first son, I was walking fully into self weaning, and I very much enjoyed it and didn’t find it to be something strange. He semi weaned himself when he was four, while I was pregnant with my second son. When his brother was born, I continued breastfeeding both to not make my older son feel pushed away, I was also co-sleeping with both of them in our king size bed. As my older son turned 6 he realized himself it was time to stop, though he would’ve carried on if he could. Now with my younger son he is now 4 1/2, I do our nursing moments, but a part of me also really wants to move on, as much as I love it, but I can’t do things I want to do, like a much needed and long waited cleanse I want to do for my own health… So that’s what brings me here, to find ways of making this weaning possible, without too much upheaval..
I am glad you are here. Thank you for reading.
A truly wonderful article that I really needed right now. Thank you
Thank you so much for writing this! I really needed it today. I am trying to decide how to proceed with my 4 year old and this helps me focus my thoughts and feelings. Thanks again.
Thank you soooooo much for writing this!!! It is extremely hard to find any information about this and most moms like myself are afraid to let people know they are still nursing. After reading this I don’t feel ready to wean, and that was a big revelation. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!
Your article speaks to my heart. I couldn’t thank you more for writing it. My daughter is just about to turn 5 and is still nursing during the day when we are together, and always at night. It feels right to me and I enjoy our closeness but my best friend in Europe tells me it’s abnormal so I sometimes question my decision. Tonight I found and read your words and they put everything in perspective. Thank you
Thank you for these beautiful words! I am an Episcopalian homeschooler nursing my 3 1/2 year old in an area with no Episcopalian homeschoolers and with no friends who breastfeed. So incredibly thrilled to stumble upon your site and I will be a frequent visitor. Thanks again!
I am so very glad you are here!
Help, my husband thinks I’m hurting my daughter by nursing her at 3.5 years old. He says she’s addicted and that I’m damaging her by nursing her. He thinks
I’m weak when I can’t redirect her. I strongly believe in child led development and refuse to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. I’m considering leaving my husband over this behavior it’s gotten so bad. Help.
Hi there Nursing a Preschooler,
I am so sorry this is so stressful. Weaning takes time and patience and I think working together is the only option. Many children who are truly child led weaned without any limits at all nurse till age 7, in my experience, and it doesn’t sound as if your partner would be happy with that. Limits include things mentioned such as being busy during the day, redirection, limits on time with a song or counting, working on getting number of times nursing a day reduced, etc, and it doesn’t sound as if you would be comfortable with that. I wonder if a lactation consultant or La Leche League Leader would be able to help you, listen to you, formulate a plan or a way to communicate with your husband. Working together would be the best option. This is only one of many parenting challenges that children provide where you will have to communicate, compromise, work together as a family. I think exploring why each of you feels so strongly the way you do and how you communicate and respect each other may be helpful, but you may need a third party to help navigate that.
Please do write back at some point and let me know how you are doing. In the meantime, big hugs, and I will be thinking of you. I am sorry that I don’t have a more helpful answer for you, but weaning within a family and within a breastfeeding dyad is always very specific and individual. Just know you are not alone.
Thank you, I really needed to read this tonight.
My miss is 5 in October and even though I have got her down to a nurse at bed time and set a limit of not falling asleep with booba which has taken a few months to get to this point. And wake up booba in the morning, which I still find ok and connecting. It’s the night time that I’m feeling so very touched out and have to really focus on relaxing through it even though part of me just wants her off me. I don’t want to damage her like that but I’m feeling some resentment that she hasn’t self weaned as yet as that’s what I’d intended.
I haven’t had any milk for 1 1/2 years now 😦 so it’s comfort and connection for her. And I have so much guilt over how I’m feeling.
It’s taken us so long to set some limitations around nursing which I’ve done gently.
I just don’t know what to do know between me being touched out and her still needing to nurse.
Reading the above has made me feel not so alone.
I am so glad that was helpful to you! Thinking of you, and glad you are here reading. At night, many mothers will give a count or a time the child can nurse as long as the alphabet song or lullaby lasts or whatever, and then a back rub or foot rub and off to sleep. If the child wants more, many mothers will offer some water. It is all about setting new patterns so you can both have a fulfilling mother-daughter relationship that works for both of you. Nursing is such a short part of your overall relationship with your child, and I encourage you to move toward finding wonderful ways to fulfill her needs but also meet yours. Much love,Carrie
I know this article is old, but thank you for it. I am really struggling with weaning my nearly 3 year old son. I feel very alone, as my family thinks it is ridiculous that I am still breastfeeding him and my friends all haven’t had trouble weaning their kids. There really isn’t much online about weaning an older child. Breastfeeding does not make me feel good. I have been suffering through nursing aversion for nearly a year now. Despite my aversion, I wanted to wean him gently and peacefully. I have implemented all the gentle weaning techniques and we stuck to them all, but even though it’s been many months, my son does not respect the limits I have set (only breastfeeding in the morning and night). He attacks me, screaming for milk and my husband literally has to drag him on off me so that we can enforce the boundaries we have set. It’s awful. I feel so worried that I am failing at teaching him about consent. I worry I am ruining my relationship with my son. He is extremely distraught by not being allowed to nurse on demand (even though it has been 5 months since that change was implemented). I worry I am traumatizing him by prolonging the weaning, but i also worry about how he will feel if I stop completely. It has been very hard on my relationship with him. Whenever I try to spend time with him, it turns into a fight to get him to leave my breasts alone. I want to try cutting him off cold turkey but I fear that that will make things even worse. I just really don’t know what to do 😦
HI there! I am so glad you are here and reading. An almost three year old he can learn, about the bigger picture of boundaries in small and relatable doses, but he doesn’t yet have the developmental understanding to adhere to it completely when he wants what he wants.. This sounds so hard, and almost three can be a hard age for boundaries in general – you can see all my blog posts about the three year old under the development tab at the top of this blog. I am so sorry you are having nursing aversion that started a year ago- have your hormones changed or have you/are you pregnant? Those feelings are real. There are several good books I can recommend, including “When Weaning Happens” published by La Leche League and “The Tandem Nursing Book” also published by La Leche League – not because you are tandem nursing but because weaning and nursing aversion come up frequently during pregnancy. I know this is very difficult, but you must remain calm enough to distract him in a loving way and set those boundaries in a loving way. It may be that limiting the time of day you nurse – many find giving up the morning nursing better than giving up a nursing to go to sleep unless Dad or someone takes over and you are not there, but some find allowing the nursing but only the amount of time it takes to sing the ABC’s or count to 15 or whatever it is. Distraction and anticipating needs are helpful. He may want to connect in the morning, and if you are up scrambling eggs, you can’t nurse right then, but you can hold him on one hip while you scramble the eggs and sing a little song about the itsy bitsy spider. many children need more activity and connection – so sometimes that involves getting out of the house, even in the cold weather. He needs the reassurance that you still love him even if you are not nursing and that this is part of being a bigger boy. There is a little children’s book called “Maggie’s Weaning” that might be helpful to him unless you think it would be a trigger to nurse more. I think a lot of the key at this point is to be active and not sitting down, which I know is hard. It sounds like it has turned into a huge power struggle, which I know is so hard. One thing La Leche League always says is don’t offer, don’t refuse, but I know that is exceedingly hard when you have nursing aversion and when you have been doing this for five months already. I would call your local La Leche League group to get a Leader to hold your hand while you go through this process. You need the in person support. The other thing that may help is just having more of a rhythm to the whole day – if he doesn’t know what to do , he will look to nurse. Same with thirst, hunger, being tired, – so anticipating those needs are important, along with being outside and active in nature. I am so sorry this hasn’t been easy and that he is less ready for weaning than you had hoped. I think the options right now with your nursing aversion is to stick to the course you have laid out; with someone else I probably would tell them to back off and wait until their child is more ready. So, I think you are going to have to really put your work into devising a routine where he kind of knows what is coming and when in simpler terms. I would love to support you from afar, so please email me at email@example.com and I would be happy to do that, but please do also support your local La leche League group so they can give you phone support as well. Blessings and love, this is going to be okay, you are doing well and he is going to be fine. Carrie
Thank you so much for this post! I teared a little as I read it. It was as if you were speaking to me coz you touched almost every single concern I have about trying to wean off my 3.5 yr old daughter. I hardly know anyone who still bf their preschooler and yes, I do worry about the possibility of her still wanting to latch on beyond kindergarten.
She learns everything else so easily. Potty training was ridiculously easy. She hardly latches on during the day as I work long hours.
Yet, she refuses to give up her ‘latch to sleep’ routine and her ‘let me just help myself to the goods’ session while sleeping at night. Obviously, bed-sharing is part of the problem but that part is a constraint that we cannot solve.
I have a feeling that perhaps she won’t let go coz she also senses my own hesitation about giving up this relationship. She will sob herself half to sleep whenever I broach the subject of “maybe we could just cuddle instead of latching? “. And I just could not find it in my heart to deny her the comfort that she obviously gets from bf. Or maybe I am just a sucker for thise dramatic oscar-worthy sobs! 😆
Aww! I am so glad you are here and reading! Have you ever read the book “Maggie’s Weaning” to her? Maybe that would help, but I think also you will know when it is the exact right time for you and your daughter. 🙂 Blessings and love, Carrie
Never heard of the book but I am gonna go look for it pronto! Thank you!
I cannot express to you the comfort your article gave me. I’m am tearful now from reading it. Thank you thank you thank you. It was just what I needed.
Thank you, Misty, for being here in this space. Blessings and love, Carrie
Thank you Carrie!
Thank you for writing this. I’m currently weaning my 4.5 year old and was feeling quite conflicted but this has helped me process my thoughts and I’m feeling much better after reading it.
Wow, refreshing to read this just because there us nothing out there on this issue. My daughter will be 4 in a few weeks and I feel that looming before me since she doesn’t seem ready to wean at all. She’s very insistent and is nursing more than my other kids were at this age. I never like to force weaning but who knows when she will stop, so I think I will just see if she will cut down if I give her more mommy time before she asks to nurse. Weaning always makes me emotional so I don’t want to press it. But I think I will try to make sure she’s never hungry and read her more books so she doesn’t think nursing is the only time she gets to snuggle mommy. Thanks for acknowledging the complicated season of motherhood that is nursing an older child.
Tara, I am so glad you are here! I wish you luck and also if you need more, there are LOTS of posts about the 4 year old under the Development header so maybe something there would also be helpful. Ages birth -19 are now covered on this blog on a variety of topics, so share the love with your friends who are also searching for the common challenges of different ages. Thank you for being here. Blessings, Carrie