The first time I was breastfeeding, the decision on when to wean came easily. I was pregnant again and I wanted some time off before I had to start all over again. This is obviously a personal preference. One of my friends has a son who's one month older than Alex and a daughter who's four months younger than Tyler, and she never stopped, meaning she's been nursing for over three years straight now! She's content with her choices, and I'm content with mine.
I think weaning gets tricky when Mom and Baby have different wants. Sometimes Baby seems to lose interest in nursing before Mom is ready to give up - I've been assured by my lactation consultant that this is something Mom can work through and Baby will start nursing again (at least if Baby is less than a year old). I wouldn't know, since I have the opposite problem. I'm pretty much ready to quit nursing but Tyler still loves it. It may be in part that he's simply used to nursing first thing in the morning and last thing at night as a matter of routine. But sometimes when he wakes up from a nap screaming, nursing is the only thing that will comfort him, which makes me hesitant to stop. (I otherwise don't nurse him during the day anymore.)
I had planned to nurse Tyler until he is 18 months, which is a little more than month away. But over the weekend, we went to the beach (it was 100 degrees) and I wouldn't go past the edge of the water because I was wearing cropped jeans. I was thinking that I really ought to wear shorts, but I can't because my legs bear ugly scars from the pemphigoid gestationis that developed when I was pregnant with Tyler. I have been looking forward to using self-tanner to minimize their appearance after weaning Tyler. (There probably isn't any harm, but I just wanted to be one hundred percent safe and make sure no unnecessary chemicals got into my breastmilk.) So since this past weekend, I've been thinking about weaning a lot.
A review of articles on weaning on authoritative web sites like Babycenter, Kellymom, and La Leche League yields what common sense already told me: weaning is least traumatic for the child if his lead is followed, and should be done gradually. (Breastfeeding.com seems to suggest that a mother should nurse until her child is five or six years old, when the first permanent molars appear and "infancy" ends. My reaction: No way!)
The simple fact of the matter is that I am ready to start cutting out those last nursing sessions. And I'll try to do it as painlessly as possible. In our case, it will mean offering food (usually cereal) when Tyler wakes up in the morning. And Marc will probably take over bedtime with Tyler - they can do books, and then Marc can put Tyler in his crib. In the meantime, I can start Alex's bedtime routine.
How long will it take? I'm not sure. Unlike the last time, I don't have a definite timetable (back then, I wanted six months off so I had a hard deadline). And of course, I have mixed feelings about this. Nursing really is a special bonding time. But I'm ready to have my body back to myself!
What are your experiences with weaning?