Is ‘Weaned’ in the Eye of the Beholder?


My older son weaned a few months ago at 5 and a half years old. At least that’s how I’d describe his complete lack of requests to nurse during this time. He doesn’t seem to agree however!

A conversation we had earlier today, as we watched little brother J comfort nurse:

My son, M: “Nursing always helps kids feel so much better! I like that.”

Me: “That’s true! Do you remember the last time you nursed?”

M: “No. Maybe when we started sleeping upstairs?” [we all moved upstairs for a while when ants infiltrated our primary sleeping quarters]

Me: “Yes I think it was a few months ago when you stopped.”

M: “I didn’t stop! I just don’t do it as much anymore.”

Me: “Oh, I see.”

M: “When you’re a baby and a toddler, you think you’ll nurse all the time and forever. Then when you’re a big boy, you don’t nurse as much.”

Me: “How come?”

M: “Because you just don’t think about it so much.”

Me: “That makes sense. Well, it’s okay if you don’t want to nurse anymore.”

M: “I do want to. But not as much. I’ll just say when I want to.”

I don’t foresee him asking to nurse again, but who knows. The last two times I predicted he had weaned, he had in fact not been done. Still, I feel pretty safe in declaring our nursing relationship rendered conclusively inactive at this point. But it sounds like he doesn’t like labeling it; like doing so removes the option to nurse, which is what comforts him the most now — the option. He no longer needs to nurse: he feels satisfied enough by the idea of it, the memories, the lasting unique bond it has given us. Saying you’re done though… does that make all of that disappear? I understand your feels, buddy.

What does it mean to be weaned anyway? I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder, really. He may not be nursing any longer but who am I to say he’s “stopped” or “weaned” if he’s not in the place to agree with my label? Is there such a distinction between older kids who continue to nurse here and there and those who officially weaned?

I know many parents choose a mother-led weaning route and that would certainly lend itself to a more clear-cut finale. I’ve also known friends to throw a fantastic Weaning Party in celebration of this new stage as a milestone event. No situation is quite like another and the journey looks different for every family. Yet, I wonder if maybe the word “weaned” is more meaningful for the parents and less loaded for the children it describes.


Top left, 2014: Nursing M at our first breastfeeding-related event.
Top right, 2015: Nursing M, and I was about 2 days pregnant with baby #2 but didn’t know it yet.
Bottom left, 2017: Tandem nursing both kiddos, who are 3.5 years apart in age.
Bottom right, 2018: Nursing little brother J, with the support of M who hasn’t nursed since April.