Guest Post: Reconsidering the 11-Month Wean

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Illustration by Christina Oh.

Illustration by Charlotte Oh

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to be able to take up to a year of maternity and parental leave. This allows many mothers and fathers the opportunity to stay at home with their babies. It has also made it easier for women to breastfeed their babies and to breastfeed them for longer periods of time. But it also means that a lot of women assume that they have to wean their baby from the breast at around 11 months, to get ready to go back to work.

Both the World Health Organization and Health Canada recommend breastfeeding beyond the age of one:
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life for healthy term infants, as breast milk is the best food for optimal growth. Infants should be introduced to nutrient-rich, solid foods with particular attention to iron at six months with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.

I understand that not every woman is able to breastfeed and that not every woman wants to breastfeed for two years or longer. That is fine. But for women that do want to continue breastfeeding their child into the second year, Canada’s one year maternity leave should not be a barrier to them doing so.
I have friends that chose to wean very slowly, introducing a bottle of formula a day starting at around 8 months and gradually replacing each nursing session with a bottle until they weren’t nursing anymore at all. I also have friends that weaned cold turkey just before going back to work, resulting in a very upset baby (doubly upset because of weaning and mom going back to work) and a nasty bout of mastitis for the mother.

But you don’t have to do either of those things or anything in between. If you are planning to go back to work when your baby is about a year old, you can continue nursing without having to pump at work. A lot of people assume that isn’t possible, that you will get plugged ducts or mastitis from not nursing all day long or that your supply will dry up. But that isn’t the case at all if you do it right. Here are some tips:

• Before going back to work, slowly cut back on daytime feedings or pump at lunchtime during your first few weeks at work and slowly decrease the length of your pumping session until you are not pumping anymore.
•    If you have trouble with plugged ducts or mastitis, consider taking lecithin as you transition back to work.
•    Continue to nurse whenever you want when you and your child are together. When my kids were one year old, I usually nursed when I got home from work, at bedtime, as needed during the night (ranged from not at all to frequent), and in the morning before going to work.

Partial weaning like this can be a great option for women that are going back to work but would like to keep nursing beyond one year.
If you went back to work at about a year, what did you do about breastfeeding? Did you wean? Or did you continue nursing?

—Annie works full-time and continues to nurse her 2-year-old daughter when they are together. She blogs about the art and science of parenting at PhD in Parenting.

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