I am not weaning him because I think he is too old to nurse (although obviously I do think that he is old enough to wean...details on that difference in a minute!)
There are great physical benefits to nursing until age 2. For one thing, the brain is not fully myelinized until age 2, and the high fat content of breastmilk helps with the myelinating. (This is why they say to only give children that age whole milk...but even whole cows milk has a lower fat content than human milk...and I do believe in human milk for human babies!). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing "at least 12 months" frankly because they don't think they can talk the average American woman into nursing for longer. However, if you turn to a global group like the World Health Organization, they recommend nursing for at least two years. The world average age for weaning is actually around 4 years old (and considering how many children in this country are weaned before 1, I think that says something!) So I do not think I would consider weaning a child under 18-24months, unless there were some pretty extreme circumstances. However, nursing past that age (and how far past that age) is very much a matter of personal preference.
By the way, nursing a toddler is just plain neat. I have very much enjoyed having a little guy who snuggles up to me with lovestruck eyes and whispers "I love da nurn."
I am not weaning him because I am pregnant.
If I had an objection to nursing while pregnant then I would have weaned him several months ago. Contrary to popular rumor, nursing while pregnant is possible and safe for the vast majority of women (here is a great article on the subject). Some women find it painful, and wean for that reason. Some women's milk dries up, and although some children choose to keep suckling even when there is no milk, most of the time this leads to weaning as well. In very rare cases the mother is unable to maintain her own health (losing weight as she tries to support both fetus and nursling), or increases her risk for miscarriage (this is most likely to be seen in a woman who already needs hormone supplements to maintain a pregnancy). However, the average woman can nurse while pregnant, and many do. Many women also choose to tandem nurse--to continue nursing an older child after the baby is born and begins nursing. Many people feel that tandem nursing helps the older child accept and adjust to the newborn better.
Well, Bear loves to nurse. I mean, he really adores his beloved 'nurn.' He often tells me that he loves it, or that he needs it, and frequently gives it kisses and little affectionate pats. I felt that, between his attachment, and the fact that I had no supply issues and only moderate tenderness (not extreme pain), I should just nurse him right through the pregnancy and then tandem nurse him with the baby. I thought he would cope with all the changes better if he could share his nurn with the baby rather than having to wean. Mothers who have done it both ways report that children who tandem nurse are less likely to be jealous of the new baby, and cope better with the new family dynamic. SO, I was planning to tandem nurse. I figured that Bear would be 3 just a few months after the baby was born, and that he would wean by then...but that there would be those few months of overlap to soften the adjustments.
Well, about a week ago Hubby and I were talking, and he said "you know, I think Bear needs to wean. If we do it now, it will be long enough that by the time the baby comes he will have forgotten about it, so I don't think he'll be jealous...and meanwhile we can help him adjust to a bedtime routine that doesn't involve nursing. Once the baby comes he'll need to be able to go to bed for daddy, so we might as well start working on that now."
I wholeheartedly agreed about the needing to learn to go to sleep with daddy (or a babysitter, of all shocking things!), but I wasn't entirely sure about the forgetting part...he's not an infant anymore, after all. So I started talking with friends who had weaned, and with friends who had tandem nursed, and I was slightly surprised that most of them agreed: toddlers do forget pretty quickly, and 5-6 months is certainly long enough that by the time the baby comes Bear is not likely to remember nursing. Even if he does remember that he did it, he probably will have forgotten how to latch on, so even if he wants to try (and I would let him), he would not be able to get any milk. With the thought in mind that weaning him and not tandem nursing was probably not going to be traumatic after all, I started actually considering that option (something I had not previously done) and realized that I liked it a lot better.
[here I have copied and pasted an excerpt from the post I wrote about it on NaturalLDSLiving]
Prior to birthing and nursing any kids, I felt that i would probably nurse for 18m-2yrs. I really figured that 2yrs was plenty old enough though. But of course, once you're doing it it's easy to just keep doing it...Bear showed no inclination to give up nursing, and I had finally gotten my cycles back (that did take 20m ) so I figured the nursing wasn't in the way of trying to conceive...so we just kept going. I had been afraid that I might have a lot of nipple pain (that was my earliest sign of pregnancy with prior pregnancies), but I was pretty much ok...until about 8wks, then it started being tender after a little nursing...and then around 10wks it started being tender all the time. I'd already committed to night-weaning (honestly I've been attempting that on and off since last summer), but I guess I had been feeling like tandem nursing was this ideal thing that I should strive for, you know? I think that sometimes hanging around in crunchy circles (or, heck, in non-crunchy ones where I feel the need to be an example) leads us (or at least lead me) to make efforts beyond what I really wanted, because I feel like it's what I should do. Does that make sense? A sort of peer-pressure-induced idealism.
Anyway, I had been planning on tandeming--even though I now realize that I didn't particularly want to--because I felt like it was going to be better for Bear. Now that I've made the conscious choice to wean him this coming month, I feel like a weight is off my shoulders. I hadn't realized how much this had been bothering me, but I guess it had. Now that I've made the decision, I know there will be hard days, but having made the whole decision (to wean entirely, not just cut back) it's easier because it feels like the end is in site. I know he's old enough, I know he's going to be ok, I know I'll probably stress about what he eats for a while (I'd never worried because I knew he could always make up for it with nursing), and this morning he did eat a bigger breakfast than I've seen in a while... But yeah, anyway, I just wanted to share that it's a relief to have made the choice.
I am obviously not opposed to nursing during pregnancy or to tandem nursing. If the spacing between Bear and this baby was closer, I might have made a different choice. But as it is, I feel that a child over 2 does not need to nurse any longer (no matter how much he likes or wants it). I do not think that weaning will do him any physical, emotional, or psychological detriment at this age. So, we are weaning, not because we need to, or because he wants to, but because I am ready...and any relationship needs to be working for both of the people involved or else it's just not healthy.
This post has gotten quite long, so I will hold off a couple of weeks before writing about how we're doing this weaning thing, and how it goes. Suffice it to say that so far so good. He is not thrilled that I am insisting on short nursing sessions, but he is not waking in the night like he used to, and he is not crying when I refuse him the 'nanu' in the night or after we've finished our designated minutes. He generally seems to be accepting of the changes, although it's clear that he's not excited about them. He does know that he still gets it sometimes, and I can tell that that is important to him. The final step of this process will most likely be the hardest, but I have some ideas about how to help it happen gently...so like I said, I will post more about all of that in a couple of weeks!!