Steiner and Breastfeeding

(Here’s an excerpt from an interesting thread on my discussion forum about Steiner and breastfeeding)
Steiner never talked about things like breastfeeding per se – he talked about the development of the human being – it has been up to other people to interpret what he said and to apply it to various situations. He had many things to say which became the basis of anthroposophical medicine, curative education and, of course, Waldorf education. Out of these initiatives has come various ideas about breastfeeding, co-sleeping and other things to do with babies.

Steiner talked about the beginnings of the emergence of the “I” at about 3 years of age. This is seen by the child referring to herself as “I”, usually for the first time as well as the emergence of the memory and the first whispers of separation of the child from the mother. The Madonna’s Cloak now fades away.

Other than that, one can take Steiner’s powerful picture of the tiny child being wholly open to the universe and being like a sponge in terms of sense impressions to judge what might be right and healthy for her. And one major piece that he talked about – and which I bang on about at regular intervals – is the great need for physical and soul warmth to ensure the child incarnates properly.

So I add these things together and when I hear something like what (List Member X) says about weaning when the child turns her head away from her, I get concerned.( To be honest, I haven’t heard that one before.) It seems to me that taking this picture of the baby as a sense organ and needing soul warmth, that extended breastfeeding (ie at least up to around the child’s first birthday) makes a lot of sense. And, of course, things like slings, carrying and the family bed all seem to me to be part of this. But…. there’s a funny streak amongst many Waldorf early years people which frowns upon all this….

What I have heard is the idea that when the child is able to walk away from his mother, somewhere between 9 and 12 months, that this is a good time to wean. This actually affirms the observations I made when I ran early education and Mom and Toddler classes many years ago. If a baby was weaned somewhere between 10 and 14 months, it was usually no fuss and almost seemed as if the baby didn’t notice. It flowed with her increasing independence and moving away from Mama. But if one delayed past that time, one was usually in for the long haul – 2, 3 or 4 years of breastfeeding. This seems to be because of the child’s growing awareness of her surroundings – the breast becomes a possession the child does not easily relinquish.

Now – I make no judgments here. I weaned both my sons during this phase with no problems. This was my choice – I did not want to breastfeed any longer and this time seemed to work well for my boys. We co-slept until the eldest was about 7 – the youngest stayed in the bed until he was about 9. This seemed really important for all of us.

Some woman choose to wean earlier, some later. I think that if the woman is clear about her needs and the needs of the child and doesn’t get these mixed up, that there is a wide range of “best time” to wean. Many little ones definitely need to go beyond the cut -off I mentioned. No problem.

Back to “what does Steiner think” – or, I should say more properly, what does anthroposophy suggest out of its understanding of the human being – I see 3 years of age as the major change point. Before that? I think only the mother, with her deeply attuned sense of intuition of what each of her different children needs, can say. However, there are pointers which people can miss if they don’t know about them – thus I mention this 10 – 14 month phase.

Posted on February 19, 2008 in Family Life and Parenting, Health

  • Lisa says:

    Interesting article and always a thought provoking discussion within Waldorf communities.
    For my eldest daughter, weaning came a few months before her thrid birthday. I cannot remember when it actually happened which tells me it was most certainly the right time for her to step from beyond the cloak.

  • Nicky says:

    Thank you so much for this post, I recently stopped feeding my son at the age of 3 years and 2 months, around the age of 12 to 15 months he would have quite happily walked away from it but I wasn’t ready for it and then when I was ready around the age of 2 he was too attached, due to co sleeping and me been a single parent it was put in the too hard basket and therefore i have just managed to wean him and it wasn’t that easy, although I haven’t forced him just tried to distance myself during the times when he would want it more. Since breastfeeding stopped, he has changed, he suddenly decided it was time for toilet training, which we had been struggling with and now sleeps though the night, and is not grizzling for ‘milkies’ all day long. Anyway although I am not unhappy with my decision to continue to feed him, it hit home how easy it could have been earlier on. I love your blog and site.
    Nicky from New Zealand

  • donna says:

    Thank you both for your comments – I am pleased to hear the experience of others!
    And thank you, Nicky – glad you enjoy our work!

  • Nicole in South Florida says:

    Boy am I happy for your Feb newletter!!! The timing is just perfect. We are struggling with “should we continue homeschooling” the eldest child, as well my need to wean the youngest. He will 3 in June, and co-sleeps with us (and whatever other children come during the night). But it is great to hear from others who weaned about this age successfully. Thanks.

  • Ros from New Zealand says:

    Interesting article about breastfeeding. My 9 year old son was a month off turning three when he told he was a ‘big boy now’ and didn’t need the breast anymore. My just 2 year old son who was premature and walked at 21 months is still wanting the breast. He also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress syndrome as a result of us being separated when he was born. He has panic attacks and is afraid of the dark. Separation Anxiety is something we are working on. I have recently been advised by someone well respected in Anthroposophical Medical circles here, that I should allow him to scream at night and that he should be in his own bedroom by now. I am still learning about this philosophy but this is not something I feel is the right thing for my son right now. He does not fall asleep on the breast and my instinct is to wait for my child to indicate to me when he is ready. Any thoughts ?

  • donna says:

    Dear Ros,
    I am so sorry to hear that you got advice like this….. but I am equally sorry to say that I have heard this before in some anthroposophical/Waldorf quarters…. most often from anthroposophical doctors. There are some very odd ideas about making babies “too dependent” which seems to me to smack more of out dated fearful notions of what children are than considered thoughts based on true understanding of how children develop. The need for security and to form attachments is just not arguable! And if your little fellow has had an attachment trauma then I hope you will join the rest of us who know in our heart of hearts that a little fellow like yours needs his mommy – preferably in her bed all night long. Many blessings to you as you help heal your precious boy.

  • Malia Lynch says:

    You mention at the end of the article that there are pointers which people can miss. I am curious as to what those are. My daughter is 17!/2 mo, and I have the intuition that she is ready, and that she needs me to guide her. We have begun by eliminating the bedtime nurse. Now we are down to 2-4 sessions during the day, or sometimes in the early morning to return to sleep, and one still before nap time, although she hasn’t been falling asleep while breastfeeding at nap for a few days. Just curious what the signs might be, thanks!

  • Vanessa Tamplin says:

    Shouldn’t considerations about the nutritional and immunological benefits of continued nursing come into play? Breast-milk substitues are not the ideal food for an infant of 12 months, and I think we should think about that before saying that nine months is a good time to wean because it’s “easier”. If that’s the criterion, might as well start with the bottle at 2 months. Frankly, I’m disappointed with the gist of this article.

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