The Nursing Mother
For many years, the timing of weaning from breastfeeding has been a controversial issue. Some feel that feeding should be on demand and child led with weaning often as late as at several years. Others propose parent-led feeding schedules, with advice regarding duration ranging from months to years.
A wise course will take into account the developmental processes in the first year of life. Outwardly, the child moves from limited independent movement and a dependence on outer support from the parent, towards an increasingly willful movement highlighted by sitting and then standing in uprightness. A wave of awakening moves from head to feet, with the gradual beginnings of increased head control leading over to reaching, sitting, crawling, standing, and finally walking.
Spiritually, what lives behind this outer movement is an impulse from the child’s ego as it begins to take hold of the physical body through it’s effort towards uprightness. In the first six months, this occurs mostly passively. However at about six months, with the ability to sit upright, a new activity from within the child begins to take hold of the process more actively--and with a newly found inner will.
Both nutritionally and spiritually, mother’s milk plays a unique supportive role in this activity. Beyond providing physical substance and nutrition, something of the mother’s ego processes is passed through her milk, supporting the child’s beginning movements towards uprightness.
Mother’s milk feeds the entire child, reaching all the way to the bones that make possible physical uprightness. With support from milk imbued with the mother’s ego forces carried to all aspects of the child’s being, the sleeping spirit is wakened.
In the first six months these externally-supplied ego forces are essential to properly support the newborn child. However, when the child begins to take hold of his own ego forces, as seen with the ability to independently sit upright, these maternal ego forces can begin to work against the child’s budding individuality. During the next six months when the child inwardly strives towards standing and walking, and with the ensuing efforts of the ego towards speech (in the second year) and thinking (in the third year), the child needs to be left free to develop independently.
Mother’s milk provides the perfect support, both nutritionally and spiritually, for the child in the first six months. Through weaning at that time, the mother then allows her child to freely develop, and at the same time frees herself to find new ways to support the young child’s further growth and development.
Author’s note: These observations are supported by Rudolf Steiner’s research as published in Fundamentals of Therapy (Mercury Press, Chestnut Ridge, NY) and other major works.
Mark Kamsler, MD practices in Delafield, Wisconsin and is board certified in anthroposophical medicine and in general pediatrics. He and his wife Kathleen have four children.