Waldorf Without Walls

Anthroposophical Medicine, Breastfeeding and Weaning

by Risë Smythe-Freed, RN

Question:It is very confusing for us when different people in the Waldorf and Anthroposophical Community give conflicting information about breastfeeding and weaning our baby.  Who is right?

Answer:  You are!

One of the greatest tests for parents of babies and young children in our Waldorf and Anthroposophical Communities is being confident that their intuition about what is best for their children is right, especially when others call it into question.

The following is composed from actual questions asked by Moms and Dads.  Risë gratefully thanks the Moms and Dads who gave their permission for their questions to be published in "Waldorf Without Walls."

Question: The only way to make an appointment with the curative eurythmist at our local Waldorf school is through a referral from the Anthroposophical doctor.  We met with the doctor for a lengthy interview, much like a "constitutional interview" with a homeopath.  I had my 2-1/2 year old daughter with me who became restless after an hour of listening to her parents talking.  She climbed into my lap and asked to nurse at which point the doctor gave me a horrified look and said rather curtly, "Well, I certainly hope you're going to stop that very soon."  I was somewhat taken aback and asked why?   I was told that any benefit a baby gets from nursing doesn't exist after 4 months of age.

RSF: Benefits from both the process of breastfeeding and from human breastmilk for a human baby are now quite well known.  These benefits include intact immunological development, superior nutrition with resultant superior growth, appropriate maternal-infant bonding, enhanced and superior development of the child into a productive independent human being and reduction of nonproductive illness (chronic illness like allergies, asthma, repetitive ear infections, diabetes and even heart disease).  The American Academy of Pediatrics now asks its Board Certified Pediatricians to recommend breastfeeding for the first two years of a baby's life.  Non-pediatricians may not be aware of these knowledge advances in the field of Pediatrics and other medical specialties like Neonatology, Neurology, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Immunology and Gastroenterology.   The World Health Organization's guidelines are to breastfeed for at least the first 3 years of the child's life.

Question: I was also told that humans shouldn't ingest any dairy products after 1 year of age.   I am unfamiliar with that point of view even in alternative medicine.  Is there a problem from the anthroposophical viewpoint for humans to ingest dairy products after the first year of life?  

RSF: Some people have great difficulty digesting and metabolizing non-human milk, period.  A very few people have a difficult time digesting anything at all, even human milk.   But, to say categorically that ALL humans should not ingest dairy products after one year of age seems unfounded.  In some cultures, dairy products are a very important part of the diet.  

I would, though, prefer that human infants be fed only human breastmilk until the baby demonstrates a clear readiness to consume non-breastmilk food.  Some very easily discerned signs of readiness are: 1) noticeable stomach acid odor from baby's spit ups, 2) grabbing at Mommy's or Daddy's lunch with intense interest, and, 3) baby making a direct beeline to baby's own mouth with the contents of Mommy's or Daddy's lunch.  Baby being able to sit up on his or her own is a precursor.  One would not begin feeding non-breastmilk with sitting up as the only sign, though.  

Even after the baby shows the signs of being ready for non-breastmilk food, both soybean milk and cow milk are difficult to digest.  Infants and young children may develop anemia and other blood-measured nutritional deficits and digestive problems from these used in the form of breastmilk substitutes.  No matter how carefully calculated and chemically manipulated, breastmilk substitutes do not supply the nourishment available in human breast milk, especially that which emanates from the babe's own mother.

Question: When I protested that I was not a cow and that human breastmilk was not a "dairy product" I was told that the human digestion system cannot "recognize" breastmilk because it is too similar in make-up to the human body.  How can this be so, and, if so, why would it matter?

RSF: It would be more true to say that human breastmilk is more heavenly, more angelic, closer to the Christ than any other form of available nutrition.  Human breastmilk, especially from the child's own mother, is the perfect nutrition.  I say especially from the child's own mother because of the very close, intense and necessary communication between the being of the Child and the being of the Mother.  The even measurable, composition of the mother-baby specific milk varies from nursing to nursing and is dependent upon the communication between these two unique individualities.  The Baby's individuality, although still largely living in the spiritual world, is communicating with the Mother's individuality, which is also in connection with the spiritual world.  It is essential for the development of the child and the development of humanity that this relationship not be disturbed.  I cannot fathom trying to intimately communicate with the morass of cows in the morass of dairies in the USA and elsewhere whose milk is collected and then chemically and mechanically altered and added to in an attempt to mimic a drug company's prototype of human milk.  My recommendation is that we trust the mother's milk.

Question: The doctor we saw told us that human breastmilk is not digested and can cause allergies and other problems.  He said it also perpetuates "heredity."  I understood that to mean traits, health problems, etc., brought into the current incarnation.  He said heredity needs to be shed by the incarnating child and breastfeeding longer than 4 months or so would inhibit the child's incarnation.

RSF: In Anthroposophy, human beings are seen as spiritual beings constantly in the process of incarnating and developing as unique individuals into a physical body while on Earth.    I do believe that what we feed to our babies, our children and ourselves has an  impact on our process of incarnation.  But, following that doctor's logic, that doctor would rather the child take on the heredity of, say, a cow at 4 months of age?  

I do agree that children born during this time in the overall development of humanity will take on the process of divesting themselves of the inherited portion of their biology.  They are meant to become wholly unique individualities as unfettered by their parents as possible.  My teenagers prove that to me daily.  But to inflict the biology of a cow, soybeans, or rice on an infant before they are ready to be fed non-human breastmilk food is only preventing the inherent strength of that developing human being and tending them toward becoming rice, a cow or soybean, following the doctor's logic.

Question:Are high fevers, during infancy and early childhood supposed to help "burn off" this "heredity"?

RSF: Yes.  Of course this process needs taking up by the parents to help the child through illness as efficiently and effectively as possible in a way that supports both the purpose of the illness AND the humanity of the child.  Childhood illness is an opportunity to strengthen the developing immune system and the developing individual.  Childhood illness must be properly supported, fevers made efficient, and antibiotics, inoculations / vaccinations / immunizations used only after an in depth education regarding the safety and risks, and then only with great care and discernment about the potential impact.  Ideally, parents are encouraged to educate themselves about the usual courses of and the care of a child through childhood illness and convalescence; parents are the ideal persons to nurture and nourish the child in sickness and in health.

Question: I was also told that children should not sleep in the parent's bed because the parents process lots of things during the sleeping hours and there might be a kind of cross-contamination with too many people in the bed. Will it harm our child to sleep in our bed?

RSF: The task of the parents is to provide GOODNESS from (pre) birth to 7 years of age.  The younger the child, the more the Mother's individuality is the primary director of that protection and nourishment.  The Father's individuality is to direct the protection of and nourishment of the mother so that she can protect and nourish the child.  The father also must intervene to foster Goodness for the child and is irreplaceable in his purpose to nourish (food and soul!) and protect both mother and child.

The controversy over the "Family Bed" fits in well in this context.  If parents can manage to provide their child with the sense that the world is a Good place while their child tries to sleep in a room down the hall then, OK, do it that way.  If the child's behavior and acted out feelings do not demonstrate a sense that the world is a Good place sleeping away from the parents, then the parents will find that they need to revise their methods they had intended to provide a sense of Goodness.   Some parents have found they meet their children's needs for Goodness best by being with their child throughout the day and night.  Most parents who practice this specific method say this allows them to more completely understand their child and respond more appropriately to their child's needs.

Again, a thought through approach works well when discerning the best methods for your own family.  If either the mother or father act on perceived needs that do not foster Goodness for the child, then the other parent has the responsibility and obligation to act in the child's best interests.  In the rare event that neither parent fosters Goodness for the child, another adult need step in and help guide.

When the child reaches the approximate age of 7-14 years, the focus of the parental responsibility is to surround the child with BEAUTY; and from approximately 14-21 years of age, the child and all the adults around the child, take up TRUTH.   In no case is Goodness abandoned during either of the later developmental periods; rather the developmental task of the age is the primary focus.

Question: My child's eurythmist at school said that she heard from her eurythmy training instructor 20 years ago that Steiner said that babies should be weaned starting at 4 months of age.  My child's teacher said that she attended a lecture during her Waldorf teacher training where the speaker said that the Waldorf teachers should discourage a mother from breastfeeding after 9 months.   I went to a lecture where the doctor said stop when the child walks.  Which of them is right?

RSF: You could hear differences of opinion ranging from "begin weaning" to "completely stop breastfeeding" at 6 months/9 months/12months/when the child begins walking; all depending on the Anthroposophical physician to whom you are listening.  At times a physician, nurse, curative eurythmist, remedial education teacher, Waldorf teacher, Anthroposophist, and so on, will even attempt a direct quote from Dr. Rudolf Steiner which supports their particular view.  But, no direct quotes or writings attributable to Steiner have been found that support any sort of claim that breastfeeding should cease at any specific time.

Question: I heard that Steiner was breastfed. Is there anywhere where this is written?

RSF: Yes! Rudolf Steiner writes that he was breastfed by his mother for four years.  Steiner did say in his autobiography, "The Course of My Life," that he wondered if the reason he had such a difficult time letting go and grieving when his mother died might have been because he nursed for 4 years.  I wonder if he had such a difficult grief process because he was a loving, decent and moral man and formed attachments appropriately out of his own dignity, concern and caring for other human beings.

Question: Our daughter, who will be 3 in a few weeks, still nurses at bedtime and she still sleeps with us.  She is outgoing and independent, sturdy and happy.   The pressure from our son's Waldorf teacher and some of the folks in the Waldorf Community is pretty strong.  Should we stop breastfeeding and make our daughter stay in her room at night?

RSF: What an excellent Mommy and Daddy you are!  You both obviously have responded effectively to your daughter's age appropriate and developmentally appropriate needs for a world filled with Goodness!  Saying that, it is also obvious that you will be observing your daughter for behaviors and feelings that indicate she is ready to complete the weaning process both from the breast and the family bed.

From: ~ Risë Smythe-Freed, RN