Supported Weaning

23 Comments 06 March 2012

These eyes know and feel so much. Oh my big girl…

Three months ago, I wrote a post about practicing extended breastfeeding (even when it hurts).

I described my desire to continue breastfeeding, which included tandem nursing, my active toddler until she decided to self-wean (self-lead weaning).

Well, to put it bluntly, I changed my mind. I decided to wean Ella.

We were ready.

Although if I left it up to Ella, she could have continued breastfeeding for another year, I’m sure.

And yet, I could tell it would actually be healthier for Ella’s psyche not to nurse anymore (I wonder if saying that is going to get in in trouble with extended breastfeeding advocates?). Alas, I know my daughter.

It’s hard to describe exactly. In fact, I’m sure I could do it no justice.  But mum-mums were becoming more of a source of soothing, and while I agree that nursing is a fabulous way to sooth a child when they get hurt or are sick, are frustrated or tired out, I began to see that Ella wasn’t learning any of her own self-soothing strategies.

She was waking the whole family up in the morning asking to nurse. This really bothered us when Lucan was still sleeping.

During the day, if she would ask to nurse and it wasn’t a good time, LOOK OUT. Scary tantrum.

What I mean by “supported weaning.”

I have carefully supported Ella in this transition.

We started out just nursing less. Got down to three times a day – upon waking, in the afternoon at nap, and to bed. This went on for a week.

Then, I cut out all nursing except for night time (just before sleeping).

I thought doing that would be rough. Really rough.

But amazingly, Ella has been great. A little more emotional, but totally fine.

A mother knows, I swear.

She’s eating a lot more food (she’d never been a big eater), falling asleep in the afternoon by cuddling with me, and she’s even started forgetting to nurse at night now.

After tandem nursing for eight months, and nursing Ella for the prior 2.5 years, my body is thanking me right now.

I was giving my children a LOT of my body.

My space, my inner energy, my milk. As grateful as I was for the experience, I was really tired out, and had a hard time keeping up (I’m currently working on getting back up to an average weight after falling quite underweight).

I’m watching my little girl playing right now…and I’m amazed at the leaps and bounds she has grown over the past few weeks. It’s a melancholy feeling, of course. As relieved as I am, I could just bawl my eyes out.

Mamas who have weaned/whose children have self-weaned, can you feel me on that? Share your experiences below. I’d love to hear your stories.

Your Comments

23 Comments so far

  1. Sarah says:

    I did the same with Emma at 2 years. I needed her to wean for my sanity. But she still asks on a daily basis, probably because her sister nurses all the time. So I give her extra cuddles. :-) Good luck with the process and congratulations on nursing 3+, years!

  2. Lauren says:

    Yeah, I keep saying I want to extended breastfeed because I know its healthy for my son. But personally, I hate breastfeeding. I mean, its love/hate. Its convenient and healthy so I love it. But I have no freedom, no space, no real identity outside of it, I am very much trapped with my son 24 hours a day (he would never take a bottle),so I can’t wait for it to end. I am just hoping that its soon. These last 14 months have been so difficult. I do worry though that he wont wean himself. And then I will reach a point where I just can’t stand it anymore and will have to “help” him. And I know myself, I will obsess over it and feel guilty. It will be just terrible! I hope he will wean himself. I don’t think I can go another 2 years.

  3. Kelly Mochel says:

    The timing of this post is impeccable! We are on Day 3 following 3 nights of no nursing my 26.5mo old. I also felt like it was past due, even tho she was still enthusiastically asking, and the ease with which she has handled the change has confirmed that my feelings were correct. She is learning to fall asleep on her own or snuggling w/mom after a few books rather than relying on sucking to put her to sleep. She is exploring more foods. Her communication is improving because this change is making her convey more clearly what she wants instead of just asking for (and receiving) boobies so readily. There have been no more tears than I can count on two hands, and I am only slightly engorged since the change was gentle and gradual. Here’s to nature for providing a perfect food for our babies and also with a set of cues for us to know when to let them move on from it!

  4. JRae says:

    My babe is turning one year this weekend, we are still nursing and I plan to continue that until I get to the point that you did (you just know when it’s time &/or baby-led). However, what I am dealing with is wanting my own bed back, we co-sleep which I love, but sometimes I just want my own bed, not sure how to work it out but would like to try something like a side car so I can have my own space yet she’s still close enough for nursing at night… I don’t know. It seems that she still “needs” nursing at night so I don’t want to go to a crib yet if at all. Not sure how to proceed. Any suggestions?

  5. Kassi says:

    I think every one needs to do what they feel is right for themselves and their child. I’m in a similar boat. My last child is about to turn three. My first two weaned themselves around three… I’m trying not to get hung up on numbers but three is kind of my personal limit. She’s only nursing before bed these days and she doesn’t need to, she sometimes forgets to ask and then won’t nurse for an entire day. I’m following the don’t offer don’t refuse method and hoping she will wean peacefully soon. It’s funny she’s technically still only two but I am almost 100% positive I’m the only person still nursing in her preschool. I try to mention it as often as I can, to let people know. I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding anything and I want to normalize it. But it is interesting how few people who nursed are not nursing their two year old! Any way, I’ll just keep slowing weaning by not offering and not refusing and see what happens!

  6. Kate D says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, K… This is something I have thought about but not sure where we are at (although most days A only nurses twice)… She is 23 months now and would like to tandem feed, but I am not sure for how long– I am glad you mentioned the issue of ‘self soothing techniques’ as that has been a concern of my partner and myself. Thanks as always for your candor x

  7. briannacorinne says:

    I remember weaning my oldest son when I was pregnant and tandem nursing. He was 2 years and 9 months. I didn’t have much milk, my son was restless and often didn’t even fall asleep for his nap when I nursed him. I was ready, and I totally agree with you about how a mother knows that it would be better for her child to stop! I would nurse my younger son to sleep, then I would pull out a special activity like these little shapes you had to lay over the matching shapes on a piece of cardboard to make a picture. This was our special time. Then, I would take a nap while he played by himself. My husband started to put the boys to bed at night, and we moved them out of our bed into a bed together (the younger was 18 months and as big as his brother). It was perfect! I did continue to nurse the younger son through the pregnancy and until he was almost 4 due to some hard circumstances in our family and his own personality, he really needed that.

  8. MamaV says:

    i hear you! such a bittersweet feeling. and such a strange mix of emotions: excitement and readiness but sadness and loss. i lamented also that our culture doesn’t have many rituals in general, but especially no rituals to recognize the end of such an important relationship. it felt like a big deal when it ended and yet nobody seemed to recognize that.

    i like the term “gentle weaning” that you use. i explain it to others that it was a mutual weaning process in the sense that i could tell he was increasingly ready and that i would help “nudge” him gently away from the breast. i started off by decentralizing the breast in a similar way you did: instead of bringing him to my chest to nurse whenever he was hurt, i’d still bring him to my body and rock him and sing to him, and/or kiss him and create other little rituals around boo-boo moments that he enjoyed and that i could re-create each time. little by little, he didn’t need the breast to soothe after boo-boos. then we worked on the nighttime routine. instead of books, then breast, then sleep, we did breast first, then books, then long cuddles together until he fell asleep. gradually my milk supply dropped, and i began to notice he was nursing out of habit, not because he was getting a big fill or even spending much time at the breast anymore. on and on the story goes until, one day, no more. he was 3 years and 3 mos old. loved every moment of it.

    i missed the pauses that bf required me to take, i missed the intentional snuggle moments, i miss the comfort in knowing that my milk was keeping him healthy and strong (especially in the winter season!). so i made sure to re-create those times and moments throughout the day as if we were breastfeeding. luckily, he’s my snuggle monster anyway, so it’s never hard to take the time to stop and sit with him in my lap or to caress for a while. i did notice that he needed more cuddles and attention than usual after weaning, but i was more than glad to give those to him.

    thanks for sharing your story and for asking us for ours.

  9. Laura Marsh says:

    I think weaning is just always bittersweet,because you know once it’s done there’s no going back. But I think nursing is a relationship and only good if both parties are enjoying it…it was time and she’s much better for it, learning to fill up on foods and also learning to self soothe…awww so bittersweet xxx

  10. Brooke says:

    Thank you so very much for this heartfelt moment!!! You have no idea how much reading this has helped me right this moment! I am currently gently weaning my 2.5 year old right now….and I am sad, and it is hard….but I am doing it because I see it is time and it needs to be done…she was having trouble sleeping without my boogies in her mouth all night…she has begin waking during her nap every 20 mins for the boogies…I am just starting uo my own Birth Doula Business…I will not be home every moment and I need to know she is going to be okay when I am not here. I too thought it was going to be awful, but she has grown so much in just the last few weeks since we started! She has become more independant and relaxed and even more….HAPPY. There are moments that break my heart, like last night…she cried for 10 minutes saying “I am a baby momma please I am a baby, I want boogie” but it passed and I held her and she slept peacefully into the morning and awoke very happy. Now I have more time for me to work on my business in the wee hours of the morning, and to pay attention to my two older girls! I am even going to start to work out…I have been obese for the past 8 years and it is really time for me to take care of myself. She is my last baby though…and it is tough.

  11. Christie B says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping us all go easy on ourselves when we change our minds! I have terrible problems with supply when I get my period and haven’t been able to pump much since about six months, so when my daughter turned one, I introduced cow’s milk so we’d have a backup and I wouldn’t have to “pre-pay” to go out for more than about four hours. I can sympathize with things being bittersweet – she happily will drink small amounts of cow’s milk and it nearly made me cry even though it was such a relief to know we had a happy backup. I was really worried that the second she got a taste of cow’s milk she’d wean, but she likes to nurse more than ever it seems! And I’m less stressed when she wants to nurse during low-supply times because I can pretty easily suss out whether she’s hungry/thirsty or wants comfort/closeness.

  12. Bridget H. says:

    Congratulations on a job very well done! My son just self-weaned a little over a week ago, & I know how emotional it is. I think this is a lovely post, & I hope no one gives you any gruff; as you said, you know your child, & I think it’s quite commendable you tandem nursed for this long!! Well done, mama! :)

  13. bringbirthhome says:

    Thank you all so much for your supportive comments, and for sharing your experiences!

  14. Kathi says:

    I weaned my oldest gradually at 2.5 years. I was pregnant and I remember crying at a LLL meeting about the discomfort I was experiencing and realization that we would need to wean. I was sad for him, and sad for the image I had to release of tandem nursing. I will never forget the circle of women – their eyes, full of understanding and empathy, fully present even while tending to their young children. I walked away from that meeting filled with support, encouragement and ideas to help make the transition smooth and loving.

    Weaning did go very smoothly and it surprised me. And there were actually no tears. After a number of nursies to a count of 10 (which is all I could tolerate), he just sort of shrugged his shoulders and said, “no thanks.” :)

    My middle child self-weaned at 3.5 years. Time will tell what my current nursling will do.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. Miranda says:

    I weaned my son at 2 1/2 years while pregnant with my daughter. My husband and I both just *felt* like it was time, but the thought would never have occurred to me if I was left on my own. He was still a pretty active nurser, and I didn’t want him to feel left-out or unloved, so I replaced his nursing time with playing: every time he asked me to nurse him, I’d say “Do you want me to play with you?” and his eyes would just LIGHT UP and he was say “YES!” After only a week he didn’t even ask to nurse, he only asked me to play with him :D

    Nighttimes were harder, after one night of both of us crying in separate rooms (my husband cuddled our son, so he wasn’t crying alone), we decided to have him cuddle me until he fell asleep. If he woke up in the night I would nurse him back to sleep, until about a month into the process when I noticed that he was now so excited to get to nurse that he wasn’t really going back to sleep anymore! Then I insisted on only cuddling to get back to sleep.

    I bawled. One day when we’d been weaning for only a few days, he got a runny nose, and I felt like the worst mom in the entire world b/c I was cutting him off from his source of maternal antibodies (that runny nose never did develop into a full-on cold, but I’ll never forget how awful I felt).

    But looking back now, I see why I needed to wean him. I had gotten so good at putting him off so I could get my housework done, I hadn’t noticed that I very rarely ever played with him. I would nurse him, but even then I would usually read a book or play on my laptop until he was done. When I weaned him, I learned how to play with him and spend time with him, and we both needed that!

    I agree with you, a mother just *knows.* But even if it’s right for mother and child, it’s still emotional!

  16. Annie says:

    I missed this back when you posted it, just saw link today. How has it been going since then (now a month later)? Thank you for sharing your experience (as always), your honesty and openness is such a gift to all of us “out here”!
    I’m ready to wean my boy, who has been very attached to his mamamilks always. I too am feeling like it’s time, though in concept I had hoped for 100% child led weaning simply because it does ring true for me that kids will stop when they don’t need it. However, we’ve set his 5 yr birthday as the end (this July), and he seems actually excited about it, like it’s a big boy milestone (though we don’t talk about “big boy” stuff in general, just so it doesn’t rely on whether he’s of a mood to feel big or little!). And now, low and behold, I’m much less annoyed with that once a day morning nurse, just with knowing there is a planned end. Which is an odd concept, because it’s always been something that would end for sure eventually. Just having the date and buy-in from him, though, seems to have made me much less anxious when he’s nursing.

  17. Annie says:

    PS The early morning meltdowns waiting for a turn (which has to be after the little one gets her fill) is one of the factors for me too, that makes me ready to be done!!

  18. Carly Berube-Arbello says:

    I have only one child, a daughter named Cora. I grappled with the same issues you. It wasn’t helping C self soothe at all, but sometimes she could (I worked part-time night job), she would fall apart if she did not get it the exact moment she wanted it. This was causing tension in my marriage and really hard for me to accept what needed to be done. I realized that I was bringing my own feelings into the mix by having guilt from working and being away at night. I started tapering off the nursing and it was a struggle to direct her energy and head off the tantrums. Ultimately what happened was we all went on a family visit to my in-laws for a week and during that time of seeing many people, cousins to play with and distraction she stopped asking for it. Three days later, i was feeling a little emotional about it, knowing that I may not have other children I wanted to hang on to this connection. Instead of feeling sad, I went shopping for new bras and underwear, no more nursing bras for me. Bedtime was easy, and she did noteven ask for it because she was so used to going to bed with my husband and me working. I found that throughout the week she would come over and cuddle with me, and on the 5th day she asked about nursing, asking “Mommy,I don’t need the ta-tas any more but i miss them.” Then I told her that she could get as many hugs and kisses as I could give her when she felt that way. I feel like this has changed my relationship with her, now my big girl. I feel like she can talk more to me about her feelings instead of her screaming for a ta-ta. I nursed Cora until she was 2.5 years old, and now that I have a wonderfully-willed child I am thankful that we stopped before this sense of 3-yr old entitlement set in.:)

  19. Katie Mulder says:

    Oh do I ever know how you feel! But first THANK YOU for writing this..I know it had to have been hard to see it all down on paper (the screen) and THANK YOU for posting it.. I know it had to have felt so “final.” You are an amazing mother and woman.

    When Ruby weened it was so so so hard. We both were not ready ( I was totally dried up, and it only frustrated her to no end that she could not get a “let down” feeding) Every day was the same. Nurse, cry, try again, cry cry cry (both of us sometimes) it was terrible. I never told her “no” but she knew, and soon stopped asking to nurse. It broke my heart and still does sometimes. I would tell myself and even have dreams about her starting to nurse again after her sister was born. No dice. She has no interest whatsoever and I am pretty sure she has forgotten how to latch. I do miss those moments with her sometimes.. but they have been replaced with just as special and precious ones. Just busier, louder, and funnier moments. She is a toddler after all, there is always so much to enjoy.

    ps. if she’s ever getting a cold or not feeling good just pump some and give her a boost of fresh cold mama milk!

  20. Katie Mulder says:

    AND YES! I sure hope this helps you gain a little (or a lot) you skinny minnie! :) keep some of those calories for Kaitlin :)

  21. Claire says:

    It’s funny that you posted this because I just did the exact same thing (and just posted about it on my blog too!). We cut out nursing for good because she would have that same tantrum if I tried to delay her. It was a sudden last step in our slow weaning, but it worked well for us. It was hurting our relationship and now things are better. Sometimes, self-weaning just isn’t the best option.

  22. erin says:

    thank you for this.. i’m in the same place, and trying to navigate encouraging weaning my toddler while i’m pregnant.. for ALL of us.
    my body is simply exhausted.

  23. Meg says:

    I’m completely with you on this! Children do need their mother’s hand gently guiding them…on most everything. Why should nursing be any different? My son just weaned…with very little help from me. But he did make the choice himself. I’ve helped him with his choice. He’s 28 months now. I was certain he’d want to nurse until college!!!! Lol! But he looked at me one day and said, ” I don’t need mama milk anymore.” I did cry, tears of joy for the beautiful relationship I have been given. My son is such a gift! It hasn’t been all roses though, for my heart anyway. There’s a part of me that will always miss that type of closeness we had. But now we’ll grow in other ways together :-) And I can focus solely on my nine month old daughter and be ALL hers for a while. Mother’s do know best :-)

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