Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 2

My last post on my breastfeeding experience left you with lots of thoughts, but not a lot of helpful information. It’s easy to find posts and articles out there with tips and strategies on how to keep going with breastfeeding. There seem to be a lot less on how to quit. So for those mothers out there that find themselves needing to wean a baby (well, toddler at this point) who would be happy to keep nursing forever, here are a couple of things that helped me.

A few weaning strategies

Don’t ask, don’t refuse

Sometimes a mother can get used to asking her toddler if he wants to nurse, to which he will of course say yes. But if you don’t ask, sometimes the kid will forget about or be distracted enough not to notice that you’re skipping a feeding every now and then. This can be a gentle way to phase it out, but it can move pretty slowly.

So maybe sometimes refuse

Sometimes I knew Charlie was asking for milk simply because he was kind of bored and it sounded like a good way to pass the time. When this happened I started to just say, “Not right now, you can have some milk before bed (or whenever the next routine nursing time was)” and try to direct his attention to something else. This worked to make nursing less of a recreational activity and eventually we were just nursing during those times that it was firmly planted in our daily routine. So for those instances…

Change up the routine

For a long time Charlie nursed every morning. I would bring him back to our bed when he woke up and we would snuggle and nurse for a few minutes before getting up to get ready for the day. So eventually I started to make an effort to up be and moving before he started to stir. Then once he woke up, rather than bringing him back to the bed which he would automatically associate with wanting to nurse, I would or get some toys out for him to play with in the living room or let him hang out with me in the bathroom while I finished getting ready. I found that by changing the regular routine he didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t get to nurse that morning. This worked well for the morning, but I still struggled with how to do away with nursing before naps and bedtime. So that’s when it was helpful to…

REALLY change up the routine

As in, leave town for a while and have somebody make a new routine with him. In my case, I went to visit my sister for five days while Charlie stayed with his dad and grandparents. While the trip wasn’t planned as a way to finish up the weaning process, I kind of suspected before going that it might do the trick. Even if Charlie wanted to continue nursing after I got back I wasn’t sure that I would still have milk to give him. (I didn’t.) So for five days Charlie got in a new routine with his daddy of a cup of milk (not from mama) before bedtime and nap. Once we were reunited I just continued with the new routine. On the few occasions that asked to nurse I just explained that mama didn’t have any more milk but he had his cup of milk that he could drink. Since he had done well with the new routine already he didn’t put up much of a fuss about it and just like that we were done.

The End

Even though Charlie didn’t exactly wean himself, I could tell he was ready and that I was going about weaning in the right way because it felt like a gentle process. I didn’t experience any engorgement or discomfort, which told me that I went about it gradually enough. (All of these strategies put together probably took about 2-3 months.) And Charlie never had any melt-downs or fits at the prospect of no milk for the day. On the occasions that he asked and I refused, he would easily accept the answer and move on to other things. I’m thankful that it wasn’t emotionally difficult for him, because that would have made it much harder.

The hardest part was my own emotional response. While I was ready for him to wean and knew that I wanted there to be some space before the next baby came, it was still a bittersweet change. Some of our sweetest moments together had been while nursing, from his early newborn milk-drunk smiles, to the games we would play where I would nibble on his fingers and send him into a fit of giggles. In many ways it felt like the end of nursing was the end of babyhood for him, not exactly an easy thing for a mother to come to grips with. And on top of all that, I’m pretty sure weaning caused some pretty significant hormonal changes for me. I spent the week or so after Charlie had weaned for good feeling very emotional. Sometimes because I was mourning the end of nursing, but sometimes over a variety of insignificant and unrelated things. Basically, I spent about a week needing a really good cry at the end of each day. My emotions eventually evened out and got back to normal, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that particular emotional roller coaster.

In all, I nursed my first child for 28 months. I’m thankful we stuck out the early challenges and were able to keep it up for as long as we did. But while the nursing relationship is definitely a special thing, it’s the mother-child relationship that has real staying power. Obviously our bond hasn’t diminished at all with the lack of nursing sessions. We’ve found plenty of ways to get our quality time in together. The bedtime nursing routine was quickly replaced with story times and back rubs and night-time lullabies. Morning snuggles under the covers still happen if we’re not in too much of a rush (and sometimes even if we are). And while babyhood may be over, I’m finding toddlerhood to be a pretty fun stage.